OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Republicans target ObamaCare outreach

Efforts to boost enrollment and raise awareness of President Obama's healthcare law are the next target for House Republicans. Lawmakers zeroed in Tuesday on the reform law's "navigators," questioning whether part of the program might be illegal and raising questions about the possibility that criminals could gain access to personal healthcare information.

Navigators will help people make sense of their options as they use newly created insurance exchanges. "Navigators," as a specific entity, are authorized only in the federally run exchanges. But Gary Cohen, the director of the office overseeing most of the implementation effort, said he's confident the administration has the legal authority to let states use certain federal grants to fund similar outreach programs.

Cohen didn't have precise answers for some of the Republicans' questions, such as whether navigators will be subject to criminal background checks or whether they will have to meet educational criteria. Without such regulations, Republicans charged, navigators might be able to "walk away" with reams of sensitive information.

Healthwatch has more details on the GOP's latest target.

Cohen defends partnership: At the same hearing, held by two subcommittees of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Cohen defended the use of public-private partnerships to boost the healthcare law. Cohen said he didn't know anything about the fundraising Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has done for Enroll America, which Republicans have criticized as improper and possibly illegal. But he said partnerships between the government and nonprofit organizations are perfectly fine — and nothing new.

“It's called a public-private partnership, and it can be a very effective way of reaching out into the community," he said.

Carney goes further: White House press secretary Jay Carney also defended Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's fundraising Tuesday — after taking a shot at the questions about its propriety.

“You know, we could go down the list of questions — we could say, what about the president's birth certificate?" Carney said when asked about the issue. “Was that legitimate?”

He went on to say the fundraising was on the up and up.

“We are aggressively engaging in a wide range of stakeholder conversations about the president's healthcare law, as was done ... in previous administrations implementing Medicare Part D and the children's health insurance program,” Carney said.

The Hill has more.

IRS and ObamaCare: Several developments today on the Senate side: Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) filed an amendment to the farm bill that would prevent the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from using funds to implement ObamaCare. He had previously introduced that measure as a stand-alone bill. The farm bill is on the Senate floor this week.

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), who leads the chamber's Republican Conference, also demanded that the IRS stop its implementation work until the agency's targeting of conservative groups is better understood. Thune specifically expressed interest in Sarah Hall Ingram, the commissioner formally in charge of tax-exempt groups who now leads the Affordable Care Act office.

Read Healthwatch's coverage here and here.

302(b): Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and several patient groups blasted House appropriators for ordering a 22 percent cut in allocations for the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education subcommittee. Harkin, who leads the parallel Senate subcommittee, called the proposal a "radical reduction" in funds that cannot be achieved even by eliminating the National Institutes of Health or the entire Department of Labor. 

"Now that House Republicans have approved their allocations, they have an obligation to mark up a Labor-HHS bill as soon as possible and show us how they intend to back up their rhetoric with specific cuts," Harkin stated, noting that he will hold a markup in his subcommittee in July.

From court to the Capitol: Planned Parenthood used a decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals striking down Arizona's 20-week abortion ban to criticize Rep. Trent Franks's (R-Ariz.) bill to impose a similar prohibition nationwide. The legislation will receive a hearing this week, and Planned Parenthood urged Franks to cancel the event, calling it a waste of time.

"Rep. Franks is wasting time and taxpayer money if he moves forward with a hearing on legislation that the courts have already declared unconstitutional," said Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards.

The appeals court's decision cited an "unbroken stream" of Supreme Court rulings upholding abortion rights before fetal viability.

Read Healthwatch's write-up here.

Anti-abortion 'machine': NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Bridge Project attacked the anti-abortion-rights Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List in a report that accused the group of "radical policies, [an] antiquated worldview" and support for "extreme candidates." The report argued that the SBA List seeks to become a "political machine" akin to the National Rifle Association, and criticized the group for supporting candidates who say abortion should be prohibited in almost every circumstance. 

The SBA List responded by blasting abortion-rights supporters' acceptance of late-term procedures.

“While NARAL has been busy ‘researching’ us, across the country women and children have been suffering as a result of the brutality of the late-term abortion industry," said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser in a statement. "NARAL’s refusal to support common ground measures to protect the health and lives of women reveals their true colors."

Bishops blast Vt. law: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops condemned Vermont's new assisted suicide law as a "slippery slope" that could victimize patients who "cannot speak for themselves." The statement came from Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who leads the conference's Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

"In the three states where physician-assisted suicide is now legal, doctors are called upon to destroy life, rather than to save life and provide much-needed comfort in times of pain and distress,” O'Malley said. He urged Catholics to fight similar laws in the future.

The Vermont law will be implemented with safeguards in its first three years, including a requirement that patients officially state their wish to die several times. The safeguards will be relaxed after July 1, 2016, though opponents of the law say they will fight to keep the requirements in place. 

Part D probe: The Senate Special Committee on Aging has asked government investigators to probe the accuracy of information available on Medicare's online Part D prescription drug plan finder. The panel's leaders, Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), also want to know if the government is successfully tracking errors in plan marketing.

The request came ahead of a hearing by the Aging committee to mark Part D's passage 10 years ago. It also responds to a federal report alleging exaggerations in how some Medicare Advantage plans are marketed to consumers.

Wednesday's agenda

The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Oversight will hold a hearing on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's role in caring for patients with severe mental illness.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold an executive session to mark up bills on drug compounding and protecting the drug supply chain.

The Senate Homeland Security subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight will hold a hearing on medical equipment sales tactics. 

The Senate Special Committee on Aging will hold a hearing on Medicare's prescription drug program.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) will hold a press conference about his new bill to ban late-term abortions across the country. 

Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) will host a briefing and panel discussion on youth suicide and mental health.

State by state

Va. gets OK for key step in reforming Medicaid

Lawmakers-must-OK-expansion language survives on Texas Medicaid bill

Texas Medicaid debate complicated by politics and poverty

Medicaid to remain on Mo. governor's agenda

The end of health price secrecy may be starting in Miami

Lobbying registrations

NVG / Delta Dental Plans Association

JM Burkman & Associates / Belvina

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