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Today’s Headlines – March 19, 2012

Good morning! Another week starts and more health policy news for you to read:

The New York Times’ The Caucus: Health Care Debate Returns With Intensity
This week is the two-year anniversary of Mr. Obama’s health care law, and Republicans in Washington are planning to celebrate with a series of attacks. Next week, the Supreme Court will hear three days of arguments about whether the law is constitutional. The hoopla will be enormous. The string of events will serve to push health care to the front of the public and political agenda — a development that is bound to embolden Mr. Romney’s Republican rivals as they seek to undermine his march toward the presidential nomination (Shear, 3/19).

The Associated Press/Chicago Tribune: Health Care Or Else? Justices To Decide If Government Can Force Americans To Buy Insurance
Death, taxes and now health insurance? Having a medical plan or else paying a fine is about to become another certainty of American life, unless the Supreme Court says no. People are split over the wisdom of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, but they are nearly united against its requirement that everybody have insurance (Cass, 3/17).

For more headlines …

Los Angeles Times: Healthcare Law Poses A Question For Top Court: How Far Can Congress Go?
Critics say the mandate to buy insurance crosses a line. Supporters say the Constitution allows the federal government to “promote the general welfare.” The Supreme Court hears arguments next week (Savage, 3/19).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Headed To The Supreme Court, National Health Care Law Has Already Touches Lives of 7 Americans
As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, The Associated Press spoke with a variety of people to hear their experiences so far with the landmark legislation, whose major provisions don’t take effect until 2014. Reporters asked: How has the health care law affected your life? (3/19).

The Washington Post: Health-Care Law Activists to Reach For Broad Political Targets At Supreme Court Hearings
Expect demonstrators to brandish placards reading “Hands off my health care!” and demanding a repeal of the 2010 health-care law. Expect doctors in white lab coats and patients who have suffered at the hands of insurance companies to hold news conferences lauding the law’s consumer protections and pleading for its preservation (Aizenman, 3/18).

The Wall Street Journal: Insurers Set Plans In Case Mandate Is Quashed
The insurance industry and advocates of the health-care overhaul are sketching out contingency plans in case the Supreme Court strikes down a central part of the law in the coming months (Radnofsky, 3/18).

Politico: Health-Care Reform Still Standing
Despite all the bombs thrown at the health reform law — and there have been bombs aplenty — two years after President Barack Obama signed his crowning domestic achievement, the core provisions remain essentially unscathed, and reform is kicking in haltingly around the country (Norman, 3/18).

The Washington Post: Low-Key Solicitor General Verrilli To Be In Health-Care Spotlight
But for now, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who will represent the United States when the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of the nation’s health-care overhaul, is focusing on the “it’s an honor” part (Barnes, 3/18).

USA Today: Seniors See Savings On Rx Drugs Under 2010 Health Law
Almost 4 million seniors saved about $2.16 billion through discounts for their prescription medications in 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services plans to announce today (Kennedy, 3/19).

The Washington Post: House GOP’s Ryan To Unveil New Budget
Congress is preparing to renew its bitter fight over government spending, as both parties eagerly await the arrival Tuesday of a new budget plan authored by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.). A year ago, embracing Ryan’s budget with its deep spending cuts and a proposal to privatize Medicare, became a badge of loyalty for conservatives. Democrats, meanwhile, used the plan as a political cudgel, accusing the GOP of working to end the retiree health program (Helderman, 3/18).

The Washington Post: Obama’s Evolution: Behind The Failed ‘Grand Bargain’ On The Debt
The actions of Obama and his staff during that period in the summer reflect the grand ambitions and the shortcomings of the president’s first term (Wallsten, Montgomery and Wilson, 3/17).

The New York Times: Gender Gap Persists In Cost Of Health Insurance
Women still pay more than men for the same health insurance coverage, according to new research and data from online brokers. The new health care law will prohibit such “gender rating,” starting in 2014. But gaps persist in most states, with no evidence that insurers have taken steps to reduce them (Pear, 3/19).

The Wall Street Journal: States Get Medicaid Rules
The Obama administration on Friday told states how to enroll millions more low-income Americans into Medicaid under the health-care overhaul, 10 days before the Supreme Court begins considering a challenge to the law. The regulations, published by the Department of Health and Human Services, detail the scheduled expansion of Medicaid to cover a larger batch of low earners in 2014, when much of the health-care law is set to take effect (Radnofsky, 3/16).

The Washington Post: Birth Control Rule Won’t Apply To All Student Plans At Colleges, White House Says
The Obama administration’s controversial birth control health insurance coverage rule will not apply to a type of plan used by about 200,000 college and graduate students, officials said Friday (Aizenman, 3/16).

Politico: Birth Control Controversies A Fundraising Boon
The sudden focus on contraception and abortion in the 2012 campaign has meant a surge in fundraising for abortion rights groups that support women as congressional candidates (Bravender, 3/18).

The Washington Post: The Fact Checker: ‘The Road We’ve Traveled:’ A Misleading Account Of Obama’s Mother And Her Insurance Dispute
The sequence, in fact, evokes a famous story that candidate Obama told during the 2008 campaign—that his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, fought with her insurer over whether her cancer was a pre-existing condition that disqualified her from coverage. But the story was later called into question by Dunham’s biographer (Kessler, 3/19).

Politico: PCRM’s Star-Studded Advocates
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. It doesn’t sound sexy. In fact, it sounds like just another Washington wonkhouse that probably puts out “white papers” and “annual reports” and news releases denouncing this or that. But you’d be wrong (Gavin, 3/18).

The Wall Street Journal: Regulators Seek To Cool Hospital-Deal Fever
From Rockford, Ill., to Albany, Ga., hospitals are merging. A 10-year high of 86 deals, valued at $7.94 billion in total, were announced last year, according to research firm Irving Levin Associates Inc. The hospitals say they are trying to cut costs and deliver care more efficiently, a goal of the 2010 federal health-care overhaul. But Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz says some mergers can lock up local markets, leading to higher prices for patients and insurance companies with few other places to turn (Kendall, 3/18).

NPR: Supreme Court Will Release Same-Day Audio Of Health Care Arguments
The U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will make available same-day audio of upcoming oral arguments later this month, arguments that could determine the fate of the Obama health care overhaul. In a three-paragraph announcement, the court said it is making the same-day audio available because of the “extraordinary public interest” in the health care cases. The legal challenges to the law are to be argued for six hours over a three-day period at the end of March (Totenberg, 3/16).

The Washington Post: Supreme Court Will Not Allow Cameras For Health-Care Arguments, Will Release Audio
The Supreme Court will stick with tradition and bar cameras from the courtroom this month, turning down requests that it televise oral arguments on the constitutionality of the nation’s health-care overhaul, the court said Friday. The court will release same-day audio recordings of the arguments, which are scheduled to last six hours over three days, March 26 to 28 (Barnes, 3/16).

The New York Times: Under Pressure, New York Moves To Soften Tough Medicaid Audits
New York State was paying for the medical care of dead people when Gov. George E. Pataki and the State Legislature created the Office of the Medicaid Inspector General to curb billions of dollars in fraud and misspending by health care providers (Bernstein, 3/18).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Md. Lt. Gov. Launches Campaign To Market Federal Options For People Without Health Insurance
Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown wants to increase the number of applications to a federally funded health insurance program run by the state. Brown will kick off the second anniversary of the federal Affordable Care Act on Monday with a marketing campaign designed to enhance participation in the Maryland Health Insurance Plan (3/19).