- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

WHEATON, Ill. (AP) - Wheaton College in suburban Chicago will stop offering health insurance plans to students beginning Friday in an effort to avoid providing birth control coverage mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

On July 10, the Christian liberal arts college announced to the campus community that it will no longer provide health coverage for roughly a quarter of its 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The decision won’t affect health care insurance for the school’s faculty and staff.

Student development vice president Paul Chelsen told Wheaton students last week during an information session that the school will provide hardship funding for some students losing insurance. He said the school is trying to protect a lawsuit it has against the Department of Health and Human Services.

“What has brought us here is about student health insurance, but it’s bigger than student health insurance,” Chelsen said. “What really breaks my heart is that there are real people that are affected by our decision. But if we don’t win this case, the implications down the road in terms of what the government will tell us what we can and cannot do will be potentially more significant.

“I acknowledge that students have been hurt by this decision and I regret that,” he added.

But protecting the case is important because the government is telling the school it has to offer something it finds “morally objectionable,” Chelsen said.

Some religious groups and schools have accepted a compromise plan, which would require officials to notify the government of their religious objections and prompt the school’s insurance carrier to provide coverage directly to students, but Wheaton refuses to do so because it would violate the school’s religious beliefs, officials said.

Wheaton filed a federal lawsuit in 2012 and has since postponed complying with the order. A temporary stay recently was granted by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The college almost decided to cancel insurance last year, before the high court’s ruling on July 3, 2014, in favor of Hobby Lobby, which determined a family-owned corporation couldn’t be forced to offer contraception coverages to its employees.

After a federal appeals court denied Wheaton’s request earlier this month for a preliminary injunction while its lawsuit is pending, the school ultimately decided to drop the students’ health care coverage.

Although colleges and universities aren’t required to provide health insurance, Wheaton added in 2010 a requirement for students to enroll in or provide proof of comparable insurance every year.

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