Kaiser Health News Original Stories

2. Political Cartoon: 'Close Up Shop?'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Close Up Shop?'" by Gary Varvel.

Here's today's health policy haiku:


Aid-in-dying bill
A California debate.
Until the bill dies.

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Health Law Issues And Implementation

3. Federal Appeals Court Rules Against Little Sisters Of The Poor In Health Law Contraception Mandate Challenge

The decision is viewed as another win for the health law and the Obama administration.

The New York Times: Health Law’s Contraceptive Coverage Isn’t Burden On Religion, Court Rules
A federal appeals court Tuesday handed the Obama administration another victory in its effort to guarantee coverage of contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act, rejecting a challenge by the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns. The United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, found that the nuns could opt out of a requirement to provide contraceptive coverage under an “accommodation” devised by the administration. The rule does not impose a “substantial burden” on the nuns’ free exercise of religion, the court said. (Pear, 7/14)

The Wall Street Journal: Christian Employers Dealt Setback On Birth-Control Cases
Under alternative arrangements finalized by the Obama administration last week, employers who have such objections must tell their insurance company or the federal government. The insurance company then takes over responsibility for providing the coverage to employees who want it. The Little Sisters of the Poor and other religiously affiliated employers such as Christian universities say those steps are inadequate because they still require the insurance plan the employers set up to provide contraception, which they believe to be wrong. Some plaintiffs are opposed to most forms of birth control; others object specifically to forms such as the so-called morning-after pill, which they consider tantamount to abortion. (Radnofsky, 7/14)

The Associated Press: Court: New Health Law Doesn't Infringe On Religious Freedom
The case involves a group of Colorado nuns and four Christian colleges in Oklahoma. Religious groups are already exempt from covering contraceptives. But the plaintiffs argued that the exemption doesn't go far enough because they must sign away the coverage to another party, making them feel complicit in providing the contraceptives. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The judges wrote that the law with the exemption does not burden the exercise of religion. (7/14)

The Denver Post: Denver's Little Sisters Of The Poor Lose Contraception Coverage Ruling
The Denver-based Little Sisters of the Poor, who sued to avoid complying with the Obamacare contraception mandate, lost Tuesday in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled it must allow employees to have contraception coverage. Little Sisters challenged the process it must follow to get out from under the contraception mandate but failed, the court decided, to show a substantial burden on the exercise of its religion. (Draper, 7/14)

In other news related to health law legal challenges -

The Associated Press: Federal Judge: Health Law Makes Wyoming Tribe Large Employer
A judge has ruled against a Wyoming Indian tribe's claim that the federal government shouldn't classify it as a large employer under the Affordable Care Act — a designation requiring the tribe to provide insurance coverage for its hundreds of employees. An official with the Northern Arapaho tribe said the decision could have ramifications for other tribes as well, leaving them a choice between purchasing expensive group health insurance for their employees or facing federal penalties. (Neary, 7/14)

Capitol Hill Watch

4. McConnell: Senate Will Consider Using Budget Procedure To Undo Parts Of The Health Law

The Senate majority leader, however, did not say when he expected this action to take place. Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, former Bush officials urge confirmation of the Obama administration's pick to head the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and a House hearing alleges that the administration has been slow to implement the inspector general's recommendations of fraud in the Medicare prescription drug program.

Politico: McConnell Hints At Fast-Track Procedure For Obamacare Repeal
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the Senate will consider using a fast-track budget procedure to repeal some of Obamacare but declined to say when that may take place. GOP leaders have not made a final decision on how exactly to use the powerful procedural tool, called reconciliation, which allows the Senate to avoid a filibuster and pass legislation with just a simple majority. Many Republicans, particularly the conservative wings in both chambers, would like to use the maneuver to attack Obamacare. On Tuesday, McConnell signaled that Obamacare was a likely reconciliation option, but did not make a firm commitment. (Kim and Haberkorn, 7/14)

The Hill: McConnell: No Timeline For ObamaCare Repeal
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said he does not have a timeline for using reconciliation to repeal ObamaCare, but indicated that Republicans would look to roll back as much of the law as they can. “I don't have a time to give you, but we're certainly going to consider using budget reconciliation for repealing as much of ObamaCare as is reconcilable,” McConnell told reporters. “There're certain rules that have to be applied to what is reconcilable and that's an active consideration, as you can imagine.” (Sullivan, 7/14)

The Hill: Former Bush Officials Urge Senate To Confirm Obama's Medicare Chief
A group of Republican-appointed health officials is urging the Senate to confirm President Obama’s nominee [to] take over one of the government’s biggest health agencies. Two former health secretaries and four former Medicare chiefs — all appointed by former President George W. Bush — are urging the Senate to confirm Andy Slavitt as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). (Ferris, 7/14)

The Hill: Lawmakers Press Administration On Medicare Fraud
Lawmakers on Tuesday accused the Obama administration of being slow to implement inspector general recommendations on fraud in the Medicare prescription drug program. At a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee, lawmakers pointed out that the administration has not fully implemented nine recommendations from the inspector general to crack down on fraud in the program, known as Medicare Part D, even though some of those recommendations were made as far back as 2006. (Sullivan, 7/14)

And on the health law implementation front -

CNBC: Obamacare's Tax Audits Are Few And Far Between
Tax season is a pain in the neck for millions of people, but many Americans this year may be getting a pass from unpleasant questions—or even an audit—from the Internal Revenue Service about their compliance with Obamacare. A leading tax audit defense company said its clients so far are seeing a surprisingly low rate of queries tied to the Affordable Care Act this year—the first in which Americans were asked to disclose their health insurance status. (Mangan, 7/14)

Also being talked about on Capitol Hill -

CNN: House Republican Leaders Cancel Vote On Breast Cancer Coin Over Abortion Controversy
House Republican leaders canceled a vote on Tuesday on legislation that would have created a commemorative coin to raise money for breast cancer awareness, after some House conservatives raised concerns the coin sale funds would be used to support an abortion rights group at the center of a controversial new video. The bipartisan bill directed the Treasury Department to mint a new coin and send some of the proceeds from it to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. But shortly before the vote on what many considered a non-controversial coin, several anti-abortion rights advocacy groups launched an effort to defeat the measure. They argued the Komen Foundation supports programs run by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a group that provides women's health care, including abortion services. (Walsh, 7/14)

CQ Healthbeat: Breast Cancer Bill Pulled Amid Abortion Funding Concerns
Republican leaders pulled yet another bill from the House floor Tuesday after conservatives expressed concern that a seemingly harmless piece of legislation supporting breast cancer research might actually fund Planned Parenthood. The Breast Cancer Awareness Commemorative Coin Act would have directed the Treasury to sell commemorative coins and give the proceeds to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization. (Fuller, 7/14)

CQ Healthbeat: Senate Panel Advances Agriculture Spending Bill With Dietary Rider
A Senate Appropriations subcommittee reported out by voice vote Tuesday a $20.5 billion draft spending bill for the Agriculture Department, Rural Development and FDA in fiscal 2016. The funding is $1.1 billion below the president’s request. The spending bill is $65 million below the enacted level for fiscal 2015 discretionary funding. The subcommittee bill now moves to the full Senate Appropriations Committee without amendments. The full panel will mark up the draft bill on Thursday. (Ferguson, 7/14)

The Hill: Senate Subcommittee Advances $20.5B Bill Funding Agriculture, FDA
The GOP-led panel included a controversial policy rider that would require pending 2015 Dietary Guidelines to be based “solely on nutritional and scientific evidence and not extraneous information." Republicans included this provision in another spending bill as well. The bill also includes a provision that would delay by one year a calorie-count regulation that was scheduled to take effect in December. The FDA, however, announced last week that it would delay the rule anyway until late 2016. (Shabad, 7/14)

The Hill: Senate Dems To FDA: Finish Lifting Gay Blood Donor Ban
Senate Democrats are urging the Obama administration to complete the rollback on the lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood. In a letter Tuesday, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and 81 of their congressional colleagues asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lift the ban in the blood donation policy and replace it with a one-year deferral. (Wheeler, 7/14)

Meanwhile, in other news related to the Food and Drug Administration -

NPR: FDA To Take Another Look At Essure Contraceptive Device After Health Complaints
When Amanda Dykeman was certain she was done with having children, she had two options for permanent birth control: surgical sterilization, which typically involves general anesthesia and a laparoscopy, or Essure, the only nonsurgical permanent birth control option approved by the Food and Drug Administration. She chose Essure. And she says her life has never been the same. (Haelle, 7/14)

Campaign 2016

5. Undercover Video Targets Planned Parenthood; Triggers Calls From GOP Candidates, Officials For Investigations

The video recorded a lunch between two antiabortion activists posing as biotech firm employees and Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services, in which Nucatola talked about the organization's work donating fetal tissue to researchers. The activists pressed her on whether the clinics were charging for the organs.

The Associated Press: Covert Video Targets Planned Parenthood Fetal-Parts Policy
Anti-abortion activists on Tuesday released an undercover video showing a senior Planned Parenthood official discussing the disposition of parts from aborted fetuses. The activists contended the video reveals illegalities, but Planned Parenthood said the activity in question was the legal, not-for-profit donation of fetal tissue to research firms. (7/14)