Health Brief: Contraception Decision Could Threaten All Legal Exemptions

Today’s Washington Brief

  • The Supreme Court’s liberal justices suggested altering the accommodation for nonprofits and closely-held private employers that exempts them from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate could affect how other laws, such as the tax code or the military draft, are written. (Morning Consult)
  • In the six years since the Affordable Care Act has been signed into law, public opinion on the law hasn’t shifted significantly, data from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows. In many cases, whether someone thinks the law is favorable can be closely linked to whether that person supports President Barack Obama. (The Washington Post)
  • An independent panel concluded that the government’s slow response to concerns about increased levels of lead in water in Flint, Mich., was a government failure and blamed government employees at every level, particularly state workers. The panel validated complaints from Flint residents that race and poverty contributed to governmental reaction to their complaints. (The New York Times)

Today’s Business Brief

  • The American Hospital Association says a new Department of Labor Rule that will require employers to report agreements with contractors — whom sometimes work on anti-union activities — will be difficult for hospitals to navigate. While unions have praised the rule, an executive for the group says the rule puts a significant burden on hospitals and that the group may consider suing over the rule. (Modern Healthcare)
  • The longtime CEO of Sequoia Fund Inc., an investment firm with significant stakes in Valeant Pharmaceuticals, stepped down Wednesday. The change in leadership comes two days after Valeant announced it was searching for a new CEO after its shares dropped by more than half. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • In the year since the Food and Drug Administration approved Zarxio as the first biosimilar for sale in the U.S., the market has not been flooded with similar new products. Other biosimilars that drug companies are seeking approval for have not yet been approved as ready for sale. (Modern Healthcare)

Today’s Chart Review

Mark Your Calendars (All Eastern Times)

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Contraception Decision Could Threaten All Legal Exemptions
Caitlin Owens, Morning Consult

Liberal Supreme Court justices said Wednesday that altering Obamacare’s contraceptive coverage mandate could have implications that ripple far beyond health care and birth control.

Supreme Court Could Split in Contraceptive Case
Jess Bravin and Louise Radnofsky, The Wall Street Journal

An impassioned argument at the Supreme Court on Wednesday left uncertain​the future of contraception coverage for​women employed by religiously affiliated organizations, as a split of the eight-member court appeared a serious possibility.

New Rules Aim to Reduce Silica Exposure at Work Sites
Barry Meier, The New York Times

The Labor Department plans to announce on Thursday new rules that sharply reduce workplace exposure to silica, a potentially deadly mineral found in materials commonly used in construction and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Flint Water Crisis Inquiry Finds State Ignored Warning Signs
Julie Bosman, The New York Times

An independent panel investigating the Flint water crisis laid blame directly on Gov. Rick Snyder’s office, concluding that inept state employees in charge of supervising water quality and state-appointed emergency managers ignored mounting problems with the city water supply and stubbornly disregarded signs of widespread contamination.

The color of heroin addiction — why war then, treatment now?
Joe Davidson, The Washington Post

The nation’s heroin epidemic found its way from the shadows of America to Capitol Hill on Tuesday as lawmakers and experts struggled with a raging disease that is leaving an increasing number of bodies behind.

Roger Daltrey: Looking Out For Another G-g-generation
Alex Gangitano, Roll Call

Rock legend Roger Daltrey does not think the kids have it alright when it comes to their facilities in hospitals. In a conservation about 21st Century Cures Act, which was approved by the House in July, Daltrey told a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel on Wednesday that his charity, Teen Cancer America, is pushing for hospitals to have a separate lounge for young people.

Congress just went on spring break without voting on emergency Zika measure
David Nather, Stat

Lawmakers left town Wednesday for their spring recess without voting on an emergency funding request for the Zika virus, as the Obama administration and congressional Republicans failed to resolve their disagreement over whether federal health agencies need more money to support research and preparedness.

Potent Synthetic Drug Exacerbates Heroin Epidemic in New York City
Rebecca Davis O’Brien, The Wall Street Journal

Officials confronting New York City’s surge in heroin trafficking said the past year has brought a troubling trend—a large influx of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin.


Obamacare turns 6 today. It’s given 17 million people health care. And changed no one’s mind.
Chris Cillizza, The Washington Post

Given how much influence Obamacare has had on our political debate and our elections since it became law, you might think that public opinion on it has moved all over the map. Nope! Not even close.

On Health Law’s Anniversary, Burwell Extols Successes and Acknowledges Frustrations
Stephanie Armour, The Wall Street Journal

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwellmarked the sixth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act and a U.S. Supreme Court case contesting the law’s contraception workaroundby extolling the ACA’s successes, and acknowledging frustrations some Americans have had with health costs.

Conservative backlash against tort reform bill surprised GOP sponsor
Sarah Ferris, The Hill

The Republican author of a popular medical malpractice bill that was derailed in committee on Tuesday said conservative opposition caught him unaware. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said he was surprised when two fellow Republicans — Texas Reps. Ted Poe and Louie Gohmert — voiced opposition during the House Judiciary Committee markup, forcing the panel to temporarily abandon the bill.

Medicare diabetes prevention program could inspire insurers
Shannon Muchmore, Modern Healthcare

A program to help people at risk for diabetes has improved the health of participants and saved health costs, so it is being proposed for expansion into Medicare. Others think it will inspire employers and insurers to follow suit.

Montana Medicaid Expansion Earns Good Grades In First Report Card
Eric Whitney, Montana Public Radio

Montana’s new Medicaid expansion just got its first progress report, and it is exceeding expectations. Initial projections were for about 23,000 of the state’s estimated 70,000 Medicaid-eligible residents to take up the new coverage in its first year. Instead, in the first quarter, since its rollout on Jan. 1, enrollment is at 38,298.

Critics urge more transparency in Anthem-Cigna merger review
Arielle Levin-Becker, The CT Mirror

Saying that “all eyes will be on Connecticut,” critics of two pending mergers of major health insurers have asked the state’s insurance commissioner to take steps they say would increase transparency in the review of Anthem’s proposed acquisition of Cigna.

How to Stop the Bouncing Between Insurance Plans Under Obamacare
Dhruv Kullar, The New York Times

Because of fluctuations in income, millions of Americans move back and forth between Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplace, leading to significant health and financial costs for individuals, states and insurance companies.

AARP Announces Support for Part B Drug Payment Test
Mary Ellen McIntire, Morning Consult

AARP, the powerful lobbying organization representing thousands of retirees, announced their support Wednesday for a proposal that would change how Medicare pays for prescription drugs.


AHA says new federal labor rule could discourage hospitals from seeking legal counsel
Lisa Schencker, Modern Healthcare

The American Hospital Association says a new Labor Department rule meant to shine a light on clandestine anti-union campaigns will have a chilling effect on hospitals’ ability to seek expert advice on labor and collective bargaining issues.

Pharma, Biotech & Device

President of Valeant Investor Sequoia Resigns
Sarah Krouse and Daisy Maxey, The Wall Street Journal

The woes of Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. claimed another casualty Wednesday as investing legend Robert Goldfarbstepped down from a mutual fund with a big stake in the drugmaker.

One year after Zarxio approval, future of biosimilars remains unclear
Steven Ross Johnson, Modern Healthcare

A year ago, providers, plans and pharmacy benefit managers thought they were on the brink of a new era of competitive drug prices. The federal approval of the first biosimilar for sale in the U.S. was supposed to foster new products that offered big discounts on some of the most expensive treatments.

Pharmaceutical Companies Hiked Price on Aid in Dying Drug
April Dembosky, KQED News

When California’s aid-in-dying law takes effect this June, terminally ill patients who decide to end their lives could be faced with a hefty bill for the lethal medication. It retails for more than $3,000.

Health IT

Electronic Records Offer A Chance To Ensure Patients’ End-Of-Life Plans Aren’t Lost In Critical Moments
Shefali Luthra, Kaiser Health News

Patients’ documents often go missing in maze-like files or are rendered unreadable by incompatible software. And this risk continues even as health systems and physician practices adopt new electronic health records. So advocates and policymakers are pushing for a fix.

Wider HIPAA audits may drive stronger vendor contracts
Joseph Conn, Modern Healthcare

The volume of patient data handled by vendors of healthcare organizations has exploded with the near ubiquity of electronic health records systems and the growing role of analytics and mobile devices in healthcare.

A Message from the Coalition for Medicare Choices:

From coast-to-coast, more than 2 million Medicare Advantage beneficiaries have mobilized to call on Washington to protect their coverage from further cuts. Here is our story.

Opinions, Editorials & Perspectives

The Affordable Care Act After Six Years
Drew Altman, The Wall Street Journal

The Affordable Care Act generates so much partisan heat and draws so much media attention that many people may have lost perspective on where this law fits in the overall health system.

The Unfinished Work of Obamacare
Editorial Board, Bloomberg View

Unless Congress finds a way to repeal the Affordable Care Act over the next 10 months — after more than 60 failed attempts — President Barack Obama will leave office with his signature legislation intact, and running pretty smoothly.

Autopsies are vital to medicine. Don’t let them go extinct
Mary Fowkes, Stat

Autopsy, once a mainstay of medicine, is now often an afterthought. Fifty years ago, about half of people who died in hospitals in the United States underwent autopsy. Today, only about 1 in 20 do. Some new hospitals are even being built without a suite in which to perform autopsies.

U.S. Should Follow Canada’s Lead on Heroin Treatment
Patricia Daly, The New York Times

This model has been a demonstrable success, preventing overdose deaths and reducing rates of H.I.V. infection, while helping some of the most marginalized members of our community get addiction treatment and other important health services.

A Message from the Coalition for Medicare Choices:

From coast-to-coast, more than 2 million Medicare Advantage beneficiaries have mobilized to call on Washington to protect their coverage from further cuts. Here is our story.

Research Reports, Issue Briefs & Case Studies

Young Adult Insurance Coverage And Out-Of-Pocket Spending: Long-Term Patterns
Marc Berk and Zhengyi Fang, Health Affairs

The Affordable Care Act appears to have improved health insurance coverage for young adults (ages 18–30). But data from twenty national surveys conducted between 1977 and 2013 paint a more complex picture, showing coverage rates lower in 2013 than they were thirty-six years earlier. Racial and ethnic disparities in coverage have declined recently, while out-of-pocket expenditures remain low for most young adults.

The Burden of Health Insurance Premium Increases On American Families
Freedom Partners

Based on the data included in this report, it is clear that health insurance premium costs have continued to grow despite the passage of the A ordable Care Act in 2010. Furthermore, health care premium costs are rising at a rate comparable to the years directly preceding the election of President Obama and passage of the A ordable Care Act.

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