U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling could threaten access to sexual and reproductive health care for more than 150 million workers with employer-sponsored health care plans

A federal judge in Fort Worth, Texas, ruled Wednesday in favor of a group of conservative Christian employers that argues that the requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as Obamacare, which mandate coverage of prescription drugs HIV prevention violate their religious freedom.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor also agreed that there are aspects of the federal government’s system for deciding what preventive care is covered by the ACA that violate the Constitution.

O’Connor’s ruling could threaten access to sexual and reproductive health care for more than 150 million workers who have employer-sponsored health care plans.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling focuses on claims by Braidwood Management, a for-profit Christian corporation owned by Steven Hotze, that their rights were violated under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act mandate. .

At the heart of the decision are pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs, or PrEP drugs, which research has shown reduce the risk of contracting HIV through sex by about 99%.

But Hotze, whose company provides health insurance to about 70 employees, argued that offering coverage for PrEP drugs encouraged “homosexual behavior” and violated “his religious beliefs by making him complicit in encouraging such behavior.”

“Braidwood has shown that the PrEP mandate substantially overburdens his religious exercise,” O’Connor wrote in the decision.

He added that the defendants, including Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, failed to prove that the PrEP mandate can critically reduce the spread of HIV when applied to employers like Braidwood.

It cannot yet be estimated what impact the ruling might have on other employers offering ACA-compliant health care to their workers, though this ruling comes after other companies have successfully argued that they should be able to refuse to provide preventive health care coverage. due to religious objections.

There are currently three types of FDA-approved PrEP medications, including Truvada and Descovy, both of which are made by drugmaker Gilead Sciences.

The American Medical Association, along with 60 leading medical organizations, released a statement condemning the lawsuit.

While implementation of the affordable health coverage provided by the ACA has not been as universal as hoped, preventive care fully funded through the ACA has been shown to be highly effective in improving health outcomes, reducing spending on health care and increase acceptance of these services.

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