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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge rules insurance companies can refuse to cover PrEP

Braidwood Management challenged Affordable Care Act provision

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The Eldon B. Mahon federal courthouse in Fort Worth, Texas (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Courts/GSA)

A federal judge on Wednesday ruled against a federal mandate that requires employer provided health plans to cover PrEP, a drug used for the prevention of HIV. 

The mandate, a provision of the Affordable Care Act, violates tenets of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, according to U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. 

Insurance plans were required to cover PrEP following a 2019 recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services for the drug to be prescribed for high-risk patients for the prevention of HIV infection. 

Braidwood Management challenged the ACA’s provision the grounds that covering PrEP would conflict with its religious convictions as the medication “facilitates and encourages homosexual behavior, intravenous drug use and sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and one woman.” 

O’Connor ruled in favor of Braidwood Management in a separate case last year challenging the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s anti-bias protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, deciding Braidwood had the right to discriminate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment. 

Representing the company in both cases was former Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell, a vocal opponent of LGBTQ rights who is credited as the architect of Senate Bill 8, which provides a right of action allowing private citizens to sue those who obtain an abortion. 

One of the more conservative judges in one of the most conservative federal district courts, O’Connor ruled in 2018 that the entire ACA was unconstitutional, which the U.S. Supreme Court subsequently overturned in 2021. 

Carl Schmid, executive director of the HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute, told Roll Call he expects Wednesday’s ruling will be appealed. “Preventive services covered by private insurance plans without cost-sharing, such as HIV testing, hepatitis B and C testing, and PrEP, are all critical and well-established public health preventive services that must continue,” he said. 

PrEP reduces by roughly 99 percent the risk of contracting HIV. It has been labeled an “essential medicine” by the World Health Organization. 

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U.S. Federal Courts

U.S. military’s ban on enlistment by HIV-positive people faces legal challenge

This summer, the Department of Defense removed restrictions on deployment and stopped discharges of service-members who are HIV positive, provided they are asymptomatic and have a “clinically confirmed undetectable viral load.”

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(Photo by MoiraM/Bigstock)

Lambda Legal and a coalition of law firms and attorneys filed a lawsuit Thursday in a federal Virginia district court challenging the U.S. military’s prohibition of HIV-positive Americans from enlisting in the U.S. Armed Forces.

The legal challenge was filed on behalf of three individual plaintiffs and the Minority Veterans of America (MVA) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The action comes on the heels of the Department of Defense’s updates this summer to its policies concerning HIV-positive service members.

On June 7, the agency announced it would not restrict the deployability or ability to commission, nor discharge or separate any service members based solely on their HIV-positive status, provided they are asymptomatic and have a “clinically confirmed undetectable viral load.”

“For years, the military has found it difficult to meet the recruitment and end-strength goals for an all-volunteer force,” Lambda Legal co-counsel Peter Perkowski, who is also the legal and policy director of MVA, said in a press release announcing the lawsuit.

“Given this reality, it is non-sensical for the nation’s largest employer to turn away healthy, fit, and fully capable recruits just because they have HIV,” Perkowski said.

“A positive HIV status alone has no effect on a person’s ability to safely serve,” Kara Ingelhart, senior attorney at Lambda Legal, said in the press release. “Because HIV disproportionately impacts LGBTQ+ people and people of color, this discriminatory policy is not only outdated, but is also a serious equity issue that has a significant impact on communities who already face countless systemic barriers to accessing full life in America.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

White House vows to appeal ruling striking down student debt

Ruling comes from conservative Texas court and the administration’s appeal will be heard by the country’s most conservative appellate court

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U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in the Earle Cabell Federal Building in Dallas. (Public domain photo by U.S. Courts/GSA)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement Thursday night vowing to appeal the decision by a conservative federal district court in Texas that struck down the Biden-Harris administration’s student debt relief program.

President Joe Biden and his administration “are determined to help working and middle-class Americans get back on their feet, while our opponents – backed by extreme Republican special interests – sued to block millions of Americans from getting much-needed relief,” Jean-Pierre said in the statement.

Judge Mark T. Pittman, who was appointed by former president Donald Trump to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, ruled that the administration’s program was a usurpation of power that belonged in the hands of Congress.

Sixteen million Americans have already been approved for student debt relief. The Department of Education will hold onto their information, along with that which has been submitted by 10 million other borrowers, pending a decision from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appellate court is the country’s most conservative, and therefore is expected to be sympathetic to arguments that the administration’s program is an overreach of its legal authority.

The administration contends that Congress vested it with the authority to provide relief to student borrowers through the HEROES Act, which expands the Executive Branch’s powers during times of national emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Supreme Court has refused to hear challenges to Biden’s relief plan, and six conservative states have sued separately to stop implementation of the administration’s program. So, the ultimate outcome will probably remain unclear for the foreseeable future.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Suspect in Paul Pelosi attack to face federal assault, attempted kidnapping charges

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband attacked in San Francisco home

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The U.S. Federal Building in San Francisco (Photo credit: T. Bayer)

The 42-year-old suspect in the break-in and assault of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)’s husband, Paul Pelosi, was formally charged Monday with assault and attempted kidnapping in violation of federal law.

David Wayne DePape, 42, of Richmond, Calif., was arrested on Friday inside the Pelosi residence in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood by San Francisco Police Department police officers responding to a 911 call from Paul Pelosi.

Paul Pelosi was admitted to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital for his injuries, the hospital confirmed. Paul Pelosi underwent what officials described as successful surgery to repair a skull fracture and injuries to his right arm and hands after he was seriously wounded in the attack.

Nancy Pelosi arrived in San Francisco late Friday aboard a U.S. Air Force VIP transport jet and published a “Dear colleague” letter this past weekend thanking fellow members of Congress for their support and expressing gratitude for the “quick response” of law enforcement and emergency services personnel. 

U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds for the Northern District of California, Special Agent in Charge Robert K. Tripp of the FBI San Francisco Field Office and U.S. Capital Police Chief J. Thomas Manger made the announcement. Hinds’ Special Prosecutions Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California is prosecuting the case.

According to the complaint, DePape was arrested on Friday inside the Pelosi residence by San Francisco police officers responding to a 911 call from Paul Pelosi. He later described to police that he had been asleep when DePape, whom he had never seen before, entered his bedroom looking for Nancy Pelosi.

According to the complaint, minutes after the 911 call, two police officers responded to the Pelosi residence where they encountered Paul Pelosi and DePape struggling over a hammer. Officers told the men to drop the hammer, and DePape allegedly gained control of the hammer and swung it, striking Paul Pelosi in the head. Officers immediately restrained DePape, while Paul Pelosi appeared to be unconscious on the ground. As set forth in the complaint, once DePape was restrained, officers secured a roll of tape, white rope, a second hammer, a pair of rubber and cloth gloves, and zip ties from the crime scene, where officers also observed a broken glass door to the back porch.   

DePape is charged with one count of assault of an immediate family member of a U.S. official with the intent to retaliate against the official on account of the performance of official duties, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. DePape is also charged with one count of attempted kidnapping of a U.S. official on account of the performance of official duties, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

The FBI San Francisco Field Office, the U.S. Capitol Police and the San Francisco Police Department are continuing to investigate the case.

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