KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: March 23, 2012

Today's health policy headlines are full of previews of next week's health law action at the Supreme Court.

Kaiser Health News: Health Industries Weigh In On Supreme Court Case
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jay Hancock reports: "Before the raucous legislative battle to pass the health law in 2010, there was a quieter but significant process that brought health industry players to the negotiating table. Insurers, hospitals and drug makers all cut deals to help shape what would become the Affordable Care Act. Now, as the Supreme Court awaits arguments in one of the most closely watched cases in years, the deals are threatened along with the law" (Hancock, 3/22).

Kaiser Health News: A Timeline Of The Health Reform Law's Major Milestones And Regulations
Kaiser Health News staff writer Andrew Villegas reports: "The health law was controversial even before it was signed by President Barack Obama two years ago. But the political ruckus has not deterred the administration from issuing hundreds of pages of regulations which already are affecting consumers, hospitals, doctors, insurance companies and state governments. Here's a look at what was done when" (Villegas, 3/22).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Sheriff: State Mental Health Cuts Undermine Public Safety
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Jenny Gold reports: "As states have struggled to balance their budgets during the economic downturn, mental health programs have frequently weathered significant cuts. Three-quarters of states have cut their mental health budgets during each of the past four fiscal years, for a combined reduction of $4.35 billion, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Research Institute, which represents state mental health agencies" (Gold, 3/22). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: House Votes To Kill A Medicare Cost Panel
In a rebuff to President Obama, the Republican-controlled House passed a bill on Thursday to abolish a Medicare cost control board created by the new health care law. e bill, approved by a vote of 223 to 181, provoked a full-throated debate on the merits of the law, the Affordable Care Act, on the second anniversary of its signing by Mr. Obama (Pear, 3/22).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Death Panels, Meet IPAB. GOP Sees Election-Year Issue In Repeal Of Medicare Cost-Control Board
Drawing a new election-year fault line between the parties, the Republican-controlled House voted Thursday to repeal a Medicare cost-control board that has yet to be named but is called for in President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law. The GOP has branded the Independent Payment Advisory Board a rationing panel, and Republicans hope the symbolic 223-181 vote to repeal it will persuade seniors that they, and not the Democrats, are the best stewards of Medicare (3/22).

Reuters/Chicago Tribune: U.S. House Votes To Abolish Medicare Cost Panel
The measure, which is unlikely to be taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate, was passed one day before the two-year anniversary of the healthcare law, which polling data shows is unpopular with the public. The move is the latest in a series of attempts by House Republicans to repeal parts of the healthcare law ahead of the November 6 election in which all 435 House seats are up for grabs (3/22).

NPR: How The Health Law could Survive Without A Mandate
The so-called individual mandate is the centerpiece of the law, and the conventional wisdom says the rest of the law will crumble if it is found to be unconstitutional. But many policy wonks say that's not necessarily the case (Rovner, 3/23).

The Washington Post: Health-Care Changes May Not All Disappear Even If Justices Overturn The Law
So what happens to the existing provisions if the Supreme Court, which will hear challenges to the law next week, ultimately decides to go with its most sweeping option: overturning the law in its entirety? The answer depends on where you live, who you work for and how you get your insurance (Aizenman, 3/22).

Politico: 5 Things Dems Got Wrong On Health Care
President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies thought their political assumptions were airtight during the yearlong battle to overhaul the health care system. Voters would reward them, they thought, even if Democrats muscled a bill through without Republican support. It was just a matter of getting out of Washington and selling the law. Obama would lead the charge, and rank-and-file Democrats would proudly campaign on the achievement. None of it worked out that way (Budoff Brown, 3/23).

NPR: How Health Care Ruling Could Shift The GOP Debate
As the Supreme Court gets ready to hear arguments about President Obama's health care law, supporters and opponents are planning a flurry of rallies, press conferences and phone banks to remind people why the law is so great — or so terrible. Republicans have been energized by their desire to see the law repealed, but the issue could be more complicated for the GOP than it seems (Liasson, 3/22).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Missing From Obama Health-Care Anniversary: Obama
President Barack Obama's health-care law turns two years old Friday. … The White House posted video testimony of people who have been helped. The secretary of Health and Human Services is traveling the country to tout the benefits. … There’s just one thing missing: Mr. Obama. He isn't making any public appearances to talk about the law, showing up only in packaged videos like this documentary-style campaign video, which recounts the story of the law's passage (Meckler, 3/22).

Politico: Mitch McConnell Eyes GOP Takeover, Health Care Reform Repeal
Not only is McConnell thinking about winning in 2012 with a message focused largely on health care, he's also starting to chart a course for a Republican Senate in 2013 and what could be a bruising reelection bid in 2014 (Raju, 3/22).

Reuters/Chicago Tribune: Analysis: Investors Weigh Chaos As High Court Reviews Health Law
In 2010 alone, Aetna says it invested 53,000 work hours -- the equivalent of one person working for 25 years -- updating computer systems to accommodate the new benefits and changes in the law. … What if all the work is for naught? That possibility comes into high relief for the healthcare industry starting on Monday, when the U.S. Supreme Court begins hearing arguments about the healthcare overhaul law. And it has investors and analysts attempting to handicap fallout from the high-profile decision (Krauskopf, 3/22).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Insurers Forge Ahead To Prepare For Health Care Overhaul, Despite Law's Uncertain Future
It's not that health insurers want to bet big that the court will uphold the Affordable Care Act. It's that they can't afford not to. It will take at least several months and lots of resources for insurers to prepare to implement key elements of the law, which includes a controversial requirement that most Americans have health insurance by 2014 (3/23).

The Wall Street Journal: Health Law Slow To Win Favor
When the health-care overhaul became law after a bitter debate, many Democrats predicted Americans would grow to like it as they started enjoying some of the early benefits. The day after the president signed the bill into law, which happened exactly two years ago, an average of major polls collated by the website Real Clear Politics showed 50.4% of Americans opposed. This week, that had changed only by a tenth of a percentage point, ticking up to 50.5% (Adamy and Radnofsky, 3/22).

NPR: The Man Behind The Defense Of Obama's Health Law
At 54, Don Verrilli, stands tall and calm in the Supreme Court chamber, his salt and pepper mustache the only thing about him that bristles. His deep, baritone voice suggests to the justices that he is the essence of reasonableness. There are no histrionics. Indeed, if he gets backed into a corner, his voice just gets deeper. Only the occasional, needless throat-clearing betrays any nerves at all (Totenberg, 3/22).

Politico: Justice Department Bets Big On Mandate
The Justice Department argues that without the mandate, there is no way to keep the law's requirements that insurance companies accept all applicants regardless of their medical history and cannot charge more to sicker and older patients. That’s because without the mandate, there won't be enough healthy people paying health insurance premiums to cover the costs of the sick people. … It's a legal high-wire act that could have substantial consequences for the White House in an election year. … It could also make the Supreme Court — which will start three days of oral argument on the health law on March 26 — think twice about striking the mandate if the überpopular piece has to go, too (Haberkorn, 3/22).

NPR: Answers To Your Questions About The Health Care Overhaul Law
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act … turns two on Friday. The law is headed to the Supreme Court on Monday. …  Ahead of the big day, we asked for questions from our audiences online and on air. Here's a sampling of questions, edited for clarity and length, and the answers (Rovner, 3/22).

The Washington Post's The Fact Checker: Romney And The Individual Mandate, Again
There's been a considerable amount of discussion lately about whether Mitt Romney's old campaign comments and op-eds provide proof that he actually supports a federal mandate, contrary to what he claims and what Fact Checker Glenn Kessler determined about the matter in a previous column. Still, critics such as Rick Santorum continue to pound home the notion that the former governor advocated a national insurance requirement (Hicks, 3/22).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: Rockefeller Convenes Hearing On Prescription Drugs
Medical experts testified Thursday before a congressional subcommittee looking into how the Medicare and Medicaid systems can help prevent and treat prescription drug abuse. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., introduced a bill last year that would promote physician and patient education and create a uniform reporting system for painkiller-related deaths. It also would provide federal funding to help establish and maintain drug monitoring programs that all states can access (3/22).

The Texas Tribune/New York Times: The Storm Over Women's Health Care Had Been Brewing
In the battle between state leaders and the Obama administration over Texas' decision to oust health care providers affiliated with abortion clinics from a five-year-old contraception and cancer-screening program, both sides believe they are the victims (Ramshaw and Tan, 3/22).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Maryland Oral Health Program Targets Families Not Taking Advantage Of Medicaid Dental Care
The campaign being launched at Baltimore’s National Dental Museum is part of a state effort to improve access to dental care following the 2007 death of Deamonte Driver. The Prince George's County boy died from a tooth infection that spread to his brain after his coverage lapsed and his mother couldn’t find a dentist to treat him (3/23). 

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