Wheaton College will stop providing all health insurance for students beginning Friday in an effort to avoid a mandate in the Affordable Care Act requiring insurance providers to offer coverage for birth control. While health care insurance for faculty would not be affected by the decision, the evangelical four-year Illinois college in suburban Chicago has planned to end healthcare coverage for roughly a quarter of its 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The school is also ending the health coverage in order to protect its current lawsuit against the United States Department of Health and Human Services for mandating contraception coverage. The lawsuit was important because the government has forced the school to do something it finds "morally objectionable," Paul Chelsen, Wheaton's vice president of student development, said last week during an information session for students, reported the Associated Press.
"What has brought us here is about student health insurance, but it's bigger than student health insurance," Chelsen said at the information session. "What 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."
Wheaton College ends health insurance rather than fill out form allowing students to get contraception elsewhere: http://t.co/OqFwVvfh6k
— Greg Lipper (@theglipper) July 29, 2015
The Affordable Care Act requires that health insurance providers cover contraceptive methods for all women with reproductive capacity and has applied to all employers and educational institutions since the release of guidelines for coverage by the Health Resources and Services Administration in 2011. However, the health law's regulations allow organizations to opt out of birth control coverage in insurance plans, in which case the insurance companies themselves would be forced to offer contraception coverage directly.
Wheaton College, as well as other Christian nonprofits and businesses such as Hobby Lobby, has challenged the provision in court in an attempt to avoid any form of coverage, even if the school were not required to pay for the contraception, filing a lawsuit in 2012.
Officials at the evangelical college said that the provision allowing them to not cover birth control would still allow insurers to provide contraceptive coverage, forcing Wheaton to violate its religious beliefs.
Although colleges and universities are not required to provide health insurance, many schools, including Wheaton, require students to enroll in or provide proof of health insurance every year, according to the Associated Press.