Sebelius Heads To Capitol Hill
Sebelius to testify: HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will head to Capitol Hill this week to defend the administration's budget proposal for 2015 -- including its request for roughly $600 million to help implement Obamacare. She'll be before the House Ways and Means Committee -- the first of several stops -- on Wednesday. It'll be Sebelius' first time back on the Hill since HealthCare.gov really started functioning, and some Republican lawmakers will surely want to know why no one has yet been held accountable for that boondoggle.
Top Health Care News
FLORIDA HOUSE RACE A LITMUS TEST FOR HEALTH CARE STRATEGY IN MIDTERMS: The race to replace the late Rep. Bill young in Tuesday's special election has become a high profile, high cost battle, with Democrats countering GOP attacks on Obamacare by saying Republicans want to privatize Social Security and cut Medicare, while Republicans argue that Medicare payment rates were cut by the Affordable Care Act. (Michael J. Mishak, Associated Press)
Meanwhile, former Florida governor Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat now seeking a second term as governor, urged Democrats to strongly support Obama and the health care law. (Michael M. Phillips, Wall Street Journal)
ADMINISTRATION EXTENDS CONTRACT FOR HOST OF ACA WEBSITE: CMS already named Hewlett-Packard Co. the replacement for the original HealthCare.gov host, Verizon's Terremark, several months ago, but announced Friday that it will extend Terremark's contract up to seven months to ensure smooth transition at the end of the open enrollment period March 31. (Spencer E. Ante, Wall Street Journal)
UNINSURED RATE DROPS, ACA CITED: The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, released Monday, found that 15.9 percent of U.S. adults are uninsured thus far in 2014, down from 17.1 percent for the last three months of 2013 -- which translates to between 3 million and 4 million people gaining coverage. The uninsured rate was down 2.6 percentage points among blacks, 1 percentage point among whites, but only eight-tenths of a percentage point among Latinos. (Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Associated Press)
New research last week found that although the number of previously uninsured buying insurance through the ACA is rising, the overall share of uninsured gaining coverage remains low. (Christopher Weaver and Anna Wilde Mathews, Wall Street Journal)
NEGATIVE VIEW OF OBAMACARE COULD GIVE REPUBLICANS EDGE IN 2014: "The law has become like Velcro," said Republican Bill McInturff, a lead pollster of the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. "Anything bad that happens in health care now is attributed to the health care law." (Clara Ritger, National Journal)
CHANGES TO ACA CREATE CONSUMER CONFUSION: The extension of the "if you like your plan you can keep it" fix is the latest in a slew of Obamacare changes and delays that are creating confusion for consumers, insurers, providers, and politicians. ( Sandhya Somashekhar, Washington Post)
A timeline of the major changes to the health care law. (Amy Goldstein, Washington Post)
A FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISOR ON THE MAKING OF OBAMACARE: How policy can overcome politics, and vice versa. (Ezekiel Emanuel, Wall Street Journal)
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WHAT MAKES A COMMUNITY HEALTHY? "President Obama's health law, which takes full effect this year, was designed to narrow some of the disparities by expanding coverage and providing new tools for improving quality. But with some states embracing the law and others resisting it, the gaps in health from one region to another are poised to widen." (Noam Levey, Los Angeles Times)
DENVER ACTUARIES TO GET FIRST LOOK AT OBAMACARE COSTS: "Quite a few companies have agreed to give Wakely Consulting Group early information about enrollment and member health in plans for individuals and small businesses sold through the online marketplaces that opened last fall. The firm will use the data to give insurers the earliest possible estimates of how much they'll pay or receive through a government program designed to distribute risk more evenly among plans. The information will also help insurers set rates for 2015, which are due to regulators relatively soon." (Jay Hancock, Kaiser Health News)
OIG TO AUDIT MARYLAND HEALTH EXCHANGE: Maryland expects to spend $261 million on its state exchange by the end of 2015--over 80 percent of which is federal money--yet the website has had continued problems since its launch in Oct. The federal inspector general will review what went wrong; the probe is the first of its kind to be announced publicly and could begin in a matter of weeks. (John Fritze, Baltimore Sun)
This follows an announcement from the Government Accountability Office last week that it will investigate problems with several state exchanges. (Jess Barnard, Associated Press)
VIRGINIA GENERAL ASSEMBLY ADJOURNS WITHOUT BUDGET OR MEDICAID EXPANSION: "[Gov. Terry] McAuliffe (D) called on the House and Senate to return to the Capitol in two weeks to continue work on a two-year, $96 billion budget to fund schools, universities, local governments and other state services. As McAuliffe and a bipartisan majority in the Senate are bent on expansion and the GOP-dominated House remaining staunchly opposed, legislators were bracing for a drawn-out showdown — one that could threaten state services if it is not resolved by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year." (Laura Vozzella, Michael Laris and Rachel Weiner, Washington Post)
ADVOCATES WORRY LASTING MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM REFORM WON'T HAPPEN IN VIRGINIA: "If a school shooting couldn't do it, if an attack involving a state lawmaker couldn't do it, then what will?" (Annys Shin, Washington Post)
DOCTORS FLOCK TO CONGRESS: "With a few exceptions, these physician legislators and candidates — there are three dozen of them — are much alike: deeply conservative, mostly male, and practicing in the specialty fields in which costs and pay have soared in recent years." (Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times)
HOW THE ADMINISTRATION IS FUNDING OBAMACARE WITHOUT CONGRESS: "Forced to reveal more details under a provision tucked in this year's bipartisan budget deal, the Department of Health and Human Services declared Friday how it used Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's authority to move about $1.6 billion in departmental funds around last year — the Cabinet secretary's version of looking for change under the couch cushions and hitting the jackpot. But HHS didn't say exactly how it spent the money, and it didn't lay out the kind of detail Republicans sought." (Brett Norman and David Nather, Politico)
CRUZ: OBAMACARE REPEAL IN 2017: "I'll give you one scenario where it could [be repealed before Obama leaves office]," said Sen. Ted Cruz Sunday. "If there's one thing that unifies politicians in both parties is that their top priority is preserving their own hide. If enough congressional Democrats realize they either stand with ObamaCare and lose or they listen to the American people and have a chance at staying in office, that's the one scenario we could do it in 2015. If not, we'll do it in 2017." (Keith Laing, The Hill)
CALLING ALL MOMS: IT'S OBAMACARE: This week the Obama administration is targeting its health insurance enrollment efforts at the moms of America. (Joanne Kenen, Politico)
WEBMD TO INTERVIEW OBAMA ABOUT ACA: Part of the last minute enrollment push ahead of the March 31 deadline, the interview will be aired on the WebMD website Friday. The site is currently accepting questions for the president. (David Jackson, USA Today)
WHEN HEALTH COSTS HARM YOUR CREDIT: "Mounting evidence shows that chaos in medical billing is not just affecting our health care but dinging the financial reputation of many Americans: While the bills themselves frequently take months to sort out, medical debts can be reported rapidly to credit agencies, and often without notification. And even small unpaid bills can severely damage credit ratings." (Elisabeth Rosenthal, New York Times)
THE FINE LINE THE ADMINISTRATION IS WALKING WITH DOCTORS AND HOSPITALS: "Exactly when the cuts become 'too many' isn't clear. But hospitals want more money in the budget and doctors want a permanent fix to the broken SGR formula that will slash reimbursements to physicians who provide services to Medicare beneficiaries--and neither of those 'asks' looks promising." (Clara Ritger, National Journal)
Happening This Week
House Republicans will vote on bill this week to tie permanent "doc fix" legislation to a repeal of Obamacare's individual mandate.
SENATE HEARING ON U.S. HEALTH CARE SYSTEM: The Senate HELP Committee Primary Health and Aging Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled "Access and Cost: What the U.S. Health Care System Can Learn from Other Countries" at 11 a.m. in Dirksen.
HOUSE HEARING ON THE PRESIDENT'S FY 2015 BUDGET FOR HHS: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will testify in a House Ways and Means Committee hearing at 10 a.m. in Longworth.
SENATE HEARING ON DEFENSE HEALTH PROGRAMS: The Senate Appropriations Committee Defense Subcommittee will hear testimony from Assistant Defense Secretary for Health Affairs Jonathan Woodson; and Chris Miller, program executive officer for the Defense Health Care Management System at 10:30 a.m. in Dirksen.
HOUSE HEARING ON THE PRESIDENT'S FY 2015 BUDGET FOR HHS: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will testify in a House Appropriations Committee Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing at 10 a.m. in Rayburn.
SENATE HEARING ON FDA'S INITIATIVES FOR PROTECTING PUBLIC HEALTH: The Senate HELP Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. in Dirksen.
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