The Hobby Lobby Decision Could Affect Millions Of Workers

Kristin Hughs, right, announces to supporters  the Supreme Court's decision on the Hobby Lobby case in Washington, Monday, Ju
Kristin Hughs, right, announces to supporters the Supreme Court's decision on the Hobby Lobby case in Washington, Monday, June 30, 2014. The Supreme Court says corporations can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The Supreme Court claimed its decision giving Hobby Lobby the right to deny insurance coverage of birth control was relatively narrow -- but it could potentially affect tens of millions of American workers.

The high court limited its 5-4 ruling to corporations that are "closely held," a technical term that basically means the majority of the company is owned by five people or less.

As it turns out, that’s a lot of companies, with a lot of workers.

Private and closely held companies accounted for about 90 percent of all U.S. companies with $10 million or more in revenue in 2013, according to PrivCo, a research firm that tracks private companies. Though a private company isn't exactly the same thing as a “closely held” company, PrivCo CEO Sam Hamadeh said the number of private companies that are not closely held is extremely small.

Backing up PrivCo's numbers, a 2000 research paper from the Copenhagen Business School found that 90 percent of U.S. companies are “closely held."

According to PrivCo data compiled for HuffPost, 79 percent of U.S. private-sector workers work for a closely held company that has 50 or more employees, making it subject to Obamacare's "employer mandate" that it must offer health insurance. A 2009 paper from researchers at New York University, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University put the share of closely held employment at 52 percent of all private-sector workers.

Even if you use the lower percentage, we're still talking about more than 60 million people.

The vast majority of the companies affected by the Hobby Lobby ruling probably won't deny their workers contraception coverage. Still, Hamadeh said, most Americans -- and probably the Supreme Court justices themselves -- would be surprised to find out how many companies could be touched by the decision. Many household names are closely held companies, including the famously religious Chick-Fil-A and firms run by the politically conservative Koch Brothers.

And because the ruling wasn't very technical, it left open the possibility that other closely held companies could use religion to try to get exemptions from a variety of laws, according to Marci Hamilton, chair of public law at the Cardozo School of Law.

"They've left it to the lower courts to battle out those lawsuits," she said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misstated the name of the Cardozo School of Law as "Cordozo Law School."