Healthcare Roundup: Lawsuits look more like practice for high court

Virginia's challenge to the constitutionality of the new healthcare reform law kicked off Monday in a Richmond courtroom, where Federal District Judge Henry Hudson heard the first round of oral arguments from both the state and the Obama administration.

Two notable developments for the day: (1) Hudson said he'd have a verdict by the end of the year, and (2) the judge conceded that his ruling, whatever it is, will be just an early step in a much longer process that will end up in the Supreme Court.

"As you well know, this is only one brief stop on the way to the United States Supreme Court," Hudson said.

Virginia's case

The state's challenge hinges on the argument that Congress's constitutional authority to regulate commercial activity doesn't extend to commercial inactivity, like the decision not to purchase health insurance.

"The Supreme Court has never allowed inactivity to be regulated as commerce," said Virginia Solicitor General E. Duncan Getchell, according to The Washington Post. http://wapo.st/clk4zv

Administration's defense comes from a slightly different angle 

It argues that the decision not to buy insurance is itself an active process, because those patients will still receive care when they get sick — the costs will just be absorbed by everyone else.

"The decision to get or not get insurance and essentially gamble that other people will pay for you when you get sick is not inactivity," Deputy U.S. Assistant Attorney General Ian H. Gershengorn told Hudson, the Post reported. "It is not passivity."

So was healthcare reform to blame or not?

Those following Boeing's recent decision to push more health costs on tens of thousands of employees are forgiven if they're confused about the reasons behind the move.

Last week, the company sent a letter to affected workers blaming the new healthcare reform law for the cost shift, which is set to take effect next year, The Associated Press reported Monday. 

"The newly enacted healthcare reform legislation, while intended to expand access to care for millions of uninsured Americans, is also adding cost pressure as requirements of the new law are phased in over the next several years," wrote Rick Stephens, Boeing's senior vice president for human resources, according to the AP. http://bit.ly/9K6tU3

But on Monday, the company was already walking back that claim, telling a local news outlet that the changes would have happened even if the reforms were never enacted. 

"Yes, we are making healthcare changes. If you would've asked me if we would've made these changes without the enactment of the law, I would've said yes," Boeing spokeswoman Karen Forte told seattlepi.com Monday evening.

"We're just out of line with [the] market. We've been contemplating what can we do to reduce costs," Forte said. "It came down to, we've got to pass some of these costs down to our employees." http://bit.ly/bOfku2

House GOP leaders question whether Medicare ads are politically motivated

Republican leaders on the Ways and Means Committee want answers from the administration about the timing and targeting of recent Medicare ads. http://bit.ly/bBVO9T

In a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Reps. Dave Camp (Mich.) and Wally Herger (Calif.) are asking:

• How much HHS spent on similar ads in the past;

• Where the ads are running this year relative to past years;

• And why the ads aren't running nationwide.  

"As you know," the Republicans wrote, "it would be highly inappropriate and perhaps illegal if HHS used taxpayer funds to purchase advertisements in areas of the country with the intent of impacting competitive congressional races leading up to the election." http://bit.ly/bqqWgo

Senate candidates debate healthcare reform in West Virginia

In the only public debate scheduled in West Virginia's tight race to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D), the candidates spent a good deal of time on Monday discussing the new healthcare reform law. It comes as little surprise that they agreed on almost nothing.

GOP candidate John Raese wants "to repeal every part of it," calling the law "pure, unadulterated socialism" and "the worst bill that has ever come out of [Congress]."

"I don't like socialism, to tell you the truth," Raese said.

Gov. Joe Manchin, the Democrat vying for the spot, disagreed, arguing that the bill is imperfect, but that many provisions — like the patients' bill of rights — are worth keeping around. "There's a lot of good," he said. "We ought to try to fix what we have."

Offering a third opinion, Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson wondered how a bill requiring millions of Americans to buy insurance from private companies could constitute socialism.

"It's not socialism at all — it's capitalism on steroids," Johnson said. "You're having to pay a private corporation, and you're under penalty of law for not doing so. This is not socialism by any stretch of the imagination." http://bit.ly/cvThB1

DC gets a new health communications shop

Licy Do Canto, health policy expert at the Raben Group, will be launching his own healthcare group at the end of the month, the Raben Group announced Monday. The Do Canto Group (TDG) will partner with Raben on several existing contracts — including AARP and the California Endowment.

Prior to joining Raben, Do Canto worked for the National Association of Community Health Centers, the American Cancer Society and in the offices of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).