Healthcare Friday

Grassley and Berwick — off to a rough start: The saga surrounding the controversial recess appointment of Donald Berwick to head Medicare rumbles on, as the former head of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) is butting heads with Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) over the release of documents surrounding IHI funding.

Berwick on Thursday declined to reveal all of IHI's donors, arguing that "it is not in my power to comply" with a Grassley request for tax forms related to IHI funding because the 990 schedule Bs the Iowa Republican wants are "non-public documents in the possession of my now-former employer."

Last month, Grassley, senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, requested that Berwick submit those forms, arguing that "the public has the right to know" if Berwick's policy moves surrounding health reform implementation "are vulnerable to these potential conflict of financial interest."

In a Thursday letter to Grassley, Berwick said lawmakers have no reason for concern. "I have no financial interest in IHI," he wrote. "Likewise, I also have no financial interest in IHI's clients or donors."

That, however, didn't satisfy Grassley, who said the absence of official documentation leaves "a question mark over his organization's financial dealings." 

"This was supposed to be the most transparent administration ever," Grassley said in a statement. "Instead, it’s on track for the opposite."

Berwick did answer another of Grassley's key concerns: "IHI does not currently and will not provide any benefits to me or my family, including healthcare coverage," Berwick clarified. 

Somehow, that doesn't seem likely to end this debate.

NASMD pushes back against defecting Medicaid directors: The head of the human services group overseeing the National Association of State Medicaid Directors (NASMD) says defecting Medicaid chiefs — who recently formed the independent National Association of Medicaid Directors — are risking the advantages of their affiliation with state agencies running child welfare, nutrition and disability programs that share Medicaid's goals.

"There are so many places where medical and human services intersect," Cari DeSantis, interim executive director of the American Public Human Services Association, told The Hill. "We can't lose sight of that."

The government quantifies the prison rape epidemic, putting pressure on the DOJ to adopt new rules: Almost 90,000 inmates were sexually assaulted last year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) reported Thursday. The news prompted health and human rights advocates to push the agency to expedite new prison standards — already two months overdue — designed to bring those numbers down.

Dems plan counterattack promoting healthcare reform: Supporters of the new law are planning a multi-million dollar ad campaign touting its benefits, The Chicago Tribune reports. 

“I think a lot of people thought it would be a lot easier to sell the law after it passed,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told the Tribune. “But Democrats can’t hide from this. We need to have a strong message about the new law.”

White House cracks down further on Medicare fraud: The Obama administration Thursday issued new guidelines designed to prevent Medicare fraud, including a rule banning some medical device companies from using cell phones and pagers as primary phone contacts. 

"The days when you could just hang a shingle out over a desk and start submitting claims are over," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a crowd in California on Thursday, The Los Angeles Times reports.

In Montana, a push to promote generic drugs: About 70 percent of Montana's Medicaid prescriptions go toward generic drugs, but that's not enough, according to Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D). 

"When it comes to penny-pinching, we like to be No. 1," Schweitzer said Thursday at a gathering with generic drug company reps, according to local reports. "We need your help in getting us out of the brand business."

A conservative critique of that extra Medicaid funding: A Heritage Foundation analyst notes that states that have expanded Medicaid the furthest will benefit most from the $16 billion in additional funding passed by Congress this month. 

"The perverse nature of the federal Medicaid subsidy — rewarding states for out-of-control spending — must be reformed," Heritage's Brian Blase writes in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "Instead of bailing out state programs further, Congress should address the underlying reasons that states are addicted to this support from federal taxpayers."