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Posts in "Health Care"
August 5, 2014
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.
July 22, 2014
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
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.
July 8, 2014
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.
June 30, 2014
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.
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
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.”
April 17, 2014
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.”
April 11, 2014
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
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.
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
April 7, 2014
The White House’s self-congratulations on Obamacare don’t appear to be slowing down any after last-week’s victory lap, judging by a background briefing with a senior administration official Monday.
Republicans bet big that the Affordable Care Act was going to be a failure, and they were wrong, said the official, who spoke to reporters on the condition that no direct quotes would be used. The GOP may think the health care law is going to sink Democrats, but that is not going to happen, the official said.
Instead, the Affordable Care Act would go down as one of the greatest achievements by any president in history, the official predicted, comparing President Barack Obama’s legislative achievements in his first two years in office favorably to President Lyndon Johnson’s accomplishments. (For those keeping track, LBJ’s achievements include civil rights, voting rights, Medicare and Medicaid, to name a few). The president will speak at an event later this week at the LBJ Presidential Library in Texas. Full story
March 31, 2014
Updated 3:54 p.m. | Congressional budget scorekeepers don’t sound impressed with using projected savings from not fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to prevent slashing paychecks for doctors.
In a cost estimate released Monday, the Congressional Budget Office explained that $601 billion in projected savings from limits on the Overseas Contingency Operations account might never be spent anyway, and noted there’s no funding currently provided for the OCO funding.
“As a result, reductions relative to the baseline might simply reflect policy decisions that have already been made and that would be realized even without such funding constraints. Moreover, if future policymakers believed that national security required appropriations above the capped amounts, they would almost certainly provide emergency appropriations that would not, under current law, be counted against either the existing caps on discretionary funding or the proposed new caps on funding for overseas contingency operations.”
In his first major tests as Senate Finance chairman, Ron Wyden is waging war against the congressional penchant for patches and punting. It’s not proving to be an easy fight.
The Oregon Democrat is pushing his colleagues to enact a permanent overhaul of the “sustainable growth rate” formula that requires cuts in doctor pay under Medicare — and on March 31 he plans to unveil a permanent, bipartisan tax extender package, eschewing the yearly fixes that have long been the norm.
“This is the time to do it,” Wyden said of putting a permanent end to the annual “doc fix” debate. Full story
March 27, 2014
A day after Senate Democratic leaders played down possible election year blowback from Obamacare, a group of six moderate Democrats, including two with tough reelection races, unveiled a package of proposals for improving the law.
Senior Senate Republicans aides argued that the timing belies that Democrats are worried that the troubled roll out of the health care law, also known as the Affordable Care Act, could hurt them in the November election.
“They see the writing on the wall just like everybody else,” one GOP aide said.
The aides’ comments come after Democrats unveiled their middle-class-focused their agenda Wednesday when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was peppered with questions about whether Democrats were concerned about electoral fallout from the health care law.
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., dismissed the GOP criticism and said she has been committed to improving the law since it became law. She also stressed not to read anything into the timing.
“First of all, don’t try to put those things together because they have nothing to do with each other,” said Landrieu, who is in a tossup race, according to the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call race ratings.
“There have been several of us who have said from the beginning, since we voted for the Affordable Care Act, that it could be improved, that it was not perfect,” Landrieu continued. “We have been talking about it for literally a year and a half. We’ve all filed a variety of different bills to improve it. This work that our group has been doing has been going on for months and months and months.”
“So what this is is just an ongoing effort … to improve the Affordable Care Act, and that is all it is,” Landrieu said.
She reiterated her support for the law and stressed that it will insure millions who would otherwise not have it.
“My position has been the same from the beginning,” Landrieu said. “I think it still holds a tremendous amount of promise for middle class families, small business and companies that have never really offered affordable coverage. [But] there are some problems with it and I believe with some fixes and improvements it can be stronger.”
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who is also a member of the group, agreed that the bill could be improved. Begich is up for reelection and Republicans see his seat as a possible pick up — though at the moment the race tilts Democratic, according to Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.
“Whether it’s an issue [in the election] or not, there are fixes that are necessary,” Begich said. “I’ve proposed fixes literally not long after the bill passed — some that have become law.”
Begich, as did Landrieu, helped champion a bill passed in 2011 that repealed a requirement under the law that companies file a 1099 form with the IRS every time they conduct $600 worth of business with a vendor.
“I am going to continue to push forward, as I have on my own, but now as a larger group maybe will have more push.”
A senior Senate Democratic aide said the efforts of the moderate Democrats are in tune with the agenda they unveiled yesterday, which is focused on middle class, pocketbook issues affecting most Americans rather than the subset of people affected by the health care law given that most people get their health insurance through their jobs.
“It’s important to do both, answer attacks on the Affordable Care Act, but also push to make it better, in addition to promoting a positive agenda that affects the entirety of the America people,” the aide said.
But Republicans contend that the agenda is merely an effort to change the subject from the health care law ahead of the November election.
The Democrat’s “so-called agenda is actually a political gambit … [which] basically has one intent: to bail out imperiled Democrats — Democrats desperate to distract from how Obamacare is devastating the middle class,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday morning.
Along with Landrieu and Begich, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., wrote an op-ed in Politico proposing nine improvements to the law.
The proposed fixes are aimed at offering more convenient and greater access to coverage, greater choice and affordability, and improved flexibility for workers and businesses.
The bills include one that would provide a permanent path for consumers to enroll directly through insurers or certified web-based entities in addition to enrolling through healthcare.gov. Another, championed by Begich, would create a “copper” plan that would offer lower deductibles but higher out-of-pocket costs than the health law’s gold, silver and bronze plans.
Updated 6:18 p.m. | Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hoped to send a yearlong patch for payments to doctors treating Medicare patients to President Barack Obama’s desk today, but it was not to be. A vote on the “doc fix” bill was postponed until Monday evening.
The Nevada Democrat’s comments on the floor backing the patch came not long after a surprise House voice vote to pass the measure, which represents a compromise between Reid and Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.
“I personally am not overjoyed about what’s in the bill, but I’m satisfied with what’s in the bill, and I would hope that we could expeditiously move and get this done today,” Reid said.
He praised the efforts of Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to develop a long-term solution for the ongoing Medicare payment rate debacle that’s led to the recurring “doc fix” patches. Wyden said he would keep his focus on that longer-term solution.
“The patches do not meet the needs of seniors and doctors and what our country deserves,” Wyden said. “The cost of these past patches really is about the same cost as repeal, so I intend to work very closely with Leader Reid and Republicans.
“The patch, guys, is Medicare make-believe. It’s a fake. You have this target which is always exceeded,” Wyden said. “There have been 16 of them.”
Reid’s office previously indicated that Wyden would be able to get a floor vote on the broader bill, but it became clear that the patch was the only way forward by March 31.