Healthcare Wednesday

It's still August; Congress is still out of town; and healthcare reform continues to play a bit role to the economy on the campaign trail.

Perfect time to launch a widget: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Tuesday launched a new Web tool allowing anyone managing a blog or website to embed the agency's insurance finder.

Better reception in Portland: Fresh off a confrontation visit to Libby, Mont., on Monday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius found a more sympathetic audience in Portland, Ore., a day later. That reception was rewarded with compliments. "You may be further ahead than other parts of the country," Sebelius told Oregon health officials.

In Minnesota, a conservative governor is reluctant to take more Medicaid funding: Minnesota state lawmakers are urging Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty to apply for additional Medicaid funds as part of the $26 billion state aid bill passed by Congress earlier this month, Reuters reports.

"Failure to accept the funds would result in residents paying federal taxes to pay for Medicaid programs in other states," leaders of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party wrote to Pawlenty Tuesday. 

But the governor, who's eying a presidential run in 2012, has been critical of the new funding. "The federal government should not deficit-spend to bail out states and special interest groups," he said. 

The $26 billion, the Congressional Budget Office said, was fully offset.

DME competitive bidding saga rolls on: House lawmakers are pushing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to expedite its announcement of the first-round winners of the agency's competitive bidding program for durable medical equipment (DME). 

"Without knowing the identity as well as the appropriate overall qualifications of these providers, we cannot evaluate the program's impact in terms of quality and access to care for seniors we represent," 136 lawmakers representing both parties wrote to CMS Administrator Donald Berwick. 

CMS, so far, is sticking to its original September timetable.

In Oklahoma, tax to fund Medicaid is shot down: The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that a new tax designed to raise nearly $80 million for Medicaid violates the state constitution. The 1 percent tax, which would have been applied to private insurance claims, was passed by the Legislature without the supermajority vote needed to create new taxes, the court ruled.

For pampered pets: California lawmakers on Tuesday advanced legislation providing greater protections for residents buying healthcare coverage for their pets.

Dems want legislation to overturn court's stem-cell ruling: Rep. Diana DeGette is pushing Congress to pass legislation allowing scientists access to embryonic stem cells. The statute, says the Colorado Democrat, would prevent the courts from blocking the federal funding of such research, as a federal judge did Monday. That ruling DeGette said, marks "the case of one judge ignoring the scientific fact that research on pluripotent stem cells is not the same as research on an embryo."

Nation's capital is "way ahead" on healthcare reform: Healthcare officials in Washington have plenty to cheer, Kaiser Health News reports.

More pressure to pass a permanent doc-fix: The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) is urging a permanent fix to the sustainable growth rate formula that's threatening Medicare doctors with a 23 percent cut in December, Modern Healthcare reports. 

"The uncertainty faced by faculty physicians and all other Medicare providers because of the continuous cycle of looming payment reductions followed by short-term patches is unsustainable," AAMC says.