OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Finally, a permanent 'doc fix' bill

Committee leaders in the House and Senate have unveiled bipartisan legislation repealing Medicare's flawed physician payment system and giving doctors in the program a small pay raise.

The bill was introduced Thursday after more than a year of negotiations between parties in both chambers. Its central provisions repeal Medicare's sustainable growth rate formula and increase physician reimbursement rates by 0.5 percent annually for 5 years.  

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The announcement comes just two months before Medicare doctors face a payment cut of almost 24 percent under the latest patch, known on Capitol Hill as a "doc fix." Congress has relied on temporary fixes for more than a decade to avoid dramatic pay cuts to doctors, but hope for reform rose last year after budget analysts unexpectedly cut the cost of repeal. 

The endorsement of three powerful committees — Senate Finance, House Ways and Means and House Energy and Commerce — makes it likely that leaders in both chambers will bring the new bill to the floor this spring.

This assumes lawmakers can come to an agreement about how to pay for the reform, estimated to cost between $120 billion and $150 billion. Offsets were not announced Thursday and have already proven a major sticking point. Healthwatch has more on the proposal here

AARP slams Rubio bill: One of Washington's most powerful lobby groups is slamming a bill from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to repeal ObamaCare's risk corridors program. In a letter Thursday, AARP called the healthcare transition policy a "critical tool" for stabilizing premiums on the exchanges. AARP Senior Vice President Joyce Rogers also noted vulnerable pre-Medicare seniors who are benefiting from marketplace coverage. 

O-Care awareness unchanged: The public is roughly as familiar with ObamaCare now as they were last fall, a bad sign for the administration as it seeks to pitch people on the new marketplaces.

Gallup reported Thursday that a majority of Americans are very or somewhat familiar with the reform, while a third are not too or not familiar at all with it. These numbers were the same in August, before the Affordable Care Act grabbed months of headlines for its botched rollout and later for its improving fortunes. Read the survey here

Ryan, Tavenner to speak: The Federation of American Hospitals is out with a speaker line-up for its annual public policy conference. Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) will address the gathering, along with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the former CIA director, will provide the keynote speech. 

GMO push: Major players in the American food industry formally launched an effort Thursday to head off regulations requiring labels on genetically engineered foods through the creation of a set of less restrictive federal standards. The push for voluntary federal labeling standards, first reported by The Hill in November, follows expensive battles in California and Washington state over ballot initiatives seeking to impose mandatory labeling regulations.

The Coalition of Safe Affordable Foods, made up of roughly 30 trade groups from the food, biotechnology and farming industries, will press for legislation creating a voluntary labeling system for products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The group’s proposal would require labeling for any products deemed by the Food and Drug Administration to carry a public health threat — though, to date, none has — and impose a new mandatory pre-market technology review process at the agency. At the same time, the measure would put an end to a growing number of mandatory bills that have cropped up in state legislatures around the country.

The Hill's RegWatch blog has more.


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