Busy Week on Capitol Hill
SEBELIUS, FDA ON THE HOT SEAT: The health care agenda on Capitol Hill is pretty full this week — the highlight will be HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' testimony Thursday before the Senate Finance Committee. Things kick off today, though, with a House hearing on the FDA's regulation of certain drugs, followed by hearings Tuesday on the FDA's relatively new authority over tobacco products and, in the Ways and Means Committee, Obamacare's employer mandate. The Senate is unlikely to approve legislation passed by the House last week to change the definition of "full-time" under Obamacare -- the law requires employers to provide health benefits to all employees who work more than 30 hours per week, but Republicans say the standard should be relaxed to 40 hours per week.
Top Health Care News
SURVEY: UNINSURED RATE LOWEST SINCE 2008: "Released Monday, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index measured the share of adults without health insurance. That shrank from 17.1 percent at the end of last year to 15.6 percent for the first three months of 2014. The decline of 1.5 percentage points would translate roughly to more than 3.5 million people gaining coverage. The trend accelerated as the March 31 enrollment deadline loomed." (Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Associated Press)
MEDICAID ENROLLMENT JUMPS 3 MILLION: CMS announced that 3 million more people were enrolled in Medicaid at the end of February compared with the average total number enrolled in the several months prior to October, but we still don't know how many are newly eligible under the health care law. (Sophie Novack, National Journal)
EVEN SMALL MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS CAN MEAN BIG INCREASE IN PRICE TAG: The high price of new treatments for chronic conditions contributes toward $2.7 trillion annually in medical spending in the United States. (Elisabeth Rosenthal, New York Times)
PELOSI: OBAMACARE EMPLOYER MANDATE STAYS: The House Minority Leader dismissed on Sunday the reports of former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs saying that the employer mandate might not take effect. (Katie Glueck, Politico)
HOW OBAMACARE CHANGES INSURANCE POLICY AVAILABILITY: With the end of ACA open enrollment, insurers have largely stopped selling plans that previously would have been available year-round. While companies are allowed to sell all year, most are choosing to do the limited open enrollment period since the ban on rejecting consumers because of pre-existing conditions makes year-round enrollment risky, as individuals could opt to buy an insurance plan only after becoming sick. (Connie Cass, Associated Press)
DEMOCRATS SPLIT OVER MEDICARE ADVANTAGE CUTS: Some lawmakers are asking the White House to reject cuts to Medicare Advantage, arguing that it could undermine seniors' coverage. (Kristina Peterson and Anna Wilde Mathews, Wall Street Journal)
REPUBLICANS QUIETLY EXPAND COVERAGE UNDER OBAMACARE: "No member of the House GOP leadership has publicly hailed the fix, which was tucked, at Republicans' request, into legislation preventing a cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients...The provision itself was relatively minor. It eliminated a cap on deductibles for small group policies offered inside the law's health care exchanges as well as outside; the cap was set at $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for families. Republicans said they sought it so small businesses can offer high-deductible plans that could be purchased by individuals who also have health savings accounts." (David Espo, Associated Press)
RYAN: OBAMACARE CAN STILL BE REPEALED: "The architecture of this law is so fundamentally flawed that I think it's going to collapse under its own weight," said Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. "And the sooner those of us who want true, real reform can show a better way forward, the faster we can repeal." (Derek Wallbank, Bloomberg)
AN EXPLAINER OF REPUBLICANS' PLAN TO CUT MEDICAID: Turning Medicaid into a "block grant" puts control in the hands of the states -- and significantly cuts spending on the program, potentially eliminating tens of millions of people from the program. (Sarah Kliff, Vox Media)
HAWAII'S NEAR-UNIVERSAL HEALTH SYSTEM HIGHLIGHTS STATE DISPARITIES: The state was the first to require employers to provide health coverage, which has led to some of the highest rates of coverage and best access to care in the U.S. (Noam Levey, Los Angeles Times)
A LOOK AT FIVE TROUBLED STATE-BASED EXCHANGES: Oregon, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Nevada still have issues with their websites, while Hawaii has concerns about low enrollment numbers. (Jennifer Corbett Dooren, Wall Street Journal)
ADDICTION TREATMENT STILL LIMITED BY DATED FEDERAL LAW: "Under the decades-old federal restriction, drug treatment centers with more than 16 beds can't bill Medicaid for residential services provided to low-income adults. The measure was designed to prevent Medicaid funding from going to private mental institutions to avoid warehousing of mental patients. Drug rehabilitation centers are turning away new Medicaid beneficiaries who are entitled to treatment under Obamacare." (Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News/USA Today)
FORT HOOD SHOOTING RENEWS FOCUS ON MENTAL HEALTH: "The military has fought for years against the stigma of seeking mental health treatment. A 2008 study found that while around a fifth of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan reported major mental health problems, only half sought help. Doctors and veterans are already concerned that the shooting at Fort Hood will cause people to view PTSD as a precursor to violence and make it harder to reintegrate into society after leaving the service." (Meredith Clark, MSNBC)
BREAST CANCER DRUG SHOWS PROMISING RESULTS: In clinical trials, a new Pfizer product is cutting in half the risk that cancer would worsen or progress. (Andrew Pollack, New York Times)
'HACKATHONS' AIM TO SOLVE HEALTH CARE CHALLENGES: Problem-solving sessions popularized by the software community take off in medicine. (Amy Dockser Marcus, Wall Street Journal)
Happening This Week
HOUSE HEARING ON DRUG REGULATIONS: The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing on improving transparency in FDA and DEA regulations at 3 p.m. Lawmakers will review three bills: the "Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act," the "Improving Regulatory Transparency for New Medical Therapies Act," and the "Sunscreen Innovation Act."
HOUSE HEARING ON IMPLEMENTATION OF THE TOBACCO CONTROL ACT: The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will hear testimony from Marcia Crosse, Director of Health Care at the U.S. Government Accountability Office at 10:15 a.m.
HOUSE HEARING ON ACA EMPLOYER MANDATE: The House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee hearing will focus on changes made to the employer mandate and reporting requirements at 2p.m.
SENATE HEARING ON DEFENSE HEALTH PROGRAMS: The Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee will hear testimony from the Surgeon General of the United States Army, Surgeon General of the United States Navy, Surgeon General of the United States Air Force, and program executive officer for the Defense Healthcare Management System, at 10 a.m.
HOUSE HEARING ON VETERAN'S CARE: The House Veteran's Affairs Committee will hold a full committee hearing on "A Continued Assessment of Delays in VA Medical Care and Preventable Veteran Deaths" at 10 a.m.
SEBELIUS TESTIFIES BEFORE SENATE FINANCE: The committee will hear testimony from the HHS Secretary on the President's FY 2015 Budget at 10 a.m.