Kaiser Health News Original Stories

3. Political Cartoon: 'Better Late Than Never'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Better Late Than Never'" by Chris Browne.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

BLAME GAME OVER FLINT WATER CRISIS

Snyder points finger
But accusations abound.
Congress is flinty.

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Capitol Hill Watch

4. Lawmakers Call For Resignations Over Flint: 'I've Had Enough Of Your Phony Apologies'

At the congressional hearing, Environmental Protection Agency Chief Gina McCarthy was defiant against challenges that her agency did not do enough, and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, while apologetic, said the blame doesn't fall completely on him.

The Washington Post: EPA’S McCarthy Stands Up To Claims Her Agency Is Responsible For Flint Water Crisis
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency conceded Thursday that her agency was too slow to intervene in the Flint, Mich., water-contamination crisis and less forceful than it should have been when federal officials told a recalcitrant state bureaucracy to act. Despite learning last June that three homes had lead-tainted water and expressing her concern over the situation in a September email to top staffers, Administrator Gina McCarthy did not use her emergency powers until late January. Assuming the state would make good on promises to take decisive measures, the EPA did not push Michigan’s environmental quality agency hard enough to begin treating the water, McCarthy acknowledged. (Bernstein, 3/17)

The Wall Street Journal: EPA Chief, Michigan Governor Asked To Resign Over Flint Water Crisis
Lawmakers from both parties called on the top officials at the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Michigan to resign Thursday over their respective roles in the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Mich. Republicans began by calling for EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s resignation, and Democrats shot back that Michigan’s GOP Gov. Rick Snyder should resign. Thursday’s hearing in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was the first such appearance for both Ms. McCarthy and Mr. Snyder on this issue, which has captured the nation’s attention for the past few months. (Harder and Maher, 3/17)

Detroit Free Press: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Apologizes Before Congress For Flint Water Crisis
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder again apologized for the Flint drinking water disaster when he opened his testimony Thursday before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Snyder and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy appeared before the committee during its third day of hearings into what caused the Flint drinking water public health crisis and how to prevent a recurrence. Reading from prepared remarks, Snyder called the Flint catastrophe a failure at all three levels of government, but he also accepted personal responsibility. (Egan, 3/17)

NPR: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder: 'We All Failed The Families Of Flint'
"Let me be blunt," Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said in his opening statement to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. "This was a failure of government at all levels. Local, state and federal officials — we all failed the families of Flint." He was answering questions at a Congressional hearing this morning that is investigating the lead-laced water crisis in Flint, Mich. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy also testified at the hearing, which frequently became heated with multiple calls for their resignations. Once such call came from Democratic Congressman Matt Cartwright. "Governor, plausible deniability only works when it's plausible and I'm not buying that you didn't know about any of this until October 2015. You were not in a medically induced coma for a year," he said. "And I've had about enough of your false contrition and phony apologies." (Wagner and Kennedy, 3/17)

5. Not Just In Flint: 350 Systems That Provide Water To Schools, Day Care Centers Have Failed Lead Tests

A USA Today investigation found that children's drinking water can have such high levels that the Environmental Protection Agency would deem it "hazardous waste." Meanwhile, New Jersey's largest school district has begun voluntary blood tests to check children's lead levels, D.C.'s water officials try to soothe fears over the city's lead problems, which were "20 to 30 times worse" than Flint, and a "widespread" investigation into New York's public housing-lead problem nets millions of documents.

USA Today: Lead Taints Drinking Water In Hundreds Of Schools, Day Cares Across USA
Jamison [Rich's] school, Caroline Elementary in Ithaca, N.Y., is one of hundreds across the nation where children were exposed to water containing excessive amounts of an element doctors agree is unsafe at any level, a USA TODAY NETWORK investigation found. An analysis of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data showed about 350 schools and day-care centers failed lead tests a total of about 470 times from 2012 through 2015. That represents nearly 20% of the water systems nationally testing above the agency's "action level" of 15 parts per billion. (Ungar, 3/17)

The Associated Press: Voluntary Lead Tests Begin At Big New Jersey School District
New Jersey's largest school district began voluntary blood tests to check students for the presence of lead Thursday, a week after officials announced that elevated levels had been found in the drinking water. The first testing concentrated on the Newark school district's youngest students and began at the early childhood center, which was among 30 schools that had elevated lead levels in their water. About 67 families had registered for testing, said schools spokeswoman Dreena Whitfield. (Frederick, 3/17)

The Washington Post: D.C.’s Decade-Old Problem Of Lead In Water Gets New Attention During Flint Crisis
The District’s water utility found itself on the defensive this week after a Virginia Tech professor who has crusaded against lead in drinking water told a congressional panel that the city’s lead problem in the early 2000s was “20 to 30 times worse” than what has occurred recently in Flint, Mich. D.C. Water officials said that they didn’t take issue with professor Marc Edwards’s statement Tuesday to a House committee because the District is a much larger city than Flint, and the elevated levels of lead in the city’s tap water occurred over several years vs. about 18 months in Flint. (Shaver and Hedgpeth, 3/17)

The Wall Street Journal: City Produces Millions Of Documents For Federal Probe Of Public Housing
City officials have turned over millions of documents to the federal prosecutors who are conducting a broad investigation into health and safety conditions at New York City Housing Authority buildings and at homeless shelters, according to people familiar with the matter. The investigation is “widespread” and about far more than lead issues, a senior city official said, adding it began in October 2015. (Dawsey and O'Brien, 3/18)

Health Law Issues And Implementation

6. GAO: Government Must Crack Down On Health Law Subsidy Fraud

An extensive investigation found that, as of last April, almost a half-million people were able to obtain subsidies for insurance purchased on the federal marketplace, despite having inconsistencies in their applications. In other health law news, Wyoming's ACA enrollment numbers continue to climb.

Reuters: U.S. Must Combat Fraud In Federal Health Marketplace -- GAO
The federal government should do more to prevent people from fraudulently obtaining health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in testimony to the Senate Finance Committee. The testimony, delivered on Thursday in person and in writing by GAO spokesman Seto Bagdoyan, caps an extensive investigation by the GAO which found that, as of last April, about 431,000 people were still allowed to receive subsidies for insurance purchased through the federal exchange in 2014 despite possible inconsistencies in their applications. (3/17)

The Associated Press: Wyoming Enrollment In Affordable Care Act Program Climbs
The number of Wyoming residents registered for subsidized health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act continues to climb. Wyoming Insurance Commissioner Tom Glause said this week that 23,770 people registered for coverage through the federal health insurance marketplace by the Jan. 31 open enrollment deadline. That's up from about 21,000 who registered last year. (Neary, 3/17)

Supreme Court

7. Health Care Law's Contraception Mandate Gets Day In High Court Next Week

After Justice Antonin Scalia's death, there's a likelihood the court will rule 5-3 against the challenge to the health law. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the likely swing vote, has appeared to voice approval of the workaround the government has already created to address conscientious objections to contraception.

The Wall Street Journal: Supreme Court To Consider Compromise To Health-Law’s Contraception Rules
A four-year-old fight between the Catholic Church and the Obama administration reaches the Supreme Court on Wednesday, in a bishop’s challenge to the health-care law’s contraception requirements that could alter the boundaries of religious freedom. Eight justices will weigh how far the government has to go to accommodate religiously affiliated employers that object to including contraception in workers’ insurance plans. The outcome could affect as many as a million Catholic nonprofit employees. The case comes after the court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby ruling that for-profit businesses could assert such objections. (Radnofsky, 3/17)

Meanwhile, Vermont lawmakers are moving a contraception bill through the Legislature in case the health law is repealed after the 2016 elections —

The Burlington Free Press: Vermont Birth Control Bill Braces For Obamacare Repeal
Some Vermont lawmakers are trying to reinforce the state's birth control insurance mandates with an eye on the 2016 national elections. A bill moving through the Vermont House of Representatives would retain the birth control mandate in the federal Affordable Care Act, requiring health insurance plans to provide contraceptives and sterilization at no cost to patients — even if Congress repeals the law. (Burbank, 3/18)

Medicare