OVERNIGHT HEALTHCARE: SCOTUS strikes abortion clinic buffer law

The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law that created a buffer zone, barring protesters from coming within 35 feet of abortion clinics, as unconstitutional. 

The court found that the law violated First Amendment free speech rights.

The high court had previously upheld a similar 8-foot buffer zone in a Colorado case, but in McCullen v. Coakley, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that the Massachusetts law also encompassed public walkways and sidewalks, which “occupy a ‘special position in terms of First Amendment protection.’”

Supporters of the measure say the buffer zone is needed to protect women seeking abortions and their healthcare providers from harassment and potential physical violence from anti-abortion activists.

Opponents, though, said that the zones prevented them from counseling women before they decided whether to have an abortion.

The chief justice said the state had failed to consider “alternatives that leave the forum open for its time-honored purposes.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined the court’s opinion, while the four conservative justices agreed with the decision but on different grounds, arguing that the law targeted anti-abortion speech.

“Today’s opinion carries forward this Court’s practice of giving abortion-rights advocates a pass when it comes to suppressing the free-speech rights of their opponents,” said Scalia, in a concurrence.

The White House quickly criticized the ruling.

“Women have a right to get the health services they need without any fear of harassment or intimidation,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement. “As we made clear in our court filings, we believed that Massachusetts’ buffer zone law protected those rights in a commonsense manner that also respected everyone’s First Amendment rights.

The National Organization for Women, an advocate for abortion rights, condemned the decision, saying it showed a “cavalier disregard” for the physical safety and of women seeking abortions and their healthcare providers.

Anti-abortion groups, however, lauded the court’s decision as a win for free speech.

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling in McCullen v. Coakley is wonderful news for all Americans because it upholds our crucial First Amendment rights of free speech ... perhaps no more important than for women considering abortion because it frees sidewalk counselors at abortion facilities to be able to offer compassionate and caring alternatives,” said Kristina Hernandez, a spokeswoman for Students for Life of America.

Read more: http://bit.ly/1pnHmS2 and http://bit.ly/1m2k3uY


CMS proposes O-Care auto-enrollment: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed a rule on Thursday that would allow people already enrolled in health plans under ObamaCare to auto-enroll during future enrollment periods.

The auto-enrollment could make it easier for people to stay on their health plans and make it easier for the administration to avoid hiccups in year two of the exchanges after an initial enrollment period plagued by delays.

HHS notes 9 out of 10 employees covered by the Federal Employment Health Benefits Program typically don’t change their plans from year to year, and are auto-enrolled into their current plans with updated premiums and benefits.

The department says it will encourage people to use the open enrollment periods to update their information and look around for better insurance deals.

HHS says people who got their health insurance through HealthCare.gov will get notices telling them to update their application information with income changes to update their tax credit eligibility. http://bit.ly/1sISiey


NY court kills large soda ban: New York state’s highest court on Thursday refused to reinstate a ban on the sale of large-sized sodas. 

In its 4-2 ruling, the court of appeals said New York City’s health department overstepped its authority when it barred the sale of sugary drinks larger down 16 ounces, a measure backed by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a way to fight obesity.

"The Board of Health engaged in law-making beyond its regulatory authority," the court’s majority said. "It is clear that the Board of Health wrote the Portion Cap Rule without benefit of legislative guidance."

The decision upheld a lower court ruling striking down the ban, likely finishing off the controversial public health initiative.

The dissenting justices said the city was within its right to impose the ban as part of its public health authority. http://bit.ly/1qLxhho


State by state:

Cover Oregon offers staff retention bonuses: http://stjr.nl/TCc4Zc

NC state lawmakers clash over Medicaid projections: http://bit.ly/1ySw4XV

4 charged in Virginia nursing home fraud case: http://bit.ly/1vaZM5L

Maine spending on home-based care has been rising: http://bit.ly/1joM5uL


Reading list:

UnitedHealth provider cuts spur legislation: http://bit.ly/1lT2pbc

U.S. healthcare profit outlook brightens on Obamacare, drug prices: http://reut.rs/1iyw8Yi

New drug policy too burdensome, hospices say: http://reut.rs/1vb2pVf

Putting as all at risk for measles: http://nyti.ms/1liTR9a

Outbreak watch: Ebola needs 'drastic action': http://bit.ly/1miAQUA