KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Administration Tailors Health Law Arguments To Key Justices

Part of their challenge is to convince the justices the health care marketplace is "unique." Meanwhile, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius talked to Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill about "alternatives" to the individual mandate if it were struck down. And The Wall Street Journal reports the oral arguments before the Supreme Court may be the hottest show in Washington.

USA Today: Health Care Challengers Offer Hypothetical Mandates
If President Obama's health care law — his landmark legislative achievement — is to withstand legal challenge, government lawyers must convince a majority of justices that the health care marketplace is unique. By not buying insurance, their argument goes, millions of Americans transfer $43 billion in health care costs to others in the form of higher premiums (Wolf, 3/15).

The Hill: Obama Shifts Health Care Defense
The Obama administration has shifted its legal arguments as it prepares to defend the president's healthcare law before the Supreme Court. Written briefs in the landmark case increasingly have focused on a part of the Constitution that didn't get much attention in lower courts. Some legal experts say the shift could steer the case in a direction that would make Justice Antonin Scalia more likely to uphold the healthcare law's mandate requiring individuals to purchase health insurance (Baker, 3/15).

Politico Pro: Hill, Sebelius Considers SCOTUS 'What Ifs'
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Senate Democrats that there are alternatives to the individual mandate if it gets stripped from the health care law, but lawmakers declined to reveal specifics. Sebelius, on Capitol Hill on Thursday to update lawmakers on the Affordable Care Act, was also pressed on the law's future, including what would happen if the Supreme Court strikes the individual mandate, according to senators who attended an afternoon briefing (DoBias and Haberkorn, 3/15).

Kaiser Health News: There are ways that Obama—if he's re-elected — might be able to salvage the law even if the court strikes down the individual mandate but leaves the rest intact, health policy experts say. These fixes would create financial incentives for people to not delay enrolling in insurance. One such approach would be similar to what happens in Medicare's Part B program, where people who wait too long to sign up for physician coverage must pay higher premiums. Another tactic would exempt insurers from having to cover pre-existing conditions for several years for consumers who delayed obtaining coverage until illness struck (Rau, 3/16).

The Wall Street Journal: Washington Elites Queue Up To See Nine Justices On Hot Seat
The hottest ticket of the season isn't for the White House Easter Egg Roll or Opening Day for the Washington Nationals baseball team. It's for a spot inside the Supreme Court to watch three days of arguments challenging the 2010 health-care law that begin here a week from Monday. Given the town, people are working every angle (Adamy and Bravin, 3/15).

In related news -

Fox News: Voters Divided On Constitutionality Of Health Care Law
American voters are about evenly divided over how the U.S. Supreme Court should decide the constitutional challenge to President Obama’s health care reform law. The Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments in the case on March 26. A Fox News poll released Thursday found 46 percent want the nation’s high court to overturn the law, while 43 percent think it should uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. A year ago, by a 49-42 percent margin, voters wanted the law invalidated as unconstitutional (April 2011). All four current Republican presidential candidates say they support legislation repealing President Obama's signature first-term legislative achievement (Blanton, 3/15).

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