The next legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act is moving quickly to the high court, and bringing potent questions about religious freedom, gender equality and corporate “personhood.” The issue is the health-care law’s requirement that employers without a specific exemption must provide workers with insurance plans that cover a full range of birth-control measures and contraceptive drugs. Inclusion of the no-cost contraceptive coverage for female workers has always been a controversial part of the legislation. It has now sparked more than 40 lawsuits around the nation involving more than 110 individuals, colleges, hospitals, church-affiliated nonprofits and private companies. The cases involving those with religious affiliations are in limbo, as the Obama administration works on regulations that might provide a compromise. In a case involving two such institutions — Wheaton College in Illinois and Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina — a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is requiring administration officials to report by mid-February about the new rule, which is to be issued by spring.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has issued a long-awaited new rule to bolster the privacy protections for patients’ health information. The 563-page final rule, unveiled late last week, makes numerous changes to the privacy and security protections established under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Historically, HIPAA privacy rules applied to healthcare providers, healthcare plans and firms that process health insurance claims. The new rule extends those regulations to so-called “business associates,” such as the vendors that contract with the healthcare companies. Health and Human Services said in a press release announcing the rule that some of the largest breaches reported to the agency have involved business associates. Before the change, vendors’ obligations to secure patient data were governed by their contracts with the healthcare provider or health plan. Now those companies have to answer to the government under HIPAA. The new rule also raises the penalties, based on the level of negligence, with a maximum of $1.5 million per violatio
The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a new appeal by a woman convicted under a federal law intended to combat chemical weapons in a case where she admitted trying to poison a former friend who had an affair with her husband. At the center of the case is a 1998 U.S. law banning the use of chemical weapons other than for a “peaceful purpose.” That law grew out of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, an international agreement designed to keep rogue countries and terrorists from obtaining weapons of mass destruction. Carol Anne Bond, a trained microbiologist who once worked at the chemical company Rohm and Haas Co, admitted to trying to poison her former best friend Myrlinda Haynes after learning that Haynes, a single mother, became pregnant by Bond’s husband. The toxic chemicals were taken from Rohm & Haas, and lethal compounds were sprinkled on Haynes’ mailbox, car door handles and house doorknob on several occasions between November 2006 and June 2007. Such cases are normally handled by local prosecutors under traditional criminal laws, but Bond was prosecuted under the federal chemical weapons law. The case could give the court a chance to revisit a 1920 precedent written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes that gave Congress broad authority to adopt laws implementing treaties. It also presents an unusual clash between the desire to enforce international treaty norms, including provisions designed to thwart terrorism, and the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which limits federal power.
President Obama wants the government to resume gun violence research again. In 1996, Congress at the behest of the National Rifle Association, stopped federally funded gun-related research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which includes the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC). Scientists and policymakers say they have little scientific data about gun violence after Congress prohibited federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, from offering research grants to study anything that could be used to promote gun control. Vice President Joe Biden told reporters last week that federal agencies need to collect information about what kinds of weapons are most frequently used in homicides as well as what kinds of weapons are most often sold illegally. More than 100 research scientists noted in a letter to Vice President Joe Biden that since 1973, the NIH has awarded three research grants to study more than 4 million gun injuries while awarding 212 grants to study cholera and 129 grants to study polio. Both illnesses have been nearly eradicated in the United States. Without federal support for research, the scientists wrote in the Jan. 10 letter from the University of Chicago Crime Lab, the nation will not have the information it needs to tackle “one of the most pressing public health problems we currently face.”
A Utah congressman is proposing to make it unlawful to sell or rent violent video games to minors. Under the bill introduced this week by Rep. Jim Matheson, a Democrat from the suburbs of Salt Lake City, selling or renting a mature-rated game to a person younger than 17 would be punishable by a fine of as much as $5,000. Many of the most popular video games — such as the shoot-em-up Call of Duty and Mass Effect franchises — are rated M for “mature” by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, a self-regulating body that assigns ratings to games. Such games have come under more scrutiny in recent weeks after reports surfaced that Adam Lanza, the shooter in the Newtown massacre, was a fan of violent computer games.But Mr. Matheson’s bill would likely run into First Amendment problems. In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a California law restricting the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.