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2. Political Cartoon: 'Three-Ring Practice'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Three-Ring Practice'" by Dave Coverly, Speed Bump.

Here's today's health policy haiku:


Long-term insurance
Costs leave consumers between
Rock and a hard place.

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Summaries of the News

Supreme Court

3. Though Garland Has Some History Of Health Care Related Cases, Abortion Stance Is Uncharted

However, after meeting with President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, Planned Parenthood Cecile Richards says he seems "responsible and qualified" and urged the Senate to act on his nomination.

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Picks Merrick Garland For Supreme Court, Setting Off High-Stakes Fight With Senate
President Barack Obama nominated federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, unleashing a showdown with the Republican-controlled Senate over the court’s first vacancy in six years. Wednesday’s nomination of Judge Garland, a veteran jurist with a reputation for consensus-building, landed in the middle of a heated election battle and at a time when the nation’s highest court is bitterly divided on hot-button issues that include abortion, campaign finance and gun rights. (Lee and son, 3/16)

Politico: Planned Parenthood Chief Urges Senate To Hold Hearing On Garland
Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards headed into the West Wing right after Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination was announced — and she seems to like what she heard. "Judge Garland seems like a responsible and qualified nominee,” Richards said in a statement Wednesday afternoon, throwing her support behind giving the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals chief judge a hearing. Abortion rights, of course, are the perennial major issue in Supreme Court politics — and on the frontburner for the Supreme Court this year, with a big case challenging Texas state restrictions in front of the justices. (Dovere, 3/16)

Modern Healthcare: SCOTUS Pick Has History In Healthcare-Related Cases
Lawmakers will almost certainly spend coming months digging through Garland's judicial record to see where he stands politically. As chief justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, Garland, who is viewed as moderate, has been involved in a number of healthcare-related cases, sometimes siding with hospitals and other times with HHS. Garland was part of a three-judge panel in May that partially sided with hospitals in a case over Medicare outlier payments. ... Also, in December, Garland was part of a three-judge panel that sided with HHS in a case brought by Fayetteville City Hospital in Arkansas, which was reportedly closed by Washington Regional Medical Center in 2012. ... A few years earlier, in 2011, Garland was part of a three-judge panel that sided with Beverly Hospital in Massachusetts after it challenged reimbursements it received from HHS for services it provided to low-income beneficiaries. ... Garland's court has also dealt with several challenges to the Affordable Care Act. (Schencker, 3/16)

Politico: Garland’s Lack Of Standout Opinions A Boon In Confirmation Fight
Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland’s nearly two-decade tenure as a judge on the D.C. Circuit holds few seminal opinions that capture his legal philosophy—and, for those rooting for his confirmation, that may be a good thing. ... A former prosecutor, Garland often split with his liberal colleagues on criminal justice issues, while broadly approving of federal government regulatory actions in areas like health and the environment. On the First Amendment, he has leaned towards free speech rights, while his stances in other areas like abortion rights and church-state issues are uncharted. (Gerstein, 3/16)

Capitol Hill Watch

4. Bill Targeting GMO Labeling Requirements Dies On Senate Floor

Lawmakers had been scrambling to find a way to prevent Vermont's mandatory labeling legislation slated to go into effect July 1. The Senate measure failed to get the 60 supporters it needed to move ahead during a procedural vote.

The New York Times: Bill To Stop States Requiring Labeling Of GMO Foods Fails
A bill that would prevent states from requiring food labels to note the presence of genetically engineered ingredients failed to pass the Senate on Wednesday. Republicans in Congress, led in the Senate by Pat Roberts of Kansas, had been scrambling to come up with a bill that would head off mandatory labeling in Vermont, which goes into effect on July 1. Many food companies have already gotten approval for the language they will use on packaging there, but they worry that other states will pass similar laws, creating a patchwork of requirements that will add to the cost of compliance. (Strom, 3/16)

The Associated Press: Senate Effort To Block Food Labeling Of Modified Food Stalls
The procedural vote is a setback for many big players in the food industry who had lobbied to block Vermont’s law. The industry argues that genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are safe and the labels could be costly for agriculture, food companies and consumers. Congressional Republicans have opposed a patchwork of state laws and worked to find a solution on the issue before Vermont’s law kicks in. The food industry says about 75 percent to 80 percent of foods contain genetically modified ingredients. (3/16)

CQ Healthbeat: Senate Unable to Advance GMO Bill To Limit State Labeling
A closely divided Senate may revisit legislation to bar states from imposing mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods after lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a procedural move to limit debate and advance the measure. The amendment attached to an unrelated bill (S 764) sought to block states from writing mandatory labeling laws and establish a federal voluntary labeling process created and administered by the Agriculture Department. (Ferguson, 3/16)

The Associated Press: Vermont Governor Hails Senate Defeat Of GMO Foods Bill
Vermont's law requiring most genetically modified food to be labeled as such remains on schedule to take effect July 1, after the U.S. Senate on Wednesday voted not to advance a bill that would have blocked such state laws. On a 48-49 procedural vote — short of the 60 votes needed for passage — the Senate decided not to go ahead with legislation similar to a bill passed by the U.S. House last year. The decision was hailed by U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and Gov. Shumlin, both Democrats, and independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. It was sharply criticized by industry groups, which vowed to continue fighting for the legislation and are also seeking to have Vermont's law overturned in Federal court. (Gram, 3/16)

5. Michigan Governor To Blame Water Crisis On Systemic Failures At State Agency

Gov. Rick Snyder is set to appear in front of Congress at a hearing on Thursday, and The Associated Press obtained both his and EPA chief Gina McCarthy's prepared testimony. "Not a day or night goes by that this tragedy doesn't weigh on my mind — the questions I should have asked, the answers I should have demanded," Snyder will say, while pointing a finger at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The Associated Press: Governor, EPA Chief Agree: Michigan Agency Failed Flint
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality repeatedly gave assurances that water from the Flint River was safe, when in reality it had dangerous levels of lead, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder says. Snyder tells Congress that he did not learn that Flint's water was contaminated until Oct. 1, 2015 — nearly 18 months after the city began drawing its water from the Flint River in April 2014 to save money. Snyder said he took immediate action, reconnecting the city with Detroit's water supply and distributing water filters and testing residents — especially children — for elevated lead levels. (3/17)

Detroit Free Press: Snyder Disappointed With Federal Denial Of Funding For Flint
Gov. Rick Snyder said Wednesday he's disappointed the federal government has rejected his appeal of an earlier denial of certain funding requests to assist the state in addressing the Flint drinking water crisis. Snyder, in a March 3 letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had requested funding under programs related to emergency protective measures and the Individuals and Households Program. (Egan, 3/16)

Meanwhile, media outlets report on lead dangers in New York and Colorado —

The Wall Street Journal: Federal Prosecutors Probe Lead Problems In NYC Public Housing
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating health and safety conditions, including lead problems, in New York City’s public-housing system, according to court documents and city officials. Prosecutors in U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office are investigating whether the New York City Housing Authority, the largest public-housing agency in the country, made false claims for payment to the federal government related to safety conditions at city housing complexes, according to court filings. The investigation began last fall, court records show. (O'Brien, 3/16)

The New York Times: U.S. Investigating Elevated Blood Lead Levels In New York’s Public Housing
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are conducting a sweeping investigation of environmental health and safety conditions, including cases of elevated blood lead levels, in public housing and homeless shelters and the possibility that the New York City housing and homeless agencies filed false claims to federal housing officials for payment related to the conditions. (Navarro and Rashbaum, 3/16)

USA Today: Colo. Town's Tests Reveal Lead In Water Of Older Homes
Standing glumly behind the screen door of the brick house she has called home since 1971, Mary Schell shares the bad news: "We have it." "It" is confirmation that the water in her home contains high levels of lead. Schell and her husband tested their water in the fall after town officials discovered in October that 11 homes in their neighborhood had high levels. A subsequent round of testing in December found six homes exceeding federal limits. (Hughes, 3/16)

6. Budget Committee Passes Deficit Plan That Relies On Deep Health Care Cuts

Among other things, the blueprint calls for raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 and slashing Medicaid. In other Capitol Hill news, a mental health bill heads to the Senate floor, a Senate committee approves a bill to help opioid-addicted newborns, House lawmakers hold a hearing on Medicare's future and the president's mandatory spending plan for his cancer "moonshot" comes up at a hearing on NIH's budget.

The Associated Press: Deficit-Slashing Plan Advances Through House Panel
A key House panel on Wednesday approved a GOP plan to eliminate the federal budget deficit without tax increases demanded by Democrats, relying on sharp cuts to federal health care programs, government aid to the poor, and hundreds of domestic programs supported by lawmakers in both parties. The 20-16 Budget Committee vote could be the high point for the GOP blueprint, which is short of the majority votes needed to advance through the GOP-controlled House. Two tea party Republicans defected on the otherwise party-line vote. (3/16)

The Connecticut Mirror: Murphy Mental Health Bill Wins Big Bipartisan Support – After Some Changes
A key committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to send a mental health bill sponsored by Sen. Chris Murphy to the Senate floor, but not until certain provisions were dropped. The Mental Health Reform Act, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., would establish a new a new assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse and establish a new grant program for early intervention aimed at helping children and young adults. (Radelat, 3/16)