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4. Political Cartoon: 'Double Take A Number'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Double Take A Number'" by Ann Telnaes.

Here's today's health policy haiku:


The health law’s birthday …
Everyone’s meeting at court.
Time for arguments.

If you have a health policy haiku to share, please Contact Us and let us know if you want us to include your name. Keep in mind that we give extra points if you link back to a KHN original story.

Summaries of the News

Supreme Court

5. On Anniversary Of Health Law, Contraception Mandate Goes In Front Of Supreme Court Again

If the court splits 4-4, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, it could leave a patchwork of confusion in place created by conflicting opinions in the lower courts.

The New York Times: Supreme Court Case On Contraceptives Mandate May Offer Little Closure
The Supreme Court will return on Wednesday to the question of whether a regulation requiring many employers to provide free contraception coverage for their workers under the Affordable Care Act violates a federal law protecting religious freedom. In 2014, Justice Antonin Scalia was part of a 5-to-4 majority that voted to limit the mandate, and his death last month raises the possibility of a tie vote in the new case that would leave in place conflicting appeals court decisions and a national legal patchwork. (Liptak, 3/23)

The Associated Press: Obama Health Law Birth Control Plan Returns To Supreme Court
Contraception is among a range of preventive services that must be provided at no extra charge under the health care law. The administration pointed to research showing that the high cost of some methods of contraception discourages women from using them. Houses of worship and other religious institutions whose primary purpose is to spread the faith are exempt from the birth control requirement. Other faith-affiliated groups that oppose some or all contraception have to tell the government or their insurers that they object. The groups say doing so leaves them complicit because the government is using their insurers and health plans to provide the contraception. (3/23)

The Washington Post: Issue Of Contraceptive Coverage Returns To Supreme Court
Two years ago, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy played down the impact of the decision he had just joined in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell that relieved religiously objecting owners of certain businesses from providing contraceptive coverage to their employees. ... The solution Kennedy suggested — an accommodation that would insulate employers from providing the contraceptive coverage but still ensure that their employees receive it — will be at the heart of the discussion Wednesday when the Supreme Court undertakes its fourth consideration of what is popularly called Obamacare. (Barnes, 3/22)

The Wall Street Journal: Contraception Controversy Returns To Supreme Court
As in the Hobby Lobby case, the justices are expected to focus on the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which bars U.S. laws that “substantially burden” religious expression unless they further a “compelling governmental interest” that can’t be achieved through less-restrictive means. This time, the justices will directly examine the system devised by the Obama administration after the 2014 case. That workaround aims to retain coverage for individuals while meeting religious objections of nonprofit employers such as the Catholic charities overseen by the bishop and for-profit employers such as Hobby Lobby. ... Most lower courts considering the workaround system have sided with the government. ​The court’s likely swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy,​suggested in the 2014 Hobby Lobby case that the workaround could reconcile the competing interests of religious objectors and public-health policy. (Radnofsky, 3/23)

The Texas Tribune: Supreme Court To Weigh Religious Freedom In Birth Control Case
“We do not question the sincerity or importance of petitioners’ religious beliefs. But as seven courts of appeals have held, their legal claim stretches RFRA too far,” the Obama administration wrote in its brief to the high court. This is the second Texas case concerning women's health the high court has taken up this term. It is also weighing the constitutionality of Texas' 2013 abortion restrictions. (Ura, 3/23)

The Washington Post: Inside The Catholic Nursing Home At The Center Of A Contentious Supreme Court Case
As she makes her nursing home rounds, as she has for 28 years, Sister Constance Veit gently grasps frail hands, steers wheelchairs with no-nonsense grace and doles out cheery compliments to those in her care. But the moment the nun gets behind the closed door of a conference room, her demeanor hardens. This is a sister at war. On Wednesday, Veit will be just a few miles from the Little Sisters of the Poor facility where she works in Northeast Washington — and a world away. She will be seated in her habit in the U.S. Supreme Court, a striking representative of the religious organizations fighting the White House health care law because of its requirement that employers cover contraception. (Zauzmer, 3/23)

Health Law Issues And Implementation

6. Medicare To Target Diabetes With Proposed Plan To Pay For 'Lifestyle Change Programs'

Sylvia Mathews Burwell will announce the proposal in which trained counselors would help adults with prediabetes make healthier decisions on the sixth anniversary of the health law that made the program possible.

The New York Times: Medicare Proposal Takes Aim At Diabetes
The Obama administration plans on Wednesday to propose expanding Medicare to cover programs to prevent diabetes among millions of people at high risk of developing the disease, marking the sixth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act with the prospect of a new benefit, federal officials said. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of health and human services, is scheduled to announce the proposal at a Y.M.C.A. here. Under the plan, Medicare would pay for certain “lifestyle change programs” in which trained counselors would coach consumers on healthier eating habits and increased physical activity as ways to prevent Type 2 diabetes, formerly called adult onset diabetes. (Pear, 3/23)

Meanwhile, the president releases a statement touting the benefits that have come from the health law —

NBC News: Obamacare Turns 6 And The White House Declares Victory
Obamacare has its sixth anniversary Wednesday and the White House is declaring victory over critics who said it would fail and multiple lawsuits seeking to have it declared unconstitutional. President Barack Obama signed the law, known formally as the Affordable Care Act, on March 23, 2010 after a big fight with Congress. Democrats held a slim majority at the time and passed the law without a single Republican vote. (Fox, 3/22)

7. N.H. Senate Begins Debate On Continuing Medicaid Expansion

State lawmakers are considering whether to keep the expansion of the health program for low-income residents that was implemented under the federal health law. Other outlets look at Medicaid expansion news in Montana and Kentucky.

New Hampshire Union Leader: Senators Hear From Both Sides On Medicaid Expansion In NH
The battleground over Medicaid expansion shifted to the Senate on Tuesday with supporters and opponents reiterating their arguments at a public hearing. Supporters say the New Hampshire Health Protection Program provides health coverage for nearly 49,000 low-income adults, helps to ensure a healthier workforce, puts the brakes on increases in health care and insurance premiums and is the best tool the state has to fight the opioid crisis gripping New Hampshire. ... But opponents said the program provides free health care to able-bodied adults by expanding the federal debt, while preventing the state from addressing other social service needs and providing a windfall for hospitals and insurance companies. (Rayno, 3/22)

Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune: Medicaid Expansion Totals Surpass Estimates
Enrollment in a new Medicaid expansion program totals 38,298 as of March 15, with American Indians as 12 percent of the enrollees, members of a state panel overseeing expansion of the program in Montana were told Tuesday. The Montana Health and Economic Livelihood Partnership Oversight Committee reviewed the numbers for the HELP Act, passed by the 2015 state Legislature. (Drake, 3/22)

Kaiser Health News: Montana Medicaid Expansion Earns Good Grades In First Report Card
Montana’s new Medicaid expansion just got its first progress report, and it is exceeding expectations. Initial projections were for about 23,000 of the state’s estimated 70,000 Medicaid-eligible residents to take up the new coverage in its first year. Instead, in the first quarter, since its rollout on Jan. 1, enrollment is at 38,298. The report came Tuesday from the Medicaid expansion oversight committee that Montana’s legislature set up when it approved expansion last year. Supporters cheered the numbers, but some Republicans are still pushing for repeal. (Whitney, 3/23)