Wheaton College drops student coverage over religious conceptions of ACA mandate

Students at Wheaton College will no longer have access to a Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) after the Christian liberal arts college made the decision not to renew student coverage as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) contraceptive mandate. The college’s July 10 announcement indicated that the decision to drop coverage was based upon its position that the ACA “would force the College to provide morally objectionable products and services.” The SHIP coverage expired July 31, 2015, affecting about one quarter of the university’s 3000 students.

Seventh Circuit

The university’s announcement was prompted by the Seventh Circuit’s July 1, 2015 decision in Wheaton College v. Burwell denying the college’s request for a preliminary injunction to bar HHS from enforcing the ACA’s contraceptive mandate against the college. The appellate court held that the college was not burdened by the requirement that it identify its insurers to HHS so that HHS could notify the insurers of their obligation to provide cost-free coverage of the contraceptives that Wheaton College objected to covering (see Unclear on the concept: no burden, so no injunction for religious college, Health Reform WK-EDGE, July 8, 2015).

SHIP

After the Seventh Circuit’s decision, the university announced that it would continue to seek relief in the courts but was forced to abandon the SHIP coverage due to its moral objections. In a later announcement on the discontinuation of the SHIP coverage, the university pointed to the ACA and cited the changing landscape of insurance as well as rising premiums as additional reasons to cease its student coverage.

Hardship

According to the Associated Press, at an informational session on the expiration of the SHIP coverage, student development vice president Paul Chelsen said that the university would provide hardship funding for some of the students losing their insurance. Chelsen also said the issue was bigger than student health insurance, noting the real matter was what the government could and could not tell the college to do.