KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: March 26, 2012

Today marks the beginning of the Supreme Court's three days of oral arguments regarding the health law. Headlines break down the key points of those arguments, as well as the political and historical context in which they will be advanced.

Kaiser Health News: In Conservative California, Confusion And Contempt For Health Law
KQED's Sarah Varney, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Here, just a few miles from the entrance to Yosemite National Park, is the Sweetwater Steakhouse, a local watering hole where no one is shy about their opinions of President Obama's signature initiative.… By and large, conservative voters in the county despise the federal health law's mandate that all Americans have health coverage, and many suspect the health insurance system isn't really all that broken" (Varney, 3/24).

Kaiser Health News: Free Health Clinics At A Crossroads
KCUR's Elana Gordon, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Free health clinics have long been places people turn to when they don't have health insurance or money to pay for care. But the health law's expansion of coverage puts free clinics in uncharted territory.  While the law goes before the Supreme Court this week, health providers are already gearing up for a surge in patients with insurance in 2014" (Gordon, 3/25).

Kaiser Health News: Doctors Smart Phones And iPads May Be Distracting
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jenny Gold, working in collaboration with NPR, reports: "Doctors who carry mobile devices are often hit with a flurry of texts, e-mails, Facebook messages, tweets and other notifications that automatically pop up on the screen, he explains. And because the vast majority of smart phones and tablets are personal devices that belong to individual doctors, the problem can be hard for hospitals to control" (Gold, 3/26).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Feds To Test Paying For Medicaid Patients With Psychiatric Emergencies
Now on the blog, Sarah Barr reports: "A group of states is testing whether Medicaid patients who seek emergency psychiatric care at private psychiatric hospitals are better off if the federal government picks up part of the costs. Right now, the federal government does not help states pay for inpatient psychiatric care for many Medicaid patients—a longstanding policy meant to discourage states from cost-shifting to the federal government and institutionalizing patients" (Barr, 3/23). Read what else is on the blog.

Kaiser Health News tracked weekend news coverage including previews of the upcoming Supreme Court oral arguments (3/25), the political rhetoric (3/25) and campaign trail talk (3/24) surrounding the high court's review, and how the Medicaid arguments could impact other federal programs (3/24); as well as news regarding the Susan G. Komen foundation's fundraising challenges and resignations of executives (3/24).

Also, check out Kaiser Health News resource page, The Supreme Court Decides: Health Law At The High Court, for our complete coverage. It includes KHN's scorecard, which tracks the course the legal challenges followed to arrive at the high court; as well as anaylsis, news, briefs and other documents. KHN also has a collection of its coverage related to the law's second anniversary and the high court's review, and will update the website throughout the day with the latest information and news summaries.

The Washington Post: Supreme Court To Hear Arguments On Timing Of Health-Care Ruling
The Supreme Court begins its constitutional review of the health-care overhaul law Monday with a fundamental question: Is the court barred from making such a decision at this time? The justices will hear 90 minutes of argument about whether an obscure 19th-century law — the Anti-Injunction Act — means that the court cannot pass judgment on the law until its key provisions go into effect in 2014. It is the rare issue on which both sides agree: the Obama administration lawyers and those representing the states and private organization challenging the new law argue that the Supreme Court should decide the constitutional question now (Barnes, 3/25).

The New York Times: Health Act Arguments Open With Obstacle From 1867
The Supreme Court on Monday starts three days of hearings on the constitutionality of the 2010 health care overhaul law, an epic clash that could recast the very structure of American government. But it begins with a 90-minute argument on what a lawyer in the case has called "the most boring jurisdictional stuff one can imagine." The main event — arguments over the constitutionality of the law's requirement that most Americans obtain insurance or pay a penalty — will not come until Tuesday. On Monday, the justices will consider whether they are barred from hearing the case until the first penalties come due in 2015 (Liptak, 3/26).

The Wall Street Journal: Health Law Heads To Court
The court this week hears three days of arguments on the law's constitutionality, with a ruling expected in late June. The administration and its allies say the court must uphold the law to ensure that Congress can tackle national problems by employing comprehensive solutions. In jeopardy, critics say, is the fundamental American conceit that the federal government should be restricted in what it can require of citizens (Bravin, 3/26).

NPR: 4 Questions That Could Make Or Break The Health Law
At the U.S. Supreme Court, people have been lining up for days, waiting to hear this week's historic oral arguments on President Obama's health care law. The arguments will last for six hours over a three-day period, the longest argument in more than 40 years. The court has boiled the arguments down into four questions. The first, and threshold question is Monday, when the justices must decide whether an 1867 law called the Tax Anti-Injunction Act prevents the court from even considering this bill right now (Totenberg and Rovner, 3/26).

The Wall Street Journal: A Primer On The Issues, Likely Outcomes
With the Supreme Court set to hear arguments Monday on the 2010 health-overhaul law, here is a primer on some of the legal issues. Q: What will the Supreme Court try to determine when it reviews the health law starting Monday? A: There are multiple issues in the case, but the main one is whether the law's requirement that most people carry insurance or pay a fee, known as the "individual mandate," violates the Constitution (Radnofsky, 3/25).

Politico: 5 Things To Watch In Health Law Arguments
The Super Bowl for Supreme Court watchers kicks off this week as the justices hear three days of oral arguments in what could be the blockbuster case of a generation: whether President Barack Obama's signature law overhauling the American health care system is constitutional. The stakes couldn't be higher for Obama, for the balance of power between the states and federal government and for the reputation of the court itself (Haberkorn and Gerstein, 3/26).

Politico: Pick An Ending: 6 Ways The Supreme Court Might Rule
The health reform law is complex, and the Supreme Court has a lot of options, ranging from upholding the entire law to overturning it completely. Based on the arguments being made by the law's opponents and the Justice Department, these are the likely scenarios (Nather, 3/26).

Reuters/Chicago Tribune: Supreme Court Weighs Historic Healthcare Law
The sweeping law intended to transform healthcare for millions of people in the United States has generated fierce political debate. Republicans challenging Democrat Obama for the presidency in November and Republican members of Congress have vowed to roll back the March 23, 2010, law they say will financially burden states, businesses and individuals. Now, the healthcare battle moves from the U.S. political arena to the less raucous world of its highest court (Biskupic and Vicini, 3/26).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Supreme Court Begins Review Of Far-Reaching Obama Health Law Amid Political Campaigns
A decision is expected by late June, in the midst of a presidential election campaign in which all of Obama’s Republican challengers oppose the law and promise its repeal, if the high court doesn't strike it down first. People hoping for a glimpse of the action have waited in line all weekend for the relatively few seats open to the public. The justices allotted the case six hours of argument time, the most since the mid-1960s (3/26).

USA Today: 3 Epic Days: Health Care Law Reaches High Court
Health coverage for more than 30 million people. The power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce. President Obama's re-election. The reputation of the Supreme Court and the legacy of its chief justice. And to hear some tell it: liberty. All that and more could be at stake today when the Supreme Court begins three days of historic oral arguments on a 2010 health care law that has become a symbol of the nation's deep political divide (Wolf, 3/25).

The Wall Street Journal: Health Law Foes' Rocky Road To High Court
If the lawsuit contesting President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul is to succeed, it will have to overcome setbacks that left the challengers with unfavorable lower-court rulings and a less-than-ideal plaintiff. Some participants in the challenge say the setbacks could have been minimized with a more focused strategy that was proposed early on by some prominent conservative lawyers but never fully adopted, while others say any past stumbles will ultimately have little significance (Bravin, 3/24).

NPR: In Health Case, Combustible Mix Of Politics And Law
U.S. Supreme Court is set to begin hearing oral arguments Monday in a Republican-led challenge to the national health care law that has convulsed the country and its political class for more than two years — and may well define President Obama's tenure in the White House (Halloran, 3/25).

Politico: How The Legal Assault On Obama's Health Law Went Mainstream
When President Barack Obama signed the health care bill two years ago, the legal challenges to the law were widely belittled as long shots — at best. But as the cases head to the Supreme Court this week, what looked to many like far-out legal arguments to undo “Obamacare” don’t seem so zany anymore (Gerstein, 3/25).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Supreme Court Arguments The Latest In A Century Of Debate Over How To Get Medical Care For All
The three days of arguments beginning before the Supreme Court on Monday may mark a turning point in a century of debate over what role the government should play in helping all Americans afford medical care (3/26).

The New York Times: In Health Care Case, Lawyers Train For 3-Day Marathon
Last week, there were so many of the mock arguments that lawyers call moot courts that they threatened to exhaust something that had never been thought in short supply: Washington lawyers willing to pretend to be Supreme Court justices. The problem, said Paul D. Clement, who represents the 26 states challenging the law, was not just the length of the arguments the court will hear, but the variety of topics to be addressed (Liptak, 3/25).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: How The Health Care Overhaul Case Will Unfold Before The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments on Monday over President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, derisively labeled "Obamacare" by its opponents. A look at how the case will unfold before the court in question-and-answer form (3/26).

The New York Times: Neither Phones, Nor Cameras, Nor Tweets In The Courtroom
On three mornings this week, a select group of reporters, lawyers and observers will crowd into the court's august chamber as the nine justices grill the advocates in a case freighted with huge legal and political implications. No Twitter messages will be allowed. No one in the room will be permitted to make a telephone call. There will be no BlackBerrys or laptops or iPads to blog with (Shear, 3/26).

The New York Times: Waiting (And Sleeping) In Line, For View Of Health Care History
Heading into the first of three days of Supreme Court arguments on Monday, the pavement occupied by the approximately 15 people in line Sunday morning was among the most coveted real estate in Washington. Tickets are scarce even for those connected to the case. And for everyone else, there's the line (Huetteman, 3/25).

The New York Times: Debate Shifts From The Trail To The Capital
For months, the political debate in Washington has been defined largely by the seemingly constant confrontations on the Republican presidential campaign trail. That is about to change, at least for a while. … Here is a look at five issues that will return to the spotlight: HEALTH CARE The Supreme Court's decision to hold an unprecedented three days of oral arguments about President Obama’s health care law is certain to push the issue to the forefront of the political debate this week — and probably for the rest of the spring (Shear, 3/26).

Politico: Ben Nelson Stands By His Key Vote
But in an interview with POLITICO, Nelson — who opted to retire rather than seek a third term — expressed no regrets, saying there’s little he would have done differently. Those who perpetuate the tale that he got a special deal for Nebraska are only interested in "fiction or folklore," he said. And he took some parting shots at Republicans for walking away from the negotiating table at the height of the 2009 health care debate (Wong, 3/25).

The Washington Post: In Budget Battle, GOP Regroups On Medicare Message
Congressional Republicans recognize that the $3.5 trillion budget proposal the GOP-led House is expected to adopt this week remains fraught with political peril, but they also believe they now know how to blunt Democratic attacks on its Medicare overhaul components and should be able to avoid the political pummeling they suffered as a result last year (Helderman and Kane, 3/25).

The Washington Post: Conversations: Don Berwick Looks Ahead On Health Care
Berwick spoke with The Washington Post about how the Affordable Care Act has changed the health-care system, what challenges it faces in coming years and why his time as Medicare administrator may be his only stint in government service (Kliff, 3/25).

USA Today: Caring For Elderly Parents Catches Many Unprepared
More than 42 million Americans provide family caregiving for an adult who needs help with daily activities, according to a 2009 survey by the AARP. An additional 61.6 million provided at least some care during the year. And many are unprepared (Dugas, 3/25).

NPR: Cheney Operation Underscores Heart Transplant Issues
But heart transplant recipients are typically matched with donors with a similar body size and the same blood type. Hearts are in short supply and more than 3,000 people are on the waiting. So hearts generally go to the sickest person who's closest geographically and has been waiting the longest. … In the Washington area, the median waiting time is nine months. Cheney waited 20 months, an aide said in a statement (Stein, 3/26).

The New York Times: At Ailing Brooklyn Hospital, Insider Deals And Lavish Perks
Many hospitals in downtrodden areas of New York City and across the state are faltering, raising concerns that a wave of closings will deprive poor people of badly needed care. A three-month investigation by The New York Times into Wyckoff, based on dozens of interviews and an examination of internal documents, offers a sobering portrait of how one such hospital has been undermined by the very people entrusted to run it (Hartocollis, 3/25).

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