Supreme Court misunderstanding on health overhaul?

Posted April 11, 2012, at 9 p.m.

WASHINGTON — A possible misunderstanding about President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul could cloud Supreme Court deliberations on its fate, leaving the impression that the law’s insurance requirement is more onerous than it actually is.

During the recent oral arguments some of the justices and the lawyers appearing before them seemed to be under the impression that the law does not allow most consumers to buy low-cost, stripped-down insurance to satisfy its controversial coverage requirement.

In fact, the law provides for a cheaper “bronze” plan that is broadly similar to today’s so-called catastrophic coverage policies for individuals, several insurance experts said.

“I think there is confusion,” said Paul Keckley, health research chief for Deloitte, a major benefits consultant. “I found myself wondering how much they understood the Affordable Care Act. Several times the questions led me to wonder how much [the justices’] clerks had gone back into the law in advance of the arguments.”

Monthly premiums for the bronze plan would be lower, and it would cover a much smaller share of medical expenses than a typical employer plan.

Starting in 2014, the health care law requires most Americans to obtain health insurance, either through an employer, a government program, or by buying their own policies. In return, insurance companies would be prohibited from turning away the sick. Government would subsidize premiums for millions now uninsured.

The law’s opponents argue that Congress overstepped its constitutional authority by issuing the mandate, while the administration says the requirement is permissible because it serves to regulate interstate commerce. The scope of the mandate was one of several key issues argued before the court.

Planned Parenthood sues Texas over exclusion

AUSTIN, Texas — Eight Planned Parenthood organizations sued Texas on Wednesday for excluding them from participating in a program that provides contraception and check-ups to women, saying the new rule violates their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and association.

The groups, none of which provide abortions, contend in the federal lawsuit that a new state law banning organizations affiliated with abortion providers from participating in the Women’s Health Program has nothing to do with providing medical care and is simply intended to silence individuals or groups who support abortion rights. Texas law already requires that groups receiving federal or state funding be legally and financially separate from clinics that perform abortions.

“The government cannot condition your participation in the health services on giving up your free speech,” said Pete Shenkken, the plaintiffs’ attorney, citing past U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

The federal government has also cut funding to Texas over the issue, saying it violated federal law. It says the state law passed by conservative Republicans and signed by Gov. Rick Perry last year denies women the right to choose their health care providers.

GOP lawmaker says 75-plus Democrats are communists

WASHINGTON — Republican Rep. Allen West said he believes 75-plus House Democrats are members of the Communist Party, a claim that echoed Joe McCarthy’s unsubstantiated 1950s charges that communists had infiltrated the top ranks of the U.S. government.

Addressing a town-hall meeting Tuesday in Florida, the freshman lawmaker was asked how many members of the American legislature are “card-carrying Marxists.” West said “there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party.” He did not provide names.

West’s office said Wednesday that the congressman stood by the comments and was referring to the 76 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the largest group within the House Democratic caucus.

“The Communist Party has publicly referred to the Progressive Caucus as its allies,” said Angela Melvin, a spokeswoman for West. “The Progressive Caucus speaks for itself. These individuals certainly aren’t proponents of free markets or individual economic freedom.”

West’s office cited a May 2010 article on health care that appeared in the Communist Party USA pre-convention publication that described the Progressive Caucus and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., as allies of the party but not members. The article, however, carried the disclaimer that Communist Party USA “takes no responsibility for the opinions expressed in this article or other articles i n the pre-convention discussion.”

Reps. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the co-chairs of the caucus, rejected West’s claim.

Attacks kill 2 NATO troops, local Afghan official

KABUL, Afghanistan — Two bomb explosions and an insurgent attack killed two NATO service members and a local Afghan government official on Wednesday in different parts of Afghanistan, authorities said.

The deaths come one day after Taliban suicide bombers killed at least 19 people across the country as they stepped up their fight against Afghan forces slowly taking the lead from U.S. and international troops.

NATO said both coalition service members were killed in the south — one in a roadside bombing and the other during an insurgent attack.

The coalition did not provide their nationalities nor disclose other details.

So far this year, 103 members of the U.S.-led coalition have been killed in Afghanistan.

Syria says it will observe UN cease-fire

BEIRUT — Syria announced Wednesday that it had succeeded in asserting government control over the country after more than a year of unrest and would therefore observe a U.N.-brokered cease-fire due to go into effect Thursday morning.

A statement issued by the Defense Ministry added, however, that the government would retain the right to retaliate against attacks by “armed terrorist groups,” casting into doubt its promise to stop fighting under the terms of the cease-fire proposed by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan – the central plank in the international community’s efforts to end the bloodshed. The Syrian government has long described the 13-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule as the work of “terrorists.”

The White House urged caution, and activists also said they were skeptical that the cease-fire would be observed.

Hours before the 6 a.m. Thursday deadline for the cease-fire, government attacks continued in some opposition flash points, with Syrian troops reportedly shelling the central city of Homs and the Damascus suburb of Zabadani.

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