OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Reform advocates celebrate victory, vow to fight repeal

MLR to force lower rates?: The head of HHS's insurance oversight division said he thinks new regulations requiring insurers to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on care services will prompt many carriers to lower insurance rates. Jay Angoff, who directs the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, said new medical loss ratio requirements can be met in three ways: reducing rates, giving rebates to customers or improving benefit packages.

Angoff, also speaking at the Families USA conference, said insurers trying to meet the MLR requirements will likely try a combination of all three, but the "easiest and best thing to do as a business is to reduce rates, and that's what we’re seeing."

Paperwork hurting high-risk pool: Enrollment in new high-risk insurance pools for people with pre-existing conditions has been much lower than projected, and one of the challenges to enrollment is a paperwork issue, Angoff also said. Individuals looking to join the pool must have a declination letter from an insurer, but some insurers have been reluctant to provide such letters. However, insurers are starting to become more cooperative, he said.

Obama launches new fight over Berwick: President Obama has triggered a new fight with Republicans by re-nominating two controversial officials to key administration posts.

Obama on Wednesday re-nominated former labor lawyer Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board, and Berwick to serve as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. http://bit.ly/fWW8SP

Kerry urges 'fair' consideration of Berwick, Grassley demands hearing: A day after the Obama administration renominated the recess-appointed Berwick, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) asked for a "fair consideration" of the controversial pick who's been accusing of favoring healthcare rationing. And Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said "there should be a hearing" in the Finance Committee because "I still have many questions I want answered."

Senate health panel shake-ups announced: Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) join Finance, which gains one Republican; Senate HELP Committee, meanwhile, loses one Democrat, with Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.) getting the nod. http://bit.ly/fiug8N

GOP renews criticism of health law's effects on child-only policies: Residents in 20 states can no longer purchase new child-only policies as a result of the Democrats' healthcare reform law, according to a survey released Thursday by Republicans on the Senate Health Committee. http://bit.ly/h1WvQe

Sebelius promises answers on administration's tort reform proposals: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told senators on Thursday that she would submit for the record the administration's parameters on medical malpractice reform.

President Obama raised the issue during his State of the Union address, stating his willingness to "look at ... medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits." But he offered no details, prompting Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to request, during a Senate Health Committee hearing, that the secretary submit in writing what the president had in mind. http://bit.ly/iet910

House Dem confronts reform critic on GOP connections: A senior House Democrat is asking an outspoken critic of the healthcare reform law to disclose his organization’s funding. 

Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) asked Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former Congressional Budget Office director and current president of the conservative American Action Forum (AAF), to disclose the AAF’s funding sources in a Thursday morning letter. http://bit.ly/fBXPfO

Some healthcare waiver requests denied even as HHS approves 500: While some 500 groups got waivers for a healthcare reform provision setting annual coverage requirements, about 50 requests for such exemptions were denied, the Department of Health and Human Services told The Hill. http://bit.ly/hcxM7i


On the agenda for Friday:

Obama to address healthcare conference: The president will be on familiar turf when he keynotes the 16th annual Families USA conference. http://bit.ly/ghU64W

Read the agenda: http://bit.ly/fFcjmhs

HHS and California insurance boss team up: HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones host a conference call in the morning to discuss a new report showing that the healthcare reform law reduces premiums for families and cuts costs for businesses.

Enzi unimpressed: Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), ranking member on the Senate Health panel, grilled Sebelius about the Medicare chief actuary's findings that run contrary to the administration's more optimistic predictions. http://bit.ly/epTpM9


Around the Web

The American Medical Association spent $22 million on lobbying last year, an increase of 9 percent, NPR and Kaiser Health News report. http://n.pr/gmlvvk

Few employers are very familiar with healthcare reform, says a new study by the consultancy Market Strategies International. http://bit.ly/eqAg9q

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Julian Pecquet: jpecquet@thehill.com / 202-628-8527