Healthcare Thursday: Clyburn urges voter turnout so Dems can build on healthcare reform

HHS granted the waivers, Bloomberg writes, "so workers with such plans wouldn't lose coverage from employers who might choose instead to drop health insurance altogether." http://usat.ly/dw3QWp 

Healthcare reform takes stage in New Hampshire Senate race: The Democrat vying to replace outgoing Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) is accusing his GOP opponent of hypocrisy for her support of health reform repeal. 

Rep. Paul Hodes (D) notes that Republican Kelly Ayotte received taxpayer-funded health coverage during her time as state attorney general. Why then, Hodes asked reporters Wednesday, doesn't she support it for others?

"Kelly Ayotte thinks it's OK for her to get subsidized health care and to have help from a government body to have health care but it's not OK for [others]," Hodes said, according to The Associated Press.

Ayotte spokesman Jeff Grappone fired back, telling the AP that, "There's a major difference between Hodes' push for government-run health care and a state worker's employer-sponsored health benefits." http://bit.ly/9RsJCp

Alaska governor accused of hindering health reform: A Democratic state senator in Alaska charged this week that the Republican governor's distaste for the new healthcare law is impeding efforts to install the reforms.

State Sen. Hollis French (D) wrote a letter to GOP Gov. Sean Parnell Tuesday saying precisely as much.

"Your opposition to the law should not result in damaging the health of your constituents, their pocketbooks, or the pocketbook of the state," French wrote, according to The Associated Press

Alaska, for instance, hasn't applied for a $1 million grant to help launch its health exchange, French notes, nor has it gone after another $1 million grant to help state regulators monitor premium hikes, AP writes.

Rachael Petro, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Administration, denied that the governor's office is stalling for political reasons. 

"We are not dragging our feet," she told AP. "It's taking a lot of energy and effort by our team here to make sure that we're following the law." http://bit.ly/97RPFQ

Top Dems urge HHS to rein in Medigap premium hikes: In a Wednesday letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a trio of leading Senate Democrats called on the agency to protect seniors in Medigap plans from being hit with "excessive" premium hikes. 

"We are hearing disturbing stories from beneficiaries across the country about excessive premium increases for Medigap supplemental insurance policies," Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Max Baucus (D-Mont) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) wrote. The stories, they added, raise "serious concerns about premium-setting practices and rate review procedures in place for Medigap policies."

Although the new health reform law includes $250 million for states to monitor premium rate changes, the reviews don't explicitly cover Medigap plans, the lawmakers note. The Democrats are asking HHS to "work with Governors and State Insurance Commissioners to help them gain this authority where it does not exist today."

The lawmakers are also requesting "a study of Medigap trends and costs to provide a benchmark against which proposed rates can be measured." http://bit.ly/ciqYqy

What's the cost to launch healthcare.gov? About $8.7 million so far, Time Magazine reported Wednesday. HHS says that about a quarter of the money went into the website design, while the rest was used to gather and sort the data contained on the site, Time writes.

"We expect that this increased transparency will help promote accountability for insurers and inspire robust competition in the insurance marketplace," an HHS spokeswoman told Time in an email. http://bit.ly/9pRpPT

In West Virginia, Manchin sues the Obama administration over mountaintop removal mining: Gov. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), the candidate to replace the late-Sen. Robert Byrd (D), sued the Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday over EPA's efforts to rein in mountaintop removal coal mining. 

Unknown in most of the country, mountaintop removal — in which companies blast away mountain peaks and push the debris into adjacent streams — is popular in Appalachia because it saves coal companies money on both trucking and labor. http://bit.ly/2Hvq3G

But it’s also ravaged neighboring communities by poisoning wells and waterways, contaminating air, killing off wildlife and flooding nearby homes. Recent research indicates that people living near streams poisoned by mines are at higher risk of getting cancer. http://bit.ly/cFREkj

Aiming to reduce those destructive effects, the EPA in April proposed strict new limits on the toxins mining companies can dump into streams. http://bit.ly/9Cexkt

Manchin on Wednesday said those would curb mining at the expense of jobs and the economy. http://bit.ly/bCJfKG

"We are asking the court to reverse EPA's actions before West Virginia's economy and our mining community face further hardship and uncertainty and weaken the strength of this country," Manchin told reporters.

Manchin on Wednesday was quick to invoke Byrd, even holding aloft a copy of the Constitution, as Byrd was known to do, to justify the suit. But whether or not Byrd would have approved of Manchin's move is another story.

In the last year of his life, Byrd abruptly altered his position on mountaintop removal, shifting from strong supporter to an unlikely critic. 

"The industry of coal must also respect the land that yields the coal, as well as the people who live on the land," Byrd wrote in an op-ed in the local press in May. 

"If the process of mining destroys nearby wells and foundations, if blasting and digging and relocating streams unearths harmful elements and releases them into the environment causing illness and death, that process should be halted and the resulting hazards to the community abated." http://bit.ly/bSlw9A

A month earlier, as other West Virginia lawmakers were slamming the EPA's proposal, Byrd instead endorsed it. http://bit.ly/9o60IB