Kaiser Health News Original Stories

5. Health Reform Roils Downton Abbey

The hospital consolidation plot in the final season of the beloved British series is historically accurate — and has parallels in today’s U.S. health industry. (Jenny Gold, 2/17)

6. Political Cartoon: 'Taking The Initiative?'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Taking The Initiative?'" by Joel Pett.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

POLITICAL DISCUSSION IN HAIKU: A RESPONSE TO TUESDAY'S 17 SYLLABLES

New York Times selects
Wrong leftist economists.
Single payer soars.

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Campaign 2016

7. In Aftermath Of Scalia's Death, Clinton Highlights Individual Cases While Sanders Takes Broader Tactic

Both candidates are voicing concerns: Bernie Sanders cites frustration over Republican's "obstructionism," while Hillary Clinton is stressing the importance of cases on the docket -- including one on abortion rights. On the Republican side of the race, Ted Cruz is campaigning on his relationship with Justice Antonin Scalia -- even if they had a rocky start.

Politico: Clinton, Sanders Blaze Different Trails On Supreme Court Nomination
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have expressed their outrage at Republican threats to block President Barack Obama's choice to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. That's where the similarities end. For Clinton, the opening on the court has provided a chance to aggressively talk about abortion rights, immigration reform and voting rights — issues that rile up her base and closely align her with the sitting president. Clinton, with deep support from Hispanic voters and the full weight of abortion rights groups behind her, reminds those blocs of their uncertain futures by singling out individual cases that could directly affect them. (Debenedetti, 2/16)

The New York Times: After A Rocky Start, Ted Cruz Had Success Before Justices
On the first Monday in October 2003, a 32-year-old lawyer who then called himself R. Edward Cruz made his first appearance before the justices. It did not go well. Mr. Cruz had only recently taken a job as the Texas solicitor general. ... Speaking in South Carolina on Monday, he described his two-decade relationship with Justice Scalia with favorite tales of his judicial prowess and wit. At that first argument, though, the relationship looked rocky. Mr. Cruz was making a states’ rights argument. Texas had agreed to settle a federal lawsuit accusing it of denying medical treatment to children. But Mr. Cruz said the state had the constitutional authority to ignore the settlement, one that had taken the form of a consent decree. Justice Scalia was not convinced. “Why would the other side ever accept such a consent decree?” he asked. “It’s crazy.” Mr. Cruz lost, nine to nothing. (Liptak and Flegenheimer, 2/16)

Meanwhile, The Washington Post looks at Ted Cruz's defining moment —

The Washington Post: For Ted Cruz, The 2013 Shutdown Was A Defining Moment
In 2013, freshman Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said he had a plan to do something that seemed impossible. He could force President Obama to strip the funding from the landmark health-care law that had come to bear his name — Obamacare — by threatening to shut down the government. To some other conservatives, there was a problem with Cruz’s plan. It still seemed impossible. (Fahrenthold and Zezima, 2/16)

And Democratic leaders aren't panicking about Bernie Sanders. Yet —

McClatchy: Democratic Insiders: Sanders Doesn’t Worry Us. So Far.
Democratic regulars recoil at the potential labels Republicans could stick on [Vt. Sen. Bernie] Sanders. He’s proposing a $13.6 trillion, 10-year tax increase, and many proposals will hit the middle as well as wealthier classes. He wants universal health care for a nation still divided over the last massive overhaul, Obamacare. And there’s that socialist label. (Lightman, 2/17)

Supreme Court

8. Law Firm In Contraception Case Launches New Website Following Scalia's Death

With an eight-member court, the ruling is expected to be 4-4 in the case, which challenges the Obama administration's birth control mandate. In other news, the Supreme Court is set to hear a different health care case on Tuesday that would have an impact on the medical device industry.

CQ Roll Call: Contraception Mandate Foes Reframe Case After Scalia's Death
A law firm representing plaintiffs in an upcoming Supreme Court case on contraception is making a renewed push to outline its argument in the aftermath of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, underscoring the potential uphill battle that lays ahead for the challengers in the case. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty – a nonprofit representing the Little Sisters of the Poor in a challenge of the birth control mandate in the 2010 health care law – announced a new website on Tuesday to show “why a win for the Little Sisters is a win for all Americans.” (Zanona, 2/16)

Capitol Hill Watch

9. Democrats: Subpoenas In Fetal Tissue Investigation Pose 'Grave Risk' To Researchers' Safety

The House lawmakers say Republicans are trying to create a database of people involved with fetal tissue research that could endanger abortion doctors and patients. In other Capitol Hill news, House lawyers update their lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act following the president's budget release.

The Hill: Democrats Protest Subpoenas In Planned Parenthood Investigation
Democrats are urging the GOP-led House committee investigating Planned Parenthood to halt a round of subpoenas that they argue will endanger abortion doctors and patients. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who leads the House’s select committee, plans to issue three subpoenas this week in an effort to collect information about fetal tissue research in the U.S. – something that Democrats say will turn into a national database used for political purposes. (Ferris, 2/16)

CQ Roll Call: House Members Use Obama Budget To Bolster Health Care Lawsuit
A House lawsuit against the Obama administration over the 2010 health care law shook loose new ammunition in the president’s fiscal 2017 budget request, according to a filing Tuesday: an updated dollar figure for Treasury payments that lawmakers consider unconstitutional. The filing is the latest development in a contentious battle for power in the appropriations process, where the House is demanding that the courts enforce the separation of powers by curbing what they see as an overreach of the executive branch. (Mejdrich, 2/16)

Pharmaceuticals

10. Pfizer To Pay $784.6M Over Medicaid Overcharging Allegations

The agreement settles a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department alleging that the pharmaceutical company's Wyeth unit did not offer Medicaid the same discounts it had given to hospitals for its heartburn drug Protonix.

The Wall Street Journal: Pfizer To Pay $785 Million To Settle Medicaid Claims
Drugmaker Pfizer Inc. on Tuesday said it reached an agreement in principle to pay $784.6 million to settle a long-running U.S. government investigation of allegations that its Wyeth unit overcharged government Medicaid health programs for the heartburn drug Protonix. Pfizer said the agreement doesn’t include any admission of liability by Wyeth. The deal is subject to negotiation of a final agreement and court approval. A trial in the case had been scheduled to begin March 7 in federal court in Boston. (Loftus, 2/16)

The Associated Press: Pfizer Reports $784.6 Million Charge For Protonix Deal
Drugmaker Pfizer Inc. swung to a fourth-quarter financial loss, instead of a modest profit, as a result of a just-announced charge to settle a long-running federal case over reimbursements for its former blockbuster heartburn pill. Pfizer, which is planning a mega-acquisition of Irish drugmaker Allergan meant to reduce Pfizer's corporate tax bill, said Tuesday that it has a tentative agreement to pay the federal government $784.6 million. (2/16)