March 30, 2012

March 30 Washington Update


Greetings from Washington.  As you can imagine, all health-policy eyes in Washington were turned on the Supreme Court this week.  (I am lucky enough to live by the Court, so actually went over to experience the hubbub myself.  I took a couple pictures but the ones at the link below are much better.)  

As you probably know, there were four issues that the court was considering:

1.      Whether the case can be decided now or cannot be adjudicated until the penalty for not buying insurance is actually imposed on someone (a.k.a., the "Anti-Injunction Act" issue).   This was argued on Monday.

2.      Whether Congress exceeded its power under the "interstate commerce clause" of the constitution when it created the individual mandate to purchase insurance (a.k.a., the "individual responsibility requirement").   Argued on Tuesday.

3.      Whether the ACA's expansion of Medicaid unconstitutionally coerces states.  Argued Wednesday afternoon.

4.      What happens to the rest of the law if any parts of the ACA are declared to be unconstitutional (a.k.a., the "severability issue").  Argued Wednesday morning. 

After watching the oral arguments, and paying close attention to the questions posed by the Justices, many experienced Court observers thought that there is a decent chance that the Court will rule the individual mandate to be unconstitutional, which would be a sharp departure from precedent regarding congressional power to regulate commerce under the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution.  This clause and the taxing power of Congress are the constitutional sources of congressional authority to require some individuals to purchase insurance or incur a penalty.

It is important to bear in mind, however, that no one can really make a meaningful prediction.  In fact, as noted in the article listed second below, there have actually been cases (or at least one) where a Justice changed his mind after his initial decision regarding an important abortion case.  That Justice happened to be Anthony Kennedy, who is considered the swing vote in the ACA  case.  See http://swampland.time.com/2012/03/30/why-obamacare-may-stand-reading-justice-kennedy-the-supreme-courts-swing-vote/?xid=gonewsedit.

Below are some other links explaining the legal issues of the case as well as some of the political ramifications: 

Light-hearted wrap-up of the Court's proceedings from Community Catalyst: http://blog.communitycatalyst.org/index.php/2012/03/30/a-supreme-court-wrap-up-school-house-style/

Really interesting, fairly short Washington Post article about how the court decides cases: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-supreme-court-will-decide-on-the-health-care-law-soon-it-will-tell-you-later/2012/03/29/gIQAB0TujS_story.html  (Be aware that if you launch slide show on this site you will have to watch an ad first.)

Almost surely not-worth-reading but interesting-to-see Amici Curiae ("friends of the court") brief on behalf of Former Attorney General David Satcher, MD, PhD, and multiple other organizations, including Family Voices, about the issue of whether the ACA's Medicaid expansion constitutes an unconstitutional coercion of the states.  (Family Voices is listed on page App. 17 in the Appendix, p. 58 of the .pdf document.): http://bazelon.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=roB42hzCIys%3d&tabid=523.

A plain-English explanation of the Medicaid issue from a blog site about the Supreme Court:  http://www.scotusblog.com/?p=142283.

An article from NPR's health blog about the individual mandate issue (includes links to audio and podcasts):  http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/03/26/149417437/high-court-justices-appear-split-on-insurance-mandate.

All you could ever want to know about the legal issues in the case, including plain-English explanations of all the issues and transcripts of the arguments:  http://www.scotusblog.com/2012/03/scotusblog-health-care-and-a-few-things-you-might-have-missed/.

An article about the politics of the case, with links to numerous other Washington Post articles about it:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/supreme-courts-health-care-ruling-could-deal-dramatic-blow-to-obama-presidency/2012/03/28/gIQAfpBYhS_story.html.

Slide show of people in front of the Court, pro and con the law (no ads):  http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Slide-Shows/2012/supreme-court-oral-arguments-day-1.aspx

F2F funding bills

We are still working to secure more cosponsors for the Senate and House bills (S. 2123 and H.R. 4083) -- sponsored by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ), respectively -- to extend the current level of funding ($5 million) for F2Fs through Federal FY 2015. 

We're pleased to report that we have gained another House cosponsor since the last report, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA-34th), from Los Angeles.

Those of you coming to DC for the F2F conference in April:  Please try to make appointments with your Members of Congress to discuss F2F funding.  Also, please plan to participate in a conference call on Tuesday, April 10, at 3:00 ET to discuss the funding history and status of the F2F program so you are well-prepared to field questions from legislative staff.

Everyone:  Please contact your Members of Congress by phone or email to urge them to cosponsor the Menendez-Pallone legislation.  See guidance at the end of this update or click here now to send a pre-drafted letter to your Representative.

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There will be no Washington update next week, as Congress is in recess and the policy team will be taking time off.  As always, please feel free to contact us with any questions. 

Hope you have a nice weekend!

Brooke Lehmann, MSW, Esq.
202-333-2770
blehmann@familyvoices.org

Janis Guerney, Esq.
202-546-0558
jguerney@familyvoices.org

NOTE:  Past issues of the Washington update can be found on the Family Voices home page by scrolling down in the "News Feed" section.

Contacting your Members of Congress about F2F funding bills

All of you who are concerned about the future of F2Fs should contact your Members of Congress to urge that they cosponsor the Menendez or Pallone bill. You can call them through the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.  (To find the names of your Members of Congress, go to http://www.congressmerge.com/onlinedb/index.htm.)  When you speak to the receptionist, state that you are a constituent and ask to speak to the staff person who handles health issues.  If that person is not available to talk, you can leave a BRIEF message identifying yourself as a constituent who has a child with special health care needs (if applicable) and asking that the Representative/Senator cosponsor a bill that would extend funding for Family-to-Family Health Information Centers.  Refer to the appropriate bill number and sponsor - in the Senate, S. 2123, sponsored by Senator Menendez; in the House, H.R. 4083, sponsored by Rep. Pallone.  Leave your phone number and email address. (Remember to use your personal contact information, not that of your F2F.)

You can also write to your Representative (even if you call) via the "Advocacy" section of the Family Voices website, where you will find a pre-written letter that you fill in with your personal information.  (You do not need to know the name of your Representative.)  Please ask families you have worked with, friends, and relatives to write their Representatives through the Family Voices website also.  The URL is http://www.familyvoices.org/action/advocate.   At this time, the website is not configured to automatically send the letter to Senators, but simple instructions about how to contact your Senators, and text to copy and paste, can also be found on that page.  (You do not need to know the names of your Senators.)

Remember:  Federal resources may not be used for lobbying activities.

Please feel free to call Brooke or Janis (contact information above) if you have any questions.