Healthcare Thursday

Stem cell moratorium under debate: The Senate Appropriations health subpanel meets in the morning to examine the consequences of a recent court-ordered moratorium on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Last month, a federal judge temporarily blocked the Obama administration's efforts to expand such research, arguing that the process violates a law against the federally funded destruction of human embryos.

The featured witness will be Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, who will appear along with a handful of stem cell researchers.

Why wait for the numbers? New Census numbers expected to show an increase in the uninsured population last year are due out later today, but experts on both sides of the health reform debate lost no time in getting their interpretation out.

"While the data are not yet available," the pro-reform Families USA predicted Wednesday, "several factors suggest that the number of uninsured has increased: health care costs are still rising; employers are passing on more health care costs to their workers; and state budget problems have resulted in cuts in Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program."

"Don’t expect Obamacare to bring universal health coverage to these individuals," opines Robert Moffitt, senior fellow in domestic and economic policy studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "Estimates based on the new health care law say 23 million Americans will still be without coverage. And the majority of those who get coverage will be dumped into Medicaid, which has a history of limited access to physicians and lower quality of care compared with private insurance."

Childhood cancer addressed: Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) host a panel of cancer doctors and researchers for a Congressional Childhood Cancer Summit. The event will focus on the lack of available treatment and drug research tailored specifically to childhood cancer patients and on the long-term side effects faced by survivors.

Topics will include: 

- Legislation providing incentives for drug development;

- Grants to provide specialized training to primary care physicians to better identify side effects and re-occurrence of symptoms;

- Greater access to clinical trials;

- Greater emphasis on survivorship and the impact of childhood cancer on families and communities. 

Medicare Advantage showdown? The trade publication HealthPlan Markets has lobbyists abuzz with a report that the Department of Health and Human Services met with Medicare Advantage plans on Tuesday and gave them 48 hours to offer lower bids for 2011 or risk termination. A spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services denied the story.

"We have seen the note and don't have any idea what (the author) is talking about," Peter Ashkenaz told The Hill.

"There are no rebids. The process allows us to negotiate with plan sponsors when we find concerns and those are completed for this year. But not any rebidding."

Adding to doubts about the story: Humana tells investors in a Securities and Exchange Commission fling Wednesday that "all of its material 2011 Medicare Advantage (“MA”) and Prescription Drug Plan (“PDP”) offerings filed with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) in June 2010 have been approved by CMS and the related contracts have been executed (the “CMS Contracts”). In accordance with CMS regulations, specific details regarding the company’s plans approved for 2011 will be made available on October 1, 2010."

The contracts are due to be announced "in the next week or so," Ashkenaz said.  

"We are finalizing contracts. The process is done."

Public health bills marked up: The Energy and Commerce health subcommittee marks up more than a dozen public health bills, most of them bipartisan and uncontroversial.

Here's the list:

- H.R. 758, Pediatric Research Consortia Establishment Act

- H.R. 1032, Heart Disease Education, Analysis Research, and Treatment for Women Act

- H.R. 1210, Arthritis Prevention, Control, and Cure Act of 2009

- H.R. 1230, Bone Marrow Failure Disease Research and Treatment Act of 2009

- H.R. 1347, Concussion Treatment and Care Tools Act of 2009

- H.R. 1362, National MS and Parkinson's Disease Registries Act

- H.R. 1995, Eliminating Disparities in Diabetes Prevention Access and Care Act of 2009

- H.R. 2408, Scleroderma Research and Awareness Act

- H.R. 2818, Methamphetamine Education, Treatment, and Hope Act of 2009

- H.R. 2941, Johanna’s Law Reauthorization

- H.R. 2999, Veterinary Public Health Workforce and Education Act

- H.R. 5354,  Gestational Diabetes Act of 2009 or GEDI Act

- H.R. 5462, Birth Defects Prevention, Risk Reduction, and Awareness Act of 2010

- H.R. 5986, Neglected Infections of Impoverished Americans Act of 2010

- H.R. 6012, To direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to review uptake and utilization of diabetes screening benefits and establish an outreach program with respect to such benefits, and for other purpose

- H.R. 6081,  Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Reauthorization Act of 2010

- H.R. 6109, Health Data Collection Improvement Act

The Subcommittee may also consider H.R. 211, Calling for 2-1-1 Act of 2009, and H.R. 6110, Telehealth Improvement and Expansion Act of 2010.

Patent reform urged: Senate Judiciary chair and ranking member Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyVerizon angling to lower price of Yahoo purchase: report Dem senators call for independent Flynn probe Overnight Cybersecurity: White House does damage control on Flynn | Pressure builds for probe MORE (Vt.) and Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsObama-era cash for cronies under House fire McConnell: 'Winners make policy, losers go home' DeVos should ‘persist’ despite liberal opposition MORE (Ala.) wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidHopes rise for law to expand access to experimental drugs If Gorsuch pick leads to 'crisis,' Dems should look in mirror first Senate confirms Mulvaney to be Trump’s budget chief MORE (D-Nev.) Wednesday and urged him to bring patent reform legislation to the Senate floor for consideration "as soon as possible."

Democrat backs repeal of healthcare reform: Rep. Gene Taylor on Wednesday became the first Democrat to endorse a GOP effort to repeal the new health reform law. The Mississippi lawmaker, who voted against the Democrats' law, has signed onto a discharge petition that would force a House vote on a repeal bill offered by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).

Generic savings touted: The Congressional Budget Office released a new report Wednesday that estimates savings from the use of generic drugs in the Medicare prescription drug program at $33 billion in 2007. That probably works out to about $24 billion in savings for the government and $9 billion for enrollees. Further good news: expiring patents through 2012 will save another $14 billion per year.

The generic drug industry jumped on the news to decry legislation that would restrict patent settlements between brand-name and generic drug makers. "We urge Members of Congress to keep these findings in mind when considering legislation that could have the unintended consequence of restricting access to generic medicines," the Generic Pharmaceutical Association said in a statement. "Any legislation that would limit or ban the use of settlements to resolve patent litigation would certainly restrict the market entry of affordable generics prior to patent expiration."

Pharmacy benefit managers said more could be done: "Policymakers can increase savings for seniors and Medicare," Pharmaceutical Care Management Association President and CEO Mark Merritt said, "by leveraging additional generic opportunities and rejecting special protections in Part D that insulate drugmakers from competition by requiring drug plans cover ‘all or substantially all’ drugs in at least six different drug classes, despite no evidence that patients have had difficulty accessing these drugs."

510(k) safe? The industry group representing medical devices released a new report on Wednesday that touts the safety of a federal approval process the Obama administration wants to overhaul.

DeParle keynotes panel discussion: White House Director of Health Reform Nancy-Ann DeParle is the keynote speaker at a National Journal summit titled "prescription for growth."