First Edition: March 12, 2012

Today's health policy headlines focus significant attention on key issues, dynamics and even personalities that will be in play when the Supreme Court takes up the health law later this month.

Kaiser Health News: The Hardest Job To Fill (And Keep) In Washington: CMS Chief
Reporting for Kaiser Health News in collaboration with The Washington Post, Gibert M. Gaul writes: "President Obama is fighting to save his signature health law on two fronts: in the Supreme Court and on the campaign trail. … Yet even if the president prevails, he faces another daunting challenge: implementing the law in a seamless, timely manner. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is charged with making the health law work, drafting regulations, setting up new programs and providing oversight. But for years Congress has undermined the agency's leadership and potential effectiveness, raising questions about its capabilities and resources even as the health law ramps up its responsibilities. For starters: consider the revolving door leadership at CMS" (Gaul, 3/11).

Kaiser Health News also tracked the weekend's health policy headlines, including reports about how GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum and other Republican candidates are using the health law against Mitt Romney as well as other articles about health care politics on the campaign trail

Politico: On Health Care, Supreme Court's Final Word May Not Be Final
In two weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the case that could lead to the biggest "I told you so" of 2012. The challenge to President Barack Obama's health care reform law will result in the court either upholding it — giving bragging rights to Obama and congressional Democrats — or finding major pieces of it unconstitutional, setting off a political earthquake that would vindicate Republicans and conservative groups (Haberkorn, 3/11).

Politico: Health Care Reform Issues Go Beyond Mandate
The individual mandate won't be the only star of the show at the U.S. Supreme Court's oral arguments on the health law. It will share billing with three other major issues awaiting the justices' review (Millman, 3/11).

The New York Times: Health Care Act Offers Roberts A Signature Case
When Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. takes his usual center seat on the Supreme Court bench on March 26, he will begin presiding over an extraordinary three days of arguments that will determine the fate of President Obama's sweeping health care law (Liptak, 3/11).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Paul Clement, Lawyer Challenging Health Care Law, Is Familiar Face At Supreme Court
Paul Clement used to argue for the federal government's power until he started arguing against it. But he's no flip-flopping political candidate; he's a lawyer. Changes like this are part of his job. Clement is playing a key role in three politically charged Supreme Court cases in which Republican-led states object to Obama administration policies or federal laws on health care, immigration and redrawing political boundaries (3/12).

The Washington Post: Esteemed Lawyer Paul Clement's Next Challenge Is Arguing Against Health-Care Law
When Paul Clement stands in front of the Supreme Court's nine justices to argue a case, the effect is akin to watching a game of speed chess, only speed chess contested on nine different boards against nine relentless players. Clement addresses all the boards at once. He'll make a rhetorical move on one justice here, only to find another skeptical justice requiring attention over there — he has arguments tailored for the court's fence-sitters especially (Leahy, 3/11).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Don Verrilli: Point Man For Obama Administration In Health Care Battle At The Supreme Court
In 16 appearances before the Supreme Court, Donald Verrilli has advocated for the rights of death row inmates and has successfully argued fine points of telecommunications law in cases with billions of dollars in the balance. Now as the Obama administration’s solicitor general, Verrilli faces what for any lawyer would be the challenge of a lifetime: persuading at least five Supreme Court justices to uphold the president's overhaul of the nation's health care system (3/12).

Politico: Backup Plans If Individual Mandate Is Struck Down
If the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down health reform’s individual mandate and leaves the rest of the law in place — what happens next? The backup plan could be automatic enrollment in your employer's health insurance, a lot like the way you get signed up for the 401(k) plan. If Congress decides to act to repair that hole in the Affordable Care Act — and that's a big if — an auto-enrollment requirement is the option that's getting the most attention from health policy experts (Norman, 3/11).

The Washington Post: Santorum Steps Up Attacks On Romney's Massachusetts Record
Ahead of potentially decisive Republican primaries in Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday, former senator Rick Santorum stepped up his criticism Sunday of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, arguing that his rival has not told the truth about his record on health care (Sonmez, 3/11).

Los Angeles Times: Spending On Genetic Tests Is Forecast To Rise Sharply by 2012
Spending on genetic tests has reached $5 billion annually and could top $25 billion within a decade, according to an insurance industry study published Monday. The rise in spending is likely to intensify the debate over genetic testing as policymakers and employers struggle to contain spiraling healthcare costs (Terhune, 2/12).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Republicans, Democrats Disregarded McDonnell's Day 1 Advice Not To Overreach Or Obstruct
Republicans introduced bills that conservatives had dreamed of for years. Among them were measures to compel voters to bring identification to the polls; make public school teachers easier to fire; … apply legal rights of personhood to embryos from the moment of conception; and divert a share of the state sales tax to transportation. But none got more public notice than a bill that would have required women who seek abortions to undergo vaginally invasive ultrasound exams. Were they an overreach? Depends on whom you ask (3/11).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Health Program For Poor women At Heart Of Funding Face-Off Between Texas, Federal Officials
Delia Henry was tired but had no idea her blood sugar was high when she went to Planned Parenthood for her annual gynecological exam. The clinic referred her to a doctor, who diagnosed her with diabetes. … But under a state law taking effect Wednesday, Henry and other eligible women won't be able to get care at Planned Parenthood clinics — which treat about 44 percent of the program’s patients — or other facilities with ties to abortion providers, meaning those women will have to find new health-care providers (3/11).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: NY Dems, Patient Advocates Seek New Drug Policy
Influential black legislative leaders as well as patient advocacy groups targeting mental illness, arthritis, diabetes, AIDs and other chronic diseases and conditions are pushing to get the Cuomo administration to relax a cost-cutting measure that they say forces patients to use inadequate medications (3/11).

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