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Kaiser Health News Original Stories

5. Political Cartoon: 'Bump On A Log'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Bump On A Log'" by Dan Piraro.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

EEOC‘S FINAL RULE ON EMPLOYER WELLNESS PLANS

Does the rule make clear
That plans are voluntary …
Some groups have concerns.

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Summaries Of The News:

Supreme Court

6. Justices Punt Contraception Case Back To Lower Courts

The Supreme Court's decision averts a 4-4 tie that would have left different parts of the country following different regulations. In announcing the decision from the bench, Chief Justice John Roberts said both sides have have made concessions since the case was argued in March.

The New York Times: Justices, Seeking Compromise, Return Contraception Case To Lower Courts
The Supreme Court, in an unsigned unanimous opinion, announced on Monday that it would not rule in a major case on access to contraception, and instructed lower courts to consider whether a compromise was possible. The opinion is the latest indication that the Supreme Court, which currently has eight members, is exploring every avenue to avoid 4-to-4 deadlocks, even if it does not decide the question the justices have agreed to address. (Liptak, 5/16)

The Associated Press: Supreme Court, Down By One, Finds It Can Be Hard To Decide
The decision averted a 4-4 tie, which would have left different rules in place in different parts of the country concerning the availability of cost-free birth control for women who work for faith-affiliated groups. But the outcome was itself inconclusive and suggested that the justices could not form a majority to issue a significant ruling that would have settled the issue the court took the case to resolve. (5/17)

The Washington Post: Supreme Court Sends Obamacare Contraception Case Back To Lower Courts
Both sides in the lawsuits had made concessions since the case was argued in March, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said in announcing the decision from the bench. A pause will provide an opportunity for them to “arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage,” the opinion said. (Barnes, 5/16)

The Texas Tribune: Supreme Court Sends Birth Control Case Back To Lower Courts
The Texas case is among seven related lawsuits the high court agreed to hear together in which religious nonprofits argue the mandate infringes on their religious freedom. The Obama administration says the groups are offered a way around the requirement through a mechanism that still gives women access to free contraception. (Ura, 5/16)

The Wall Street Journal: Supreme Court Sends Birth-Control Case Brought By Religious Employers Back To Lower Courts
“We are all grateful to God and the Supreme Court justices that they…recognize our willingness to reach a resolution that allows us to abide by our faith and the government to achieve its goals,” said the lead case’s plaintiff, the Most Rev. David Zubik, Roman Catholic bishop of Pittsburgh. President Barack Obama said in a Monday interview with BuzzFeed that “the practical effect is, right now, women will still be able to get contraception if they are getting health insurance and we are properly accommodating religious institutions who have objections to contraception.” (Bravin and Radnofsky, 5/16)

Reuters: White House Says Women's Healthcare Access Not Threatened By Ruling
The White House said on Monday that millions of American women will continue to have access to health insurance that they need, despite the Supreme Court's ruling in a case involving contraception coverage under the Obamacare law. "We were gratified by the ruling today," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. "And this announcement does ensure that millions of women across the country can continue to have access to their healthcare. And it is a reflection of something we have long believed: which is that it is possible to prioritize both access to healthcare for everybody while protecting the religious liberty of every American." (Gardner and Heavey, 5/16)

Politico: Supreme Court Asks For Obamacare Birth Control Compromise
The court took a tortured path to the Zubik decision. Two years ago in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, the justices ruled the same Affordable Care Act contraception coverage requirement violated the religious beliefs of certain for-profit companies. The court said that the administration cannot require these owners to include birth control in their insurance plans. But the non-profit organizations operated under different rules than the for-profit businesses. (Haberkorn, 5/16)

Kaiser Health News: Supreme Court Sends Health Law Birth Control Case Back To Lower Courts
It remains unclear exactly what the lower courts might do. In an effort to break what was clearly a 4-4 deadlock, the court in March asked each side for supplemental material outlining any potential compromises. The decision Monday referred to those new briefs as suggesting that providing contraceptive coverage without requiring notice from religious employers “is feasible.” But Sotomayor and Ginsburg, in their concurring opinion, noted that “the Courts of Appeals remain free to reach the same conclusion or a different one on each of the questions presented by these cases.” (Rovner, 5/16)

Health Law Issues And Implementation

7. House GOP's Legal Challenge To Health Law Could Cause Premiums To Rise

The Obama administration said that, if upheld, last week's Republican victory in federal court could have significant market implications.

The New York Times: House Challenge To Health Law Could Raise Premiums, Administration Says
Victory for House Republicans in federal court last week could mean significantly higher health insurance premiums for millions of people if the decision is upheld on appeal, the Obama administration said Monday. And much of the cost for those higher premiums could be passed on to the federal government and taxpayers, administration officials and health policy experts said. The ruling by Judge Rosemary M. Collyer of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia would block the administration from reimbursing insurers for discounts provided to millions of low-income people under the Affordable Care Act. Without that money, insurers would have to increase premiums for many people purchasing insurance through the health law’s online marketplaces, the administration said. (Pear, 5/16)

8. Small Number Of 'Young Invincibles' Hurts Pricing For Health Insurance Pools

Despite recruitment efforts, people in the coveted 18 to 34 age range make up about 28 percent of the marketplace members. Insurers hoped for 40 percent to help create a market that was more stable. Also, two articles look at what's happening when some big names leave the health law marketplaces.

Modern Healthcare: What, Me Buy Insurance?
Last month, UnitedHealth began giving notice it will exit most of the marketplaces .... Although some of UnitedHealth's wounds were self-inflicted, other insurers are also struggling to manage their high-cost exchange population. Many are boosting premiums significantly. Experts predict the average rates for next year's ACA plans, which insurers are proposing now, could rise by double digits. ... The most significant factor behind next year's sharply rising prices, experts say, is that millions of “young invincibles,” who represent a large segment of the uninsured pool, have so far not signed up for Obamacare. (Herman, 5/14)

Modern Healthcare: Insurers Dive Into ACA'S Exchanges As Big Names Exit
UnitedHealth Group and Humana are bailing on multiple exchanges that sell individual health insurance, and more than half of the not-for-profit co-ops have closed up shop. But other companies are willingly, and quietly, taking their place. ... While exits have garnered more attention, healthcare experts say the addition and expansion of other insurers shows how the marketplaces are still in their formative years. (Herman, 5/16)