Bill against sex-selective abortion comes to vote

Published in POLITICO

A vote Thursday on a bill to outlaw sex-selective abortion is the latest step in an awkward dance between the House Republican leadership and the large faction of passionate abortion opponents in the caucus.

Anti-abortion bills percolate constantly in committee, but leadership has not been pushing to get them to the floor as they attempt to stay focused on an economic message, say sources close to anti-abortion Republican members. But for this bill, anti-abortion advocates say sponsor Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) got a vote scheduled as a concession when he agreed not to try to attach the measure to the Violence Against Women Act, which has been bogging down Republicans on a divisive social issue.

Franks said he understands why the GOP leaders are “trying to do everything they can to point out to the country that under Mr. Obama’s leadership, we have less people working.” But he argued that his abortion bill is consistent with an economic theme because “the reason we have an economy … [is] because that we in America believe that life is a gift from God.”

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How IT could trip up state health care exchanges

Published in POLITICO

If state health care exchanges survive the Supreme Court challenge, the election and state tea party activists, health policy experts are worried they could still be brought down by a much more mundane problem: information technology.

Even states that are solidly committed to pursuing an exchange are facing major logistical challenges in building the computer systems that will be able to handle enrollment when exchanges open for business in 2014.

That’s largely because the system that will actually connect people to the right coverage will have to “talk” to many other systems, and they don’t use a common language. This includes a yet-to-be built federal “data hub” with tax and citizenship data, the enrollment systems of multiple private insurers selling exchange plans, and — hardest of all — state Medicaid enrollment systems, many of which are not yet fully computerized.

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Few states likely ready to run exchanges

Published by POLITICO

By J. LESTER FEDER AND JASON MILLMAN

It is now clear that when health insurance exchanges open in 2014 the federal government will be playing the lead, not the understudy.

Many insurance experts and health policy consultants predict only a dozen or so states will be ready to run exchanges on their own — and a few say that projection may be too sunny.

Only a handful of the most militant states are likely to continue all-out resistance to federal health care reform if the law is upheld — which ironically would mean the federal government would run their exchanges.

But for most states, the most likely scenario is “partnerships” in which states run some parts of these new insurance markets but the feds run many aspects that consumers will experience most directly.

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Little pushback on Romney fundraiser

Published in POLITICO

The outrage from major anti-abortion groups after Mitt Romney held a fundraiser with the chairman of the maker of the emergency contraceptive Plan B was … well, rather quiet.

Even though abortion opponents widely believe emergency contraception causes abortion (the FDA says otherwise), leading groups are holding their tongues about the fundraiser hosted by Teva Pharmaceuticals Chairman Phil Frost on Wednesday night in Coral Gables.

The Susan B. Anthony List, which campaigned aggressively for Rick Santorum before he dropped out of the race and it endorsed the presumptive nominee, provided a statement Thursday that could actually be read as coming to Romney’s defense.

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GOP’s big drug(maker) addiction

Published in POLITICO

By J. LESTER FEDER and BRETT NORMAN and MATT DOBIAS

If Republicans are mad about PhRMA’s betrayal during the health reform debate, they sure have a funny way of showing it.

Even though the pharmaceutical trade group was the first industry group to make a deal with the Obama administration to support health reform, Republicans are working hard to fast-track the passage of the industry’s top legislative priority — the reauthorization of the Food and Drug Administration “user fee” bill that regulates drug approvals.

In fact, they’re so eager to let it through that they’re not trying to add any amendments to the bill that could cause trouble with Democrats, like measures to repeal parts of President Barack Obama’s health reform law — the kinds of GOP-sponsored measures that have gummed up other legislation, like the student loan bill.

They’re also not pushing for any add-ons that could be seen as punishment for the industry — like the payment cuts House Republicans have proposed for hospitals, a major constituency that also supported the health reform law.

And they repeatedly went to bat during last year’s budget fights to block White House Medicare proposals that would eat into drug makers’ profits.

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Can’t kick out the sick? Try attracting the healthy

Published in POLITICO

They may not be able to charge sick people more money — but what if insurers just charged healthy people less money instead?

That’s one of the scenarios that’s getting attention as health care experts uncover new ways that insurers could get around one of the main goals of the health reform law: protecting patients from being treated differently if they have health problems.

The health reform law is supposed to close the door on insurance companies charging more or denying coverage to sicker people. But consumer advocates warn that could open windows for insurers to achieve the same goal by other means — unless regulators close potential loopholes before they finalize new insurance rules.

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Conservatives drop into states to stall reform

Published in POLITICO

By J. LESTER FEDER AND JASON MILLMAN

The Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon’s been racking up frequent-flier miles.

He’s dropped in on more than a dozen states to make the case to lawmakers that they should not lift one legislative finger to implement President Barack Obama’s health care reform.

“It has been a fun ride,” he said.

Conservatives like John Graham of the Pacific Research Institute have also been touring states through the platform provided by the American Legislative Exchange Council to help kill off state-based exchanges, a key piece of health care reform that will help millions of people purchase insurance coverage — often with federal subsidies — starting in 2014.

“Our approach has to be absolute noncollaboration, civil disobedience — well, not civil disobedience, but resistance … by whatever means,” said Graham.

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