OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Contraception lawsuits gather steam

Claims filed Monday came from the Archdiocese of Washington, the University of Notre Dame and more than 40 other religious groups who argue the mandate infringes on religious freedom of people who object to birth control. Blunt made a similar prediction in March when the Senate defeated his amendment to allow all employers to opt out of healthcare mandates that violate their beliefs.

"It's not about any specific healthcare procedure, but it's about religious liberty," he said Tuesday. "This should not be something that the administration should be able to force people of faith to do, no matter what the specific thing is that violates their faith."

Meanwhile, legal experts say that a decades-old law originally touted by liberal Democrats could become the key to victory for religious plaintiffs suing over the mandate. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was pushed by Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Crying on TV doesn't qualify Kimmel to set nation's gun agenda Trump knocks ‘fake’ news coverage of his trip to Puerto Rico MORE (D-N.Y.), then a House member, and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) in 1993 and passed Congress with broad bipartisan support.

Because of the law, courts now have to apply certain standards to federal actions that might inadvertently infringe on religious liberty. In one sense, laws under scrutiny must aim to achieve a "compelling" government interest. In another sense, they must be designed in a way that burdens religion as little as possible.

The second claim might be hard for the administration to meet when regulators could have taken many other steps — like expanding Medicaid — to ensure women's access to birth control without a co-pay, experts told The Hill.

Read more about the legal reasoning and on Blunt's comments at Healthwatch. 

Bad PR: The House Ways and Means Committee launched an investigation Tuesday into Health and Human Services’s efforts to advertise the Affordable Care Act, citing Healthwatch’s story about a $20 million contract with the public-relations firm Porter Novelli. Rep. Charles BoustanyCharles William BoustanyControversial House Republican gains national attention after filming Auschwitz video Democrats, Republicans must work together to advance health care Lobbying World MORE Jr. (R-La.), who chairs the Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee, asked HHS to detail all of the contracts it has awarded for “public relations, advertisements, polling, message testing, and similar services” since 2008.

Republicans sharply criticized the latest PR contract Tuesday. Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoDems lambaste Trump’s ‘outrageous’ EPA chemical safety pick Overnight Regulation: EPA misses smog rule deadline | Search is on for new HHS chief | ACLU sues over abortion pill restrictions | Justices weigh gerrymandering Price resignation sets off frenzy of speculation over replacement MORE (R-Wyo.) called on President Obama to cancel the contract, and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts The VA's woes cannot be pinned on any singular administration Overnight Defense: Mattis offers support for Iran deal | McCain blocks nominees over Afghanistan strategy | Trump, Tillerson spilt raises new questions about N. Korea policy MORE (R-Ariz.) called the spending “outrageous.” HHS hired Porter Novelli to put together a campaign — mandated by the Affordable Care Act — to highlight the importance preventive medicine and explain new preventive benefits in the healthcare law.

Healthwatch has more on Republicans’ criticism. 

DEA could see scrutiny: Community pharmacists are backing the Senate's must-pass Food and Drug Administration bill, expected to see votes this week, including provisions that will probe a potential link between Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) policy and drug shortages.

The DEA enforces the Controlled Substances Act by limiting the manufacture of certain medications, but lawmakers such as Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyRepublicans jockey for position on immigration House clears bill to combat crimes against elderly Grassley: DACA deal wouldn't need border wall funding MORE (R-Iowa) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDem senator: 'How many lives must be lost before we act?' Sen. Manchin won’t vote for Trump’s mine safety nominee Overnight Regulation: SEC chief grilled over hack | Dems urge Labor chief to keep Obama overtime rule | Russia threatens Facebook over data storage law MORE (D-R.I.) have wondered if those quotas sometimes go too far.

"While most of the reported shortages to date have come from the institutional settings in the sterile injectable area, community pharmacies have also experienced shortages of certain medications," the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) wrote to Sens. Tom HarkinTom HarkinThe Hill's 12:30 Report Distance education: Tumultuous today and yesterday Grassley challenger no stranger to defying odds MORE (D-Iowa) and Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziThis week: Congress gets ball rolling on tax reform How the effort to replace ObamaCare failed Senate GOP budget paves way for .5T in tax cuts MORE (R-Wyo.) Tuesday.

The group added that drugs to treat ADD and ADHD have seen the worst shortages.

Read more from Healthwatch here.

Wednesday's agenda

The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on innovations in healthcare delivery.

State by state

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is calling on legislators to work on pension and Medicaid reform for "an epic 10 days" ahead of their May 31 adjournment. Read more at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Medicaid in Alabama could see a 10 percent reduction if voters do not support one state constitutional amendment on Sept. 18. The Associated Press has more.

Veterans in California are increasingly upset over the state's backlog of disability claims, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Maryland is the first state to ban arsenic in chicken feed, The Associated Press reports.

Lobbying registrations

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP / Teladoc

Reading list

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says the next election is more important than the last, and will spend accordingly, Reuters reports.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) staff recommended denying approval for a Pfizer rare-disease drug, Reuters reports.

Life expectancy for American men is catching up with the figures for American women, according to a new report. MSNBC has more.

The United States and Mexico have agreed to terms on sharing health information during crises, Modern Healthcare reports.

Normal-weight American adolescents are still at risk for heart disease, according to a study by the Centers for the Disease Control. Read more at the Los Angeles Times.

What you might have missed on Healthwatch

Republicans pounce on CDC director over stimulus funds for healthcare programs

Archbishop Dolan: Birth-control mandate ‘strangling’ church’s freedom

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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