OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Sebelius will still give speech at Georgetown

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will speak about public service at a ceremony for some Georgetown graduates Friday despite furor over the Obama administration's contraceptive mandate.

The scheduled speech has been overshadowed by criticism of Sebelius from conservative Catholics, signaling that debate over the mandate is far from over. The Archbishop of Washington led the charge this week, calling Sebelius's public work "the most direct challenge to religious liberty in recent history."

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"It is understandable that Catholics across the country would find shocking the choice of Secretary Sebelius, the architect of the mandate, to receive such special recognition at a Catholic university," Cardinal Donald Wuerl said in a statement.

Georgetown's president, John J. DeGioia, responded with praise for Sebelius as a public servant and a defense of the university as a venue for debate. More than 90 Georgetown students also signed a letter saying that Sebelius was chosen as an "ideal speaker" by students in a process "devoid of political considerations or ideology."

DeGioia's statement noted that students were interested in Sebelius's participation in the passage of the 2010 healthcare law.

"Given her role in crafting the landmark [healthcare] legislation ... Secretary Sebelius was identified by students as a leading policy maker in our country who could contribute to this event," he said.

The speech is scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Leavey Center's Grand Ballroom on the main Georgetown campus. Sebelius will address graduates of the Georgetown School of Public Policy. Officials noted that the event is not the main commencement for Georgetown College.

Read a full preview from The Hill tomorrow morning.

Post-SCOTUS scramble: What comes next if the Supreme Court strikes down all or part of the Affordable Care Act? That’s the question Republicans are still trying to answer. As The Hill reported last week, the party isn’t planning to respond with a comprehensive repeal plan, no matter what the court decides. The big question now is what a piecemeal strategy ought to contain.

Some Republicans have suggested they’d like to leave in place some of the law’s most popular provisions, particularly the one requiring insurance companies cover people with pre-existing conditions. But that’s a non-starter for conservatives, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) moved quickly on Thursday to quash speculation that his party might try to repeal only part of the law.

“We voted to fully repeal the president’s healthcare law as one of our first acts as a new House majority, and our plan remains to repeal the law in its entirety,” Boehner said. “Anything short of that is unacceptable.”

Healthwatch has more on the GOP’s strategy.

Facts of life: Whether Republicans want to leave the requirement to cover everyone intact, or repeal it and then propose it again, the policy would be almost impossible to implement without an individual mandate. In fact, Congress included the mandate in the healthcare law mostly so that it could also include the requirement to cover everyone. And the Obama administration told the Supreme Court that if it strikes the mandate, it should also kill off guaranteed issue.

In short, leaving consumer protections in place without the unpopular individual mandate is a good political pitch, but it would be extremely difficult to pull off.

"They want to take the easy part without paying any price," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference Thursday.

Standards to combat prison rape: Long-anticipated standards released by the Justice Department now mandate actions prison facilities must take to prevent and respond to sexual abuse. The rules were mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003. An advocacy group, Just Detention International, praised orders that LGBT inmates be safely housed and that inmates have access to rape crisis counselors, but said that standards on certain pat-down searches by prison personnel fell short.

"We know from our extensive on-the-ground work that the PREA standards can transform corrections culture," said Lovisa Stannow, who directs Just Detention International. "Working inside prisons and jails, we have seen how basic, low-cost changes to policy and practice can trigger enormous improvements in transparency, respect between staff and inmates, and overall safety."

Soda wars: The American Beverage Association has hired a lobbying firm to fight new restrictions on the use of food stamps. Some health advocates have pushed for tightened rules for the the national food stamp program, to ensure that the money goes toward nutritional foods. But the beverage association has hired the firm Michael Torrey Associates to fight those proposals. Healthwatch has the details.

Franks, Nadler spar over Norton joining hearing: Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) was not permitted to testify at a Thursday afternoon hearing on a bill by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) that would criminalize abortions after 20 weeks in the District. The decision prompted some tense back-and-forth between Franks, who chairs House Judiciary's subcommittee on the Constitution, and his ranking member, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), on procedure ahead of witness testimony. Nadler insisted the decision was punitive toward D.C. because Holmes Norton, a colleague, would normally be allowed to participate in hearings on D.C. issues. Franks responded that Nadler could have elected her as the one minority witness and did not.

In testimony submitted the record, Holmes Norton blasted Republicans on the subcommittee for their "callous disregard of long-standing congressional courtesy in denying [her] request to testify ... particularly considering that the subject matter under consideration affects only [her] district."

"How irresistible it has been to pick on the District of Columbia and its citizens with not one but two bills that the majority dares not try to apply to all citizens of the United States," her statement read. "The lack of courage of the majority’s convictions is breathtaking." 

Holmes Norton went on the argue that the bill, H.R. 3803, is twice unconstitutional because it violates Roe v. Wade and the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law.


Friday's agenda

The House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on competition will hold a hearing on "health care consolidation and competition after PPACA" [the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act].


State by state

Arizona is considering new rate-review legislation.

The Missouri House approved a bill that would let healthcare providers refuse to provide contraception if it violates their moral beliefs.

Arkansas lawmakers approved a bill creating a new Web portal with information about doctors.


Lobbying registrations

The Mizeur Group LLC / National Quality Forum

Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC / Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children

ML Strategies LLC / American Well Corporation


Reading list

The Supreme Court's ruling is especially important to sick people who couldn't get insurance coverage before the Affordable Care Act, The Associated Press reports.

Washington Post blogger Sarah Kliff explains the difficulty of requiring insurers to cover everyone without also imposing a mandate.

More than one-third of all prescriptions are now filed electronically, the AP reports.

Comments / complaints / suggestions?

Please let us know:

Sam Baker: sbaker@thehill.com / 202-628-8351

Elise Viebeck: eviebeck@thehill.com / 202-628-8523

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