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October 22, 2014

Posts in "Health Care"

October 21, 2014

10 Questions for Eric Holder’s Replacement as Attorney General

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Cruz, left, and Sessions both sit on the Judiciary Committee and will have a change to grill the nominee for attorney general. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Eric H. Holder Jr.’s replacement as attorney general will face a grilling from the Senate Judiciary Committee after the elections, with the position key to enabling President Barack Obama’s pen-and-phone executive agenda and with numerous hot-button issues under the purview of the Justice Department.

The nominee to replace Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who is also leaving, will also face much the same treatment.

Here are 10 questions the nominees will likely hear:

1. What is the limit of the president’s executive authority on immigration? Full story

October 15, 2014

McConnell Says CDC Should Get Money Needed to Battle Ebola

If federal health agencies under President Barack Obama want more money to fight Ebola, they should get it, according to the Senate’s top Republican.

“I think they should have anything they want. The president asked for $88 million a few weeks ago, we gave it to him,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told MSNBC. “Whatever the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] thinks they need, we’ll give it to them.”

Full story

October 14, 2014

Cornyn, Cruz Back Obamacare Lawsuit Over Origination Clause

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz are backing another Obamacare lawsuit, hoping to upend the law.

The Texas Republicans — both lawyers — filed a court brief backing the lawsuit, which claims the Senate failed to comply with the Constitutional requirement that revenue bills start in the House.

While the House drafted and passed a health care overhaul, the Senate did not use that bill as the base for its own effort. The legislative history for the bill that became law as the Affordable Care Act shows that it started as an innocuous measure in the House waiving the repayment requirement of the first-time home-buyer tax credit for some military personnel. Full story

October 8, 2014

Republicans Eye Obamacare Showdown in Lame Duck

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 5:22 p.m. | A group of Senate Republicans have their eye on another Obamacare showdown in the lame-duck session.

The 14 Republicans, led by Marco Rubio of Florida, wrote a letter urging Speaker John A. Boehner to ”prohibit the Obama administration” from spending money on an “Obamacare taxpayer bailout.”

They point to a legal opinion from the Government Accountability Office that said additional funding authority would be needed to make payments to insurance companies under the risk-corridor component of the Obamacare health care exchanges. The Republicans say taxpayers could be on the hook for bailing out insurance companies that suffer losses.

“Without that appropriation, any money spent to cover insurance company losses under the risk corridor program would be unlawful,” the senators wrote to Boehner, later noting Congress needs to act to keep the government operating past Dec. 11, when the existing continuing resolution expires.

Full story

September 22, 2014

McConnell Asks Medicare to Help Detect Lung Cancer in Smokers

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wants Medicare to do more for early detection of lung cancer, a particularly pronounced issue in Kentucky.

Citing a U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommendation, the Kentucky Republican has sent a letter to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner seeking review for possible coverage of low-dose CT scans to detect lung cancer among high-risk populations, such as pack-a-day smokers.

Full story

August 5, 2014

Ron Johnson Appealing Obamacare Ruling, Will ‘Exhaust Every Legal Recourse’

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Ron Johnson isn’t giving up his legal fight to toss health benefits for members of Congress and their staff participating in Obamacare.

The Wisconsin Republican formally notified a federal court Monday of his intent to appeal a ruling that he doesn’t have standing to sue the Obama administration over health benefits for members and staff.

In court documents filed Monday in the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Johnson made official what he had announced in an Aug. 2 opinion piece for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. In that piece, he refers to District Judge William C. Greisbach’s opinion against him on the standing question as part of his motivation for continuing the legal challenge to the Office of Personnel Management’s decision that members and staff accessing health insurance through the District of Columbia exchange can continue to get an employer contribution.
Full story

July 22, 2014

Reid: ‘Absurd’ Obamacare Decision Vindicates ‘Nuclear Option’ (Video)

Senate Democrats are hoping their use of the “nuclear option” to end a Republican blockade of circuit court nominees last year will help overturn a 2-1 appeals court ruling with the potential to gut Obamacare tax subsidies for millions.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., blasted the court’s ruling that Congress only wanted to provide tax subsidies in states with their own exchanges an “absurd” move by “two activist Republican judges.”

The administration plans to appeal the ruling to the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which now has more Democrat-appointed judges after the nuclear option blew up GOP attempts to filibuster Obama’s nominees. Full story

July 21, 2014

Federal Judge Tosses Ron Johnson’s Obamacare Lawsuit

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A federal judge based in Green Bay has tossed a Sen. Ron Johnson’s Obamacare lawsuit targeting the health benefits for members of Congress and their staff.

The court dismissed the lawsuit, which contended the Obama administration decision to grant employer contributions for health plans purchased through the District of Columbia’s Obamacare health exchange ran afoul of the law.

Chief Judge William C. Griesbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin ruled that Johnson and fellow plaintiff Brooke Ericson lacked standing, siding with the argument made by the government’s lawyers.

Full story

July 8, 2014

Democrats’ Hobby Lobby Response Would Curtail Religious Freedom Law (Video)

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

If Sen. Patty Murray and fellow Democrats get their way, employers wouldn’t be able to use a 1990s-era law to avoid Obamacare health coverage mandates for contraception.

That’s the crux of the proposal expected to be introduced by the Washington Democrat that would upend the recent split Supreme Court opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

It’s a bill that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is eager to bring to the floor for an almost certainly ill-fated test vote.

Full story

June 30, 2014

Senate Democrats Eye End Run Around Hobby Lobby Case (Updated)

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 2:19 p.m. | Senate Democrats plan to “fight” to ensure women retain access through their insurance to contraceptives, after the Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case.

Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin said in a statement that while he certainly opposed the Supreme Court’s 5-4 opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that said closely held corporations did not have to provide contraceptive services as part of health insurance plans if they have religious exemptions, he noted the scope was somewhat narrow.

“I disagree strongly with today’s Supreme Court’s decision, which will limit access to critical preventive care for everyday working people in Iowa and around the country. I am heartened, however, that the Court’s narrow decision would not extend to other guaranteed health benefits from the Affordable Care Act such as blood transfusions and vaccinations,” the Iowa Democrat said in his statement.

“While the Supreme Court has ruled, this fight is far from over. Along with my colleagues in Congress, I am deeply committed to ensuring that all Americans — men and women alike — can get the health coverage they need, and we will be exploring legislative remedies to ensure that affordable contraceptive coverage remains available and accessible,” Harkin said.

Harkin is chairman of both the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee that provides funds to the Department of Health and Human Services.

An early concrete legislative proposal came from the desk of Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin. The Illinois Democrat plans a bill that would require corporations denying insurance coverage to employees pursuant to the Hobby Lobby case to be disclosed.

“I will introduce legislation that requires all corporations using this Supreme Court decision to deny or limit contraception services to disclose this policy to all employed and applicants for employment,” Durbin said in a statement. “Workers have a right to know if their employers are restricting the availability of a full range of family planning coverage.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., signaled likewise in his own statement, without providing details.

“Today’s decision jeopardizes women’s access to essential health care. Employers have no business intruding in the private health care decisions women make with their doctors. This ruling ignores the scientific evidence showing that the health security of millions of American women is strengthened by access to these crucial services,” Reid said. “If the Supreme Court will not protect women’s access to health care, then Democrats will. We will continue to fight to preserve women’s access to contraceptive coverage and keep bosses out of the examination room.”

President Barack Obama wants Congress to pass a new contraception law to ensure women keep their coverage, although Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration may be able to act even without Congress.

Sen. Patty Murray, a member of the Democratic leadership, signaled in a statement she was open to both options.

“Your health care decisions are not your boss’s business – period. Since the Supreme Court decided it will not protect women’s access to health care, I will,” the Washington Democrat said in a statement. “In the coming days I will work with my colleagues and the Administration to protect this access, regardless of who signs your paycheck.”

Any legislative fix would face a huge hurdle — namely the seemingly universal praise for the decision from Republicans, including Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.

But in the majority opinion at the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Alito seemed to open the door to HHS providing for the contraceptives to be covered through other means.

“HHS has not shown that it lacks other means of achieving its desired goal without imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion by the objecting parties in these cases,” wrote Alito. “The most straightforward way of doing this would be for the Government to assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives at issue to any women who are unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers’ religious objections. This would certainly be less restrictive of the plaintiffs’ religious liberty… that this is not a viable alternative.”

Likewise, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a concurrence pointing to existing protocols for religious organizations.

“[I]n other instances the Government has allowed the same contraception coverage in issue here to be pro- vided to employees of nonprofit religious organizations, as an accommodation to the religious objections of those entities,” Kennedy said. “The accommodation works by requiring insurance companies to cover, without cost sharing, contraception coverage for female employees who wish it. That accommodation equally furthers the Government’s interest but does not impinge on the plaintiffs’ religious beliefs.”

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

 

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May 7, 2014

Senator on Veterans Affairs Allegations: ‘Just Because CNN Says Something, Doesn’t Always Make It The Case’ (Video)

During Senate floor debate Wednesday over authorizing funds for the Department of Veterans Affairs in 18 states, the Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders criticized members for jumping to conclusions over alleged misconduct at VA facilities, including in Phoenix, Ariz., which has received extensive media attention following a CNN report last week.

“I am not a lawyer, but I did learn enough in school to know that you don’t find somebody guilty without assessing the evidence,” the Vermont Independent said. “And frankly, just because CNN says something, doesn’t always make it the case.”

Some Senate Republicans, including Minority Whip John Cornyn, called for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign on Tuesday, while others, such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have refused to call for Shinseki’s ouster until hearings are held and the Inspector General’s report is complete. Full story

April 29, 2014

Louisana Republicans Push ‘Hold’ on Burwell Nomination

Five House Republicans from Louisiana want to see the state’s Senate delegation try to delay confirmation of Sylvia Mathews Burwell to be Health and Human Services secretary until they get assurances about equitable enforcement of health care law provisions.

It’s likely to be an ill-fated exercise, one that’s clearly about pressuring Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu.

“Families across Louisiana have faced cancelled health insurance plans, rising health insurance premiums, and the loss of access to doctors and hospitals while watching the Administration pick political favorites through selective exemptions from the ACA. It is wholly unfair for families to still be threatened with penalties from the IRS at the same time as insurance companies and businesses are granted unilateral relief,” the letter said. “Please join us in calling for fairness for all under the law by placing a hold on Ms. Burwell’s nomination until she agrees to provide equitable treatment for all Americans under the Affordable Care Act.”

Full story

April 17, 2014

Obama Boasts Health Care Enrollment Hits 8 Million, Talks Immigration, Highways (Updated)

476987813 445x316 Obama Boasts Health Care Enrollment Hits 8 Million, Talks Immigration, Highways (Updated)

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images File Photo)

Updated 4:38 p.m. | President Barack Obama said Thursday that 8 million people have signed up for health insurance coverage in the marketplaces set up through the Affordable Care Act, and whacked Republicans for “endless, fruitless repeal efforts.”

We are “now covering more people at less cost,” Obama told reporters gathered for an impromptu statement in the Brady Briefing Room. “The bottom line is … this thing is working.”

The president also said the data show 35 percent of people who signed up are under the age of 35, a critical factor to the exchanges working and keeping costs down.

Obama went after Republicans, saying “they were wrong” to try and get rid of his signature domestic achievement and that they “have no alternative answer for millions of Americans.”

Full story

April 11, 2014

Burwell Should Expect Tough Questions, Easy Confirmation

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(Via AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama said Friday he assumes the Senate will easily confirm Sylvia Mathews Burwell to replace Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of Health and Human Services — and he’s almost certainly right.

But that doesn’t mean Republicans aren’t relishing the idea of re-litigating the health care law once again under the bright lights of a nomination hearing.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, promised a “fair and thorough vetting process” and already signaled the Affordable Care Act will be his target, calling it “an unmitigated disaster.” Full story

April 10, 2014

Sebelius Resigning; Burwell to Take Place

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(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 8:37 p.m. | Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is resigning and President Barack Obama will replace her with OMB Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

Sebelius’s resignation comes on a relatively high note, with the White House trumpeting a late surge in initial signups for the Affordable Care Act exchanges — topping 7.5 million just today. But she was deeply damaged by the disastrous initial rollout of the Healthcare.gov website last year, and there had been speculation on how long she would last as a result.

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Sebelius was cheered during a Cabinet meeting on Sept. 30, 2013, the day before the disastrous launch of Healthcare.gov. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Health and Human Services released a statement on her decision to resign:

From her work on Head Start, to expanding mental health coverage, to advancing cutting-edge health care research and, of course, her unwavering leadership in implementing the Affordable Care Act, Secretary Sebelius often calls her work here the most meaningful of her life. As she closes this chapter, Secretary Sebelius is extremely thankful to President Obama and very proud of the historic accomplishments of this Administration.

Burwell, who has already cleared one Senate confirmation process, will have to clear another, although in a post-nuclear-option Senate, Republicans do not have the ability to block her nomination. That might have been different if Sebelius had waited until next year, should Republicans take back control of the chamber. Full story

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