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."

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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 Schumer (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 Boustany 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 Barrasso (R-Wyo.) called on President Obama to cancel the contract, and Sen. John McCain (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 Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sheldon Whitehouse (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 Harkin (D-Iowa) and Mike Enzi (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

Follow us on Twitter @hillhealthwatch

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