First Edition: March 25, 2014

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including stories previewing today's Supreme Court action regarding the health law's contraception coverage mandate.

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: How Do Marketplace Plans Differ From Others; Will Cost-Sharing Subsidies Affect My HSA; Who Pays The Penalty For An Adult Child?
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "The open enrollment period ends March 31, and people continue to have many questions about how the health law and the exchanges work" (Andrew, 3/25). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Insurance Agents Key To California Success Enrolling Asian-Americans
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, KQED’s Lis Aliferis reports: "While Latino enrollment has lagged in California’s insurance marketplace, Asians have signed up in numbers outstripping their representation in the pool of eligible people. According to new Covered California data, the overwhelming majority of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese enrollees are buying plans through certified insurance agents, as opposed to community groups or the Covered California website" (Aliferis, 3/25). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: A Final Push For Health Care
It’s last call for health insurance. A new insurance company in Colorado dispatched a throng of models dressed as cocktail waitresses onto the streets in recent days, offering nonalcoholic shots of juice to lunch-hour crowds in Denver. The models, in form-fitting dresses and high heels, handed out fliers reminding people of the fast-approaching March 31 deadline to sign up for health care coverage this year under the federal law (Abelson and Thomas, 3/24).

The Wall Street Journal: Some Leeway on Coverage Deadline
Some states are worried that lingering technical problems may prevent people from completing the sign-up process, especially if a surge of enrollees clogs sites in the final days. Consumers have until March 31 to sign up for insurance coverage and avoid facing a financial penalty for 2014 under the Affordable Care Act. On Monday, Minnesota said it would extend a completion deadline for anyone who starts the process of enrolling in a plan by midnight on March 31 but doesn't finish it. Maryland and Nevada also have extended the deadline for people who can show they began to sign-up before the end of the month (Corbett Dooren, 3/24).

Politico: Honey, I Shrunk The Mandate
Filed for bankruptcy in the past six months? Had medical bills you couldn’t pay in the past two years? Been a victim of domestic violence? Received a shut-off notice from a utility company? If you don’t want to buy insurance under Obamacare, you don’t have to. No penalty. The individual mandate may be the most despised part of Obamacare, but the reality is that it’s much smaller than people think. It’s riddled with exemptions, hardships and other loopholes that allow millions of people off the hook for enrollment by March 31 (Norman, 3/25).

The Washington Post: At Supreme Court Today: Health-Law Cases Mix Questions Of Religious Freedom Worker Rights
The Supreme Court on Tuesday prepared to hear a second challenge to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, this time to decide whether employers must provide their workers with insurance coverage for contraceptives even if the owners say it would violate their religious principles. What is likely to be the signature ruling of the court’s term presents the justices with complicated questions about religious freedom and equality for female workers. It could have long-term implications for what other legal requirements companies could decline because of religious convictions. And it asks a question the court has never confronted: whether the Constitution or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that protects an individual’s exercise of religion extends to secular, for-profit corporations and their owners (Barnes, 3/25).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Justices Tackle Health Law Birth Control Coverage
Supreme Court justices are weighing whether corporations have religious rights that exempt them from part of the new health care law that requires coverage of birth control for employees at no extra charge. The case being argued at the Supreme Court on Tuesday involves family-owned companies that provide health insurance to their employees, but object to covering certain methods of birth control that they say can work after conception, in violation of their religious beliefs (3/25).

Los Angeles Times: Religious Case At Supreme Court Could Affect Obamacare And Much More
A challenge to part of President Obama's healthcare law that hits the Supreme Court on Tuesday could lead to one of the most significant religious freedom rulings in the high court's history. … At issue in Tuesday's oral argument before the court is a regulation under the Affordable Care Act that requires employers to provide workers a health plan that covers the full range of contraceptives, including morning-after pills and intrauterine devices, or IUDs (Savage, 3/24).

The New York Times: Ruling Could Have Reach Beyond Issue Of Contraception
The Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear arguments in a case that pits religious liberty against women’s rights. That issue is momentous enough. But it only begins to touch on the potential consequences of the court’s ruling in the case, notably for laws banning discrimination against gay men and lesbians (Liptak, 3/24).

The Wall Street Journal: Health-Law Contraceptive Case Skews Ideological Lines On High Court
Tuesday's Supreme Court case over whether religious objections trump the federal health law's contraceptive requirements seems at first blush to be a typical conservative-liberal struggle over social policy. But behind the battle is an ideological role reversal: The legal doctrine conservatives are citing to limit government burdens on religious expression was written by the Supreme Court's liberal champion, the late Justice William Brennan. The jurist who rolled it back in the early 1990s was Justice Antonin Scalia, a contemporary conservative icon (Bravin, 3/24).

NPR: Hobby Lobby Contraceptive Case Goes Before Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in the latest challenge to the Obama health care overhaul. This time the issue is whether for-profit corporations, citing religious objections, may refuse to provide some, or potentially all, contraceptive services in health plans offered to employees. It is a case that touches lots of hot-button issues (Totenberg, 3/25).

Politico: Contraception Coverage Heads To SCOTUS
Obamacare goes back before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, in a closely watched challenge that mixes controversies over the health care law, contraception and religious freedom. The justices will hear two related cases seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that nearly all companies with more than 50 employees provide various forms of birth control in their employee health plans at no charge. The outcome won’t topple the whole health care law, but it could become a political thorn in the side of both parties before the November midterm elections (Haberkorn, 3/25).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Latinos Being Left Behind In Health Care Overhaul
The nation’s largest minority group risks being left behind by President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Hispanics account for about one-third of the nation’s uninsured, but they seem to be staying on the on the sidelines as the White House races to meet a goal of 6 million sign-ups by March 31 (3/24).

Los Angeles Times: Health Insurance Basics Stump Many Obamacare Shoppers, Survey Finds
Amid the final frenzy for Obamacare enrollment, a new survey shows that many consumers may be ill-equipped to shop for health insurance. A study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that 42% of people surveyed could not describe a deductible and 39% didn't understand the relationship between a premium and deductible (Karlamangla, 3/24).

Los Angeles Times: State To Send Voter Registration Cards To Obamacare Applicants
Heading off a lawsuit over compliance with a federal voting rights law, California officials have agreed to help millions of state residents register to vote. Under a deal announced Monday by several voting-rights groups, the state will send voter registration cards to nearly 3.8 million Californians who have applied for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (Merl, 3/24). 

The Washington Post: Californians Who Used Health Marketplaces Receive Voter Registration Forms
California officials have started sending voter registration forms to 4 million people who shopped on the state’s new online health insurance marketplace, as part of a legal settlement with voting rights groups that are urging states to make it easier for people to sign up to vote as they enroll in coverage (Somashekhar, 3/24).

The Washington Post: McAuliffe Offers New Budget, But House Lawmakers Aren’t Buying
Gov. Terry McAuliffe tried to shake up Virginia’s deadlocked Medicaid debate Monday by proposing a new budget that would expand the health-care program and shower a projected $225 million in related savings on teachers, state employees, pre-kindergarten programs and other Democratic priorities (Vozzella, 3/24).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: McAuliffe Proposes 2-Year Pilot Medicaid Expansion
Gov. Terry McAuliffe proposed a two-year pilot of an expanded Medicaid program Monday in a bid to persuade Republicans to end an impasse over the state’s budget. The new Democratic governor announced the plan shortly before the General Assembly returned to Richmond for the start of a special session. A few hours later, the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee voted to reject McAuliffe’s proposal. The Democratically controlled Senate took no action (3/24).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Obamacare Bumper Sticker Pokes Fun At Tea Party
OFA has begun mailing a bumper sticker with the slogan “Don’t tread on my Obamacare” and the logo of a coiled stethoscope—in the place of a rattlesnake—to people who have connected with the organization’s FacebookFB -4.90% page and provided their mailing address. The initiative, aimed in part at boosting OFA’s mailing list, also appears to be a jab at the tea party, whose members have commonly flown the yellow Gadsden flag—with the slogan “Don’t tread on me”—at their rallies (Ballhaus, 3/24).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: AFP Airs New Anti-Obamacare Ad In Michigan
Another day, another ad blasting Obamacare from the conservative Americans for Prosperity. The latest television spot in the group’s $30 million media blitz is airing in Michigan, where the U.S. Senate race pits the former secretary of state, Republican Terri Lynn Land, against Democratic Rep. Gary Peters (Reinhard, 3/25).

The Washington Post’s The Fact Checker: New Anti-Obamacare Ad Makes Misleading Claims 
This 30-second ad from the pro-GOP group Americans for Prosperity claims it’s not about politics. But it’s really all about making life difficult for Democrats. In fact, the ad goes by so quickly that viewers may have little time to process the information offered in the ad—except that the Affordable Care Act is really bad for Americans. The Truth Teller team has produced a video (above) which provides instant fact checks as the actress hired for the ad speaks her lines. More detail about the claims is provided below (Kessler, 3/25).

Los Angeles Times: Backers Of Malpractice Cap Ballot Measure Submit Signatures
Proponents of a measure to raise the cap on some medical malpractice damages submitted signatures Monday afternoon to qualify for the November ballot, paving the way for a costly initiative fight. The measure would change a 1975 California law that has limited pain and suffering damages in malpractice cases to $250,000 (Mason, 3/24).

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This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.