KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: March 28, 2012

Today's headlines recap yesterday's Supreme Court action related to the constitutionality of the individual mandate and set the scene for day 3 of the oral arguments, which will tackle issues of severalbility and questions about the health law's Medicaid expansion.

Kaiser Health News: Day 2: Justices Grill Obama Administration On Health Law
Kaiser Health News contributor Stuart Taylor, Jr., tells Jackie Judd the conservative justices were especially skeptical today, asking sometimes-hostile questions of Solicitor General Donald Verrilli (3/27). Read the transcript or watch the video.

Kaiser Health News: Slideshow: A Cold Morning But Hot Emotions Outside The Court
Inside the Supreme Court building this week, the nation's highest court is hearing oral arguments in a case that seeks to overturn the 2010 health law. This Kaiser Health News photo gallery, with pictures taken by Jessica Marcy, details happenings outside the building, where Americans gathered to express their support or opposition to the law -- or just to see history being made (Marcy, 3/27).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Pundits Parse Tough Questions By Conservative Justices
Now on Kaiser Health News blog, Phil Galewitz reports: "The second day of the momentous Supreme Court hearing on President Obama’s health law ended almost exactly at noon. By 12:03, many conservative lawmakers and television commentators who had been in the packed chambers stood on the marble steps outside, saying the health insurance mandate at the heart of the law appeared to be in deep trouble" (Galewitz, 3/27). Check out what else is on the blog.  

Kaiser Health News: Transcript: Highlights Of The Lively Arguments At The Supreme Court, Day 2
Kaiser Health News provides excerpts of some of the most compelling parts of Tuesday's oral arguments at the high court (3/27). Read selections highlighting how conservative justices aggressively challenged the government's position on the individual mandate.

Also, check out Kaiser Health News resource page, The Supreme Court Decides: Health Law At The High Court, for our complete coverage. It includes KHN's scorecard, which tracks the course the legal challenges followed to arrive at the high court; as well as links to the audio of the court's oral arguments, anaylsis, news, briefs and other documents. KHN also has a collection of its coverage related to the law's second anniversary and the high court's review, and will update the website throughout the day with the latest information and news summaries.

The Washington Post: On Last Day Of Health Care Hearing, Supreme Court Considers Severability, Medicaid Expansion
The Supreme Court will complete its review of President Obama's health care law Wednesday by considering whether all of the law must fall if part of it is found unconstitutional, and whether the law’s proposed Medicaid expansion violates the federal-state partnership. The Medicaid expansion decision might have the most lasting impact on the federal government's ability to use its spending power to pressure state action (Aizenman and Barnes, 3/28).

NPR: Supreme Court's Medicaid Decision Could Reach Far Beyond Health Care
After Tuesday's judicial fireworks, the Supreme Court wraps up arguments on the new health care law Wednesday by focusing on two questions. The first involves what would happen if the "individual mandate" — the core of the law that requires most people to have health insurance — is struck down. Would the rest of the law fall, too, or could some provisions stay? But it's the second argument the court will hear about the Affordable Care Act that could potentially have the most far-reaching consequences. At issue is whether the health law's expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor unfairly forces the states to participate (Rovner, 3/28).

Politico: Medicaid Ruling Could Have Far-Reaching Impact
The court is spending most of its health law oral arguments on questions pertaining to the individual mandate. Later, the court will devote the sixth and final hour to Medicaid expansion. And even though court-watchers are not expecting a precedent-shattering ruling on the question, the fact that the court is addressing this element of the health law signals that the justices are taking it seriously. A broad ruling by a conservative majority in June against Medicaid could shake the shared legal foundation of landmark legislation, including unemployment benefits, the Civil Rights Act and the Clean Air Act (Feder, 3/27).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: On Final Day Of Health Care Hearings, 26 States Tell Justices They Can’t Afford More Medicaid
States are complaining that the U.S. government made them a health care offer they can’t refuse — but they’d sure like to. And on a doubly busy Wednesday ending three days of hearings, the Supreme Court has another issue to consider: If justices throw out a key piece of the health care law, should they keep the rest of it? (3/28).

NPR: Court Looks At Whether Mandate Can Separate From Rest Of Health Law
In its second-to-last argument over the Affordable Care Act Wednesday, the Supreme Court Wednesday ponders a what-if. Specifically, if it decides that Congress exceeded its Constitutional authority in enacting the part of the law that requires most Americans to either have health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty, does that invalidate the rest of the law? And if not, how much, if any, of the rest of the law should it strike down? (Rovner, 3/28).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: If The Insurance Mandate Falls: Supreme Court Asks Whether Rest Of Obama Health Law Can Go On
The heart of the Obama administration’s health care overhaul hanging in the balance, the Supreme Court is turning to whether the rest of the law can survive if the crucial individual insurance requirement is struck down. The justices also will spend part of Wednesday, the last of three days of arguments over the health law, considering a challenge by 26 states to the expansion of the Medicaid program for low-income Americans, an important feature toward the overall goal of extending health insurance to an additional 30 million people (3/28).

The Washington Post: Supreme Court Expresses Doubts On Key Constitutional Issue In Health-Care Law
In an intense interrogation of the government’s lawyer, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., the justices posed repeated and largely unanswered questions about the limits of federal power. At the end of two hours, the court seemed split on the same question that has divided political leaders and the country: whether the Constitution gives Congress the power to compel Americans to either purchase health insurance or pay a penalty (Barnes and Aizenman, 3/27).

The Wall Street Journal: Justices Question Health Law
The Supreme Court's conservative justices sharply challenged the Obama administration's health-care overhaul Tuesday, raising clearly the prospect that the president's signature domestic achievement could be struck down. The court's liberal and conservative wings seemed inclined to split evenly over the question of whether the "individual mandate" requiring Americans to carry health insurance or pay a fine is constitutional (Bravin, 3/27).

The New York Times: In Court, Sharp Questions On Health Care Law's Mandate
With the fate of President Obama’s health care law hanging in the balance, a lawyer for the administration faced a barrage of skeptical questions on Tuesday from four of the Supreme Court’s more conservative justices, suggesting that a 5-to-4 decision to strike down the law was a live possibility (Liptak, 3/27).

Reuters/Chicago Tribune: Broccoli, Cellphones And The Obama Healthcare Law
If Congress has the power to require that Americans obtain health insurance, U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday asked hypothetical questions on what would be next - insisting that people eat broccoli, buy a cellphone or get burial insurance? During a second day of arguments over President Barack Obama's 2010 healthcare law, conservative Chief Justice John Roberts likened healthcare services for the sick to such emergency services as police, fire and ambulance assistance (Vicini, 3/27).

NPR: Mandate’s Fate Seems To Rest On Kennedy, Roberts
At the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, hostile questioning from key justices seemed to imperil the individual mandate, the central provision of the Obama health care overhaul. … But for supporters of the law, the worrisome questions came from Justice Anthony Kennedy, the justice who most often swings the court in 5-4 decisions (Totenberg, 3/27).

Politico: John Roberts Court On Trial
If the wily chief justice felt squeamish about leading the Supreme Court into an election-year political maelstrom, that was nowhere on display Tuesday, when the Roberts-led conservative majority signaled its collective skepticism, even hostility, for President Barack Obama’s health care law (Thrush, 3/28).

The Wall Street Journal: Kennedy Leaves Both Sides Hopeful
The mystique that is Justice Kennedy—the almost-certain swing vote in any big Supreme Court case—was on full display during Tuesday's arguments over whether President Barack Obama's signature legislative achievement passes constitutional muster. After two intense hours of oral argument, both sides were investing their hopes in him. But neither could confidently predict how he will vote (Kendall, 3/27).

NPR: Supreme Court Cheat Sheet: A Quick Guide To The Day 2 Arguments
In contrast to Monday's dense and technical arguments, Tuesday's session was filled with sharp rhetorical volleys and clever analogies. Here are some of the more telling exchanges between the lawyers and the high court justices (Halloran, 3/27).

The Washington Post: Could The Health-Care Law Work Without The Individual Mandate?
If the Supreme Court were to invalidate the 2010 health-care law’s requirement that virtually all Americans obtain insurance, would the rest of the law become unworkable? Even among supporters of the statute, opinions vary widely about the practical impact of a decision to strike down the mandate but leave everything else intact — one of several options available to the court (Aizenman, 3/27).

The New York Times: Contengency Plans Are Few If Court Strikes Down Insurance Requirement
If the court invalidates the insurance requirement, the White House and a divided Congress would be left to pick up the pieces. Their first steps toward finding alternatives to reduce the number of uninsured in the country — nearly 50 million, or one in six Americans — would depend heavily on how far the Supreme Court goes, and on the balance of power in Washington after the November elections (Sack, 3/27).

Politico: Health Care Reform: Coverage For Sickest May Hinge On Court’s Decision
Lawyers for President Barack Obama made a high-stakes gamble on the way to the Supreme Court: If you strike down the individual mandate, they told the justices, you’ve also got to kill the guarantee of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. All of a sudden, that’s looking like a bad bet (Millman, 3/27).

The New York Times: In Massachusetts, Insurance Mandate Stirs Some Dissent
As the Supreme Court hears arguments this week on the constitutionality of the national health care law and its requirement that most Americans be insured or pay a penalty, Massachusetts offers a real-world laboratory of how such a mandate might work. Roughly 48,000 people in the state were subject to penalties for not having coverage in 2009, the latest year for which figures are available, down from 67,000 in 2007 (Goodnough, 3/27).

The Wall Street Journal: Health Executives Unfazed By Supreme-Court Debate
Insurance companies and hospital chains brushed off concerns Tuesday the Supreme Court could strike down a requirement in the health-care law that would create millions of newly insured customers. Health insurers have perhaps the most at stake of any sector touched by the case. The court is considering whether a requirement that most Americans eventually carry insurance or pay a fee violates the Constitution. The individual mandate is expected to expand insurance to about 30 million Americans (Mathews and Radnofsky, 3/27).

The Washington Post: Court Watchers On Both Sides Speculate About Health-Care Mandate
Political Washington spent Tuesday engaged in an odd parlor game that combined the guesswork of charades with the messaging confusion of "telephone." Inside the Supreme Court, 500 people stared at nine justices, trying to divine the meaning behind questions, quips and even smiles. Outside, a peculiar subset of the capital’s denizens were on their various electronic devices, eagerly trying to decode what those inside thought they saw (Fahrenthold and Aizenman, 3/27).

The Washington Post: Health-Care Arguments Boil Over Outside Court
Think you've already heard every possible argument against the health-insurance reform now known as Obamacare? Then I'm going to guess you weren't there when conservative Iowa congressman Steve King stepped to the portable lectern in front of the Supreme Court on Tuesday morning and, repeating the words scribbled on a handmade sign being waved around over his head by a man in a cowboy hat, warned the government to "Keep your law off my BODY!!"’ (Henneberger, 3/27).

Reuters/Chicago Tribune: Tea Party Activists Rally Against Healthcare Law
Thousands of conservative Tea Party activists rallied in central Washington on Tuesday,
where speakers blasted President Barack Obama's sweeping healthcare reform law as a violation of the Constitution that the Founding Fathers would have condemned (Simpson, 3/27).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Bipartisan Group Offers Obama Deficit Panel Plan As Alternative To GOP Budget
A bipartisan budget plan to cut the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years with a mix of new tax revenues and spending cuts across the federal budget is headed for a House vote, but it is likely to be rejected by Republicans against higher hikes and Democrats opposed to curbs on Medicare and Social Security benefits (3/28).

The Wall Street Journal: Group Backs Simpson-Bowles Plan
A small bipartisan group of House lawmakers, bucking their Democratic and Republican leaders, is advancing a plan to reduce the federal budget deficit by more than $4 trillion over 10 years through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. A vote on the measure could come as soon as Wednesday. It is widely expected to fail, but the degree of support for the plan could prove a bellwether of whether Congress decides to pursue a broad bipartisan budget deal this election year (Paletta, 3/27).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Spin Meter: Just Call It Obamacare; President Embraces Term Used To Ridicule His Health Law
Now that President Barack Obama's re-election campaign has lifted an unofficial ban on using the opposition's term for his health care law, Democratic activists have been chanting "We love Obamacare" in front of the Supreme Court. "It just rolls off the tongue much easier than ‘We love the Affordable Care Act,'" said Lori Lodes, who supports the law and has been coordinating public outreach keyed to the court deliberations for the Center for American Progress (3/28).

Politico: James Carville: Court Loss 'Best Thing' For Democrats
Overturning President Barack Obama's healthcare reform law would be a political boost for Democrats, veteran Democratic strategist James Carville said Tuesday. "I think that this will be the best thing that ever happen to the Democratic party because health care costs are gonna escalate unbelievably," Carville told CNN's Wolf Blitzer of a possible Supreme Court decision to strike down the law. "I honestly believe this, this is not spin" (Dixon, 3/28).

The New York Times: FDA Approves New Anemia Drug
It has been one of the most lucrative monopolies of all time, yielding the biotechnology company Amgen roughly $40 billion in sales over 23 years. Now it appears to be over. The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved an alternative to Amgen’s drugs for use in increasing red blood cell levels in anemic patients receiving kidney dialysis (Pollack, 3/27).

NPR: Texas, Feds Face Off Over Planned Parenthood
Texas and the federal government are going at each other again, this time over Planned Parenthood. The Texas Legislature cut off all Medicaid money to Planned Parenthood because of its involvement in abortions; in response, the federal government has suspended funding for the state's reproductive health program. Now, Texas is suing the Obama administration (Burnett, 3/28).

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