Health policy Wednesday

MEDICAID WOES

Still no sign of life in Congress for an expansion of enhanced federal Medicaid payments to states (FMAP), but an important industry group raised the pressure on lawmakers Tuesday. In a letter to Senate leadership, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores urges a six-month extension of FMAP funding "to preserve pharmacy access for Medicaid patients."
 
"With the U.S. economy still struggling," the letter warns, "state finances continue to suffer, with collective state budget deficits approaching $200 billion. Additional federal assistance to states at this difficult time is one important way to help the economy. ... We strongly believe that extending the enhanced FMAP funding is critical to serving the healthcare needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens, and to assist states grappling with enormous budget challenges."


IN OTHER NEWS

President Obama in a new video shows you how easy it is to find out about health insurance options using the new HealthCare.gov site.

Former insurance industry executive turned outspoken critic Wendell Potter decries at Huffington Post health plans' attempts to make sure "reform gets reformed," as Potter quotes one financial analyst as saying. The issue is health plans' lobbying of state insurance commissioners, who are tasked with defining certain terms of the law — notably the so-called "medical loss ratio," the portion of premiums health plans have to spend paying for medical expenses.

"So far," Potter writes, "the [state] commissioners who have been spending the most time on the MLR issues have rejected many of the items on the insurers' wish list, but insurers know that every commissioner, including those who haven't spent a minute on the MLR conference calls, will have a vote before (their) recommendations go to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services later this summer for final adoption. So please contact your state insurance commissioner and tell him or her to give top priority to the interests of consumers, not insurers and their allies. This is too important not to get involved."


CALENDAR

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) tackles how to get healthcare reform to work for older patients and their families this morning at the National Press Club. The interactive "Building Better Care Forum" is organized by the Campaign for Better Care and will also feature Peter Lee, HHS' director of Delivery System Reform, and other speakers from across the country.

In the afternoon, the health insurance industry continues to defend its record at providing patient care under the public-private hybrid Medicare Advantage plans, which get slashed by the healthcare reform bill. The Capitol Hill briefing compares hospital readmission rates under MA plans and traditional government-run Medicare.

Later, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee examines "Protecting America’s Water Treatment Facilities." The hearing will look at "the current state of wastewater and drinking water infrastructure safety, including current and past actions by federal and state authorities to increase water security and assess where future improvements could be made."