- The Washington Times - Friday, August 14, 2015

A federal appeals court Friday ruled against a Pennsylvania man who lost his health plan because of Obamacare and complained that religious exemptions from the law left secular objectors in the cold.

The plaintiff, Jeffrey Cutler, failed to convince the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that he shouldn’t have to pay a tax for flouting the law’s “individual mandate” because his objection to being forced into Obamacare-compliant coverage was just as valid as ones from religious sects.

The case presented a high-level test of President Obama’s flawed promise that “if you like your plan, you can keep it.”

That vow proved untrue when millions received cancellation notices in fall 2013 saying their non-grandfathered plans no longer met Obamacare’s requirements. Under political pressure, the administration allowed policy holders to renew non-compliant plans through late 2016, although states and insurers could choose not to participate.

Mr. Cutler, whose plan was canceled, didn’t want to be forced to get health insurance, even though he could afford it and didn’t object on religious grounds.

The Affordable Care Act provides religious exemptions from the mandate for members of recognized religious groups, such as the Amish, that tend to care for their own without transferring the cost to the general public.

Mr. Cutler’s lawsuit argued that allowing people to duck the law’s for religious reasons, but not secular ones, was an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

Unlike the District Court, the Circuit judges felt Mr. Cutler had the right to sue. He lost, anyway, when the judges said the religious exemptions were narrowly tailored to long-standing groups who are exempt from Medicare and Social Security taxes.

“The Affordable Care Act, just like the Social Security exemption, is carefully calibrated to protect the government — and thus taxpayers who do not share the religious sensibilities of those covered by the exemption — from later having to pick up the tab from which the adherent has been exempted,” Circuit Judge Patricia Ann Millett, an appointee of President Obama.

Mr. Cutler, who represented himself at the District-court level, said that discriminates between religions. But the court said, “the qualifications for exemption are not drawn on sectarian lines; they simply sort out which faiths have a proven track record of adequately meeting the statutory goals.”

The court said Mr. Cutler’s had no standing to sue under the second plank of his argument — that a White House plan to help people transition to new plans was implemented differently from state to state, violating his constitutional right to equal protection.

According to the court, Mr. Cutler erroneously claimed Arkansas — unlike his state of Pennsylvania — forced insurers to continue to offer non-compliant plans.

“A quick glance at the Arkansas insurance bulletin upon which Cutler relies (but declines to quote) reveals that Arkansas, like Pennsylvania, permits but does not compel the continuation of non-compliant plans during the transition period,” the court said.

“In other words,” it added, “Cutler has not even colorably alleged a differential-treatment injury because there is no differential treatment.”

The court said the policy was applied evenly across the U.S., so if Mr. Cutler cannot obtain the insurance he desires and others can, that is because his own insurer cancelled his policy.

Cutler’s injury,” Judge Millett wrote, “is thus the result of the action of his private insurer, not the transitional policy, and it is purely speculative whether an order in this case would alter or affect the non-party insurers’ decision.”

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