Zubik v. Burwell, Part 2: The Religious Objectors Who Cried Wolf

Photo: wolf

Flickr/Creative Commons—Luke Jones

By Gregory M. Lipper

(Read Part 1, Part 3Part 4Part 5, and Part 6 of this series)

Yesterday, I evaluated the unprecedented arguments, by the plaintiffs in Zubik v. Burwell and its companion cases, that the process for seeking a religious exemption from the contraceptive-coverage regulations itself burdened the objectors’ religious exericse. Today, I move to a more basic question: Are these idiosyncratic claims sincere?

Like all free-exercise provisions, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects only sincere religious beliefs; it does not permit challengers to cloak ideological or financial objections in religious garb. Insincerity can reveal itself in several ways: prior inconsistent conduct, claims that are suspiciously timed, or outright admissions of an ulterior motive. The RFRA challenges to the contraceptive coverage regulations—and especially the accommodation—have presented several of these elements. But the government, in resisting these RFRA challenges, has not challenged the plaintiffs’ sincerity.

That said, there are several reasons to doubt the sincerity of several plaintiffs’ claims, and to see these lawsuits as an exercise in politics arising from broader conservative and religious opposition to the Obama administration’s positions on issues such as healthcare reform, stem cell research, abortion, and marriage equality. This apparent insincerity provides yet another reason to reject the latest round of RFRA challenges to the contraceptive accommodation.

Continue reading

The EEOC’s Role In Reshaping Wellness Programs

This new post by Kristin Madison appears on the Health Affairs Blog concludes the blog series stemming from the Fourth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Friday, January 29, 2016.

Wellness programs remain a popular feature of the employer landscape, but the legal environment surrounding them has long been uncertain. In April 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took a significant step toward resolving this uncertainty by formally proposing a ruleclarifying the applicability Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) to wellness programs.

In doing so, it staked out middle ground between an approach that would have sharply limited the use of incentives in wellness programs, and a more permissive approach consistent with regulations already in place under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The proposed rule has the potential to shape, or reshape, future wellness programs. The extent to which it will do so, however, remains uncertain. […]

Read the full post here.

New Federal Employee Drug Screening Guidelines to Include Opioid Testing

By Jonathan K. Larsen, JD, MPP

There is no denying that the United States is experiencing an opioid overdose epidemic. Drug overdose deaths generally in the United States have been associated, at least in part, with increasing mortality rates among white non-Hispanics, which is counter to trends in other wealthy nations. The Urban Institute’s Laudan Aron recently posted about the underlying causes of our current epidemic, paying special attention to aggressive marketing of painkillers, the related spike in opioid prescriptions, and the closely correlated increase in opioid abuse. The issue has even made it into the current Presidential campaign, however briefly. President Obama has sought increased funding to address the issue, as well as a focused private, state, and local effort to tackle prescription drug abuse. While opioid abuse has been on the rise, it is not typically part of employee drug testing, when employers choose or are required to test. This may be changing.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the federal agency responsible for drug testing standards for federal agencies, is poised to release drug screening guidelines (see page 4 (28104 in the Federal Register) that would expand drug screening for opioid abuse to federal employees, and could influence employee drug testing policies across the nation. The US Department of Defense has been testing for hydrocodone and benzodiazepines (used to treat anxiety and seizures among other things) since May 1, 2012. SAMHSA cites sobering statistics about opioid-related deaths now outnumbering deaths from illicit drugs, as it prepares to test for oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone, all classified as Schedule II drugs, or drugs with high risk of abuse, by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The proposed guidelines were released May 15, 2015, so the final rules should be coming soon. Continue reading

One Patent Law, Two Economic Sectors: Is The One-Size-Fits-All Patent Law Still Workable?

This new post by Claire Laporte appears on the Health Affairs Blog as part of a series stemming from the Fourth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Friday, January 29, 2016.

Ever since the first patent was issued in 1790, the United States has had a single patent law to protect inventions in all fields. Over the past three decades, that law has been strained to the breaking point in covering both the life sciences and other technologies.

On the life sciences side, patents protect platform technologies as well as specific products and are important at every stage of a product’s life cycle. Many scientific breakthroughs arise from federally funded research in universities and other institutions. Under the Bayh-Dole Act, these institutions license the resulting patents to companies, often start-ups, which develop the technology until it is ready to be marketed.

During the many years of the development process, companies need to attract investment, and investors often assess the merits of the patent portfolio as an indicator of the ultimate strength of the company. Once a product is released to the market, patents still matter; each day of patent protection for a blockbuster drug is worth millions. Patent litigation in the life sciences is typically between competitors and reflects an effort by one of those competitors to maintain its exclusivity. […]

Read the full post here.