OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Funding fight resumes

Refreshers: Although this particular bill probably won’t succeed in cutting off the implementation funding for President Obama’s healthcare law, defunding is seen as a very real threat next year — especially if Mitt Romney wins the White House. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D) recently said the budget will be one of Republicans’ most potent weapons.


Also, with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality on the chopping block, here’s our 2011 profile of its director, Carolyn Clancy.

Déjà vu: Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) opted to pick another fight over Planned Parenthood funding, which the House has tried to zero out before. This is the first time lawmakers have waded back into this arena since the explosive controversy over the Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s brief effort to cut off its grants to Planned Parenthood. The move sparked a grassroots uproar that eventually led Komen to back off, and helped Planned Parenthood rally its supporters.

Abortion-rights supporters are ready to do battle again.

"These attacks on women’s freedom and privacy are way out of touch with our nation’s values and priorities," NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan said in a statement.

Healthwatch has the story.

Getting creative: State lawmakers are getting in on the defunding effort, too. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) signed an executive order Tuesday creating a state-run insurance exchange, but Republicans promptly blocked the money needed to rent office space for the exchange’s employees. GOP lawmakers said they couldn’t support the $295,000 lease because they didn’t want to be associated with any part of “ObamaCare,” the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

Healthwatch has more.

Biting the dust: A seven-state lawsuit against the birth control coverage mandate was dismissed Tuesday because, according to U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom, the states don't enjoy First Amendment protections and so lacked the legal grounds to sue. Urbom also said that because the mandate rule does not come into effect until August 2013, the plaintiffs "face no direct and immediate harm." He added that even if states did have standing, their "claims are not ripe."

Opponents of the mandate argue that the policy violates the freedom of employers who object to birth control.

The Lincoln Journal Star has more on the story.

The Lives (And Emails) of Others: Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleySenate Republicans press federal authorities for information on Texas synagogue hostage-taker Small ranchers say Biden letting them get squeezed These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 MORE (R-Iowa), a longstanding advocate for government whistleblowers, said the Food and Drug Administration's surveillance of its employees makes the agency "sound more like the East German Stasi than a consumer protection agency in a free country."

The New York Times reported new details last weekend about the FDA's aggressive effort to find agency employees whom the agency suspected of leaking classified information to reporters and congressional aides. The FDA created a list of suspected leakers, as well as "collaborators" within the agency and in the media. The surveillance effort involved tracking employees' keystrokes and copying their personal emails.

"The FDA’s crusade contradicts the pledge the current commissioner made to create a culture that values whistleblowers, and the scope and tone of the surveillance effort reveals an agency more concerned about protecting itself than protecting the public, which ironically is the agency’s mission," Grassley said in a statement that accompanied a lengthy letter demanding answers from FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.

The Hill has more.

Preemption: Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) came out with a prepared statement ahead of a committee markup for legislation to ban abortions in the District of Columbia after 20 weeks. Norton was not permitted to testify at an initial hearing on the bill, sparking controversy because its passage would only affect her constituents.

In her statement opposing H.R. 3803, Norton said it "violates the right to reproductive freedom, equal protection and federalism all at once."

"Republicans do not dare take on the women of this country who have voting members of the House and Senate with a post-20-week ban on abortions," she said. "Instead, the majority has chosen a cheap and cynical way to make an ideological point during an election year." 

Court battle: Planned Parenthood is suing Arizona over a new state law barring the group from contracting with Medicaid because it provides abortions. The law, championed by social conservatives, goes into effect on Aug. 2. Planned Parenthood says it will deprive thousands of low-income women from receiving care at their preferred medical provider, while abortion-rights opponents say taxpayer funds should not go to an "abortion business" at all.

Federal and state law prohibit taxpayer money from funding abortions, but conservatives who oppose the practice have taken the charge a step further, targeting Planned Parenthood's Medicaid funding for birth control and cancer screenings in several states.

Read more on the lawsuit at Healthwatch.

'Missed decade': Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) urged support for a bill to expand federal efforts against Lyme disease at a hearing on the issue Tuesday. Smith said that the illness merits the attention now given to autism since one of his bills, in 2000, created the first federal program to combat the condition. "If only we had done the same with Lyme Disease legislation in the late '90s — a missed decade on Lyme," he said, according to prepared remarks.

Smith's bill, H.R. 2557, would establish a Tick-Borne Diseases Advisory Committee with the office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

BPA ban: Federal health regulators have officially banned bisphenol-A, or BPA, from baby bottles and "sippy" cups. The plastic-hardening chemical is present in a wide variety of household items and has been the subject of a long controversy, as some research suggests that it can harm the reproductive and nervous systems of certain animals. Makers of BPA argue that it is safe.

Tuesday's move by the Food and Drug Administration comes after many baby-product manufacturers abandoned the chemical. The American Chemistry Council, a major trade group, also reportedly asked for the rule change.

Healthwatch has more on the shift.

Wednesday's agenda

The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Health will hold a hearing on reforming Medicare physician payments.

The House Judiciary Committee will mark up a bill to ban abortion in the District of Columbia after 20 weeks.

The Senate Special Committee on Aging will hold a hearing on dual eligibles.

The Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control will hold a hearing on prescription drug abuse.

The Heritage Foundation will hold a panel discussion on reforming the U.S. mental health system.

State by state

California health exchange seeks to make buying insurance a breeze

Judge holds Kentucky health abinet in contempt

Lawmakers consider next step on Jindal administration Medicaid cuts

N.Y. beats out Mass. as medical funding drops

Lobbying registrations

Venable / Self-Insurance Institute of America

Chatman / Rush University Medical Center

Ryan MacKinnon Vasapoli and Berzok / Community Oncology Alliance

Compressed Gas Association / self-registration

Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti / National Retail Federation

Reading list

Health insurance prices for women set to drop

Analysts: Obesity fight can turn a profit

U.S. busts $108 million black market in Medicaid drugs

Olympians look for doping edge, despite tests and risks

Small study: Drug may help stabilize Alzheimer's 

What you might have missed on Healthwatch

Senate sees stalemate on flame-retardant furniture safety regs

House GOP blasts Obama with welfare-reform data memo

Study finds long-acting birth control use on the rise

States need to act on long-term budget crises: report

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