Healthcare Friday

Census numbers out: Nearly 51 million Americans lacked health insurance last year, a jump of more than 4 million individuals from 2008, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Thursday. The findings mark the first decrease in the number of insured Americans since the Census Bureau began keeping those figures in 1987. The 50.7 million people without coverage represent 16.7 percent of the nation's population — up from 15.4 percent in 2008.

Democrats jumped on the report to make the case for healthcare reform: "The increase in uninsured Americans last year is clear evidence of how critical it was to take action to protect patients," Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said in a statement, "and that’s exactly what the Affordable Care Act will do."

Among the other key findings:

- The real number of folks with insurance coverage dropped from 255.1 million in 2008 to 253.6 million last year;

- Private health insurance coverage plunged from 201 million to 194.5 million between 2008 and 2009, while government-sponsored programs saw their enrollment increase, from 87.4 million to 93.2 million;

- Employer-based coverage fell from 176.3 million in 2008 to 169.7 million last year;

- Medicaid enrollment jumped from 42.6 million to 47.8 million;

- Roughly 9.9 million of the uninsured in 2009 were not citizens, up from 9.5 million in 2008. The Census Bureau does not distinguish between those in the country legally and illegally. 

Voters not driven by healthcare reform: The new healthcare reform law will have little influence over voters' choices when they hit the polls in November, according to new survey results released Thursday. Forty-one percent of respondents said a lawmaker's vote on the reform law would "not make much difference" in choosing a candidate, according to the CBS News/New York Times survey. 

Furthermore, the percentage of voters (28 percent) saying they're "more likely" to choose a member who supported the reforms is precisely the same as those who said they'd be "less likely" to pick that candidate — a wash suggesting a certain futility in both party's efforts to use the law to their advantage in November's midterms.

Still, Democrats are hoping that popular provisions that start on the six-month anniversary of the law next Thursday — including a ban on denying coverage for sick children, first-dollar coverage of prevention services, an end to rescissions and restrictions on annual and lifetime caps — will get voters excited. "Next week we'll be talking about issues that come due on Sept. 23 that we're very proud of," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at her weekly press conference Thursday.

Public health bills clear House panel: The Energy and Commerce Health subpanel on Thursday referred 16 public health bills to the full committee with recommendation for passage during markup next week. All but one, requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to set up voluntary data collection on the sexual orientation and gender identity of people who apply for HHS services or respond to its surveys, garnered unanimous bipartisan support.

New Medicaid regs unveiled: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced new proposed regulations Thursday implementing provisions of the healthcare reform law. The regulations establish transparency and public notice and comment procedures for experimental, pilot and demonstration projects approved for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Treasure trove of insurance information now available: The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has released the inaugural edition of its Accident and Health Policy Experience Report. The report includes aggregated countrywide and company-level premium information, loss ratios, number of policies, number of covered lives, market share and more.

Among the key findings: 

- In 2009, the Top 10 companies in the grand total (individual, group and other) business accounted for 45.5 percent of the overall market;

- Total premiums increased by 15.0 percent to $214 billion from 2008 to 2009;

- The number of policies increased by 2.6 percent from 2008 to 2009, while the number of covered lives decreased by 7.0 percent from 2008 to 2009.

Judge provides detailed healthcare lawsuit timeline: The federal district judge overseeing a multi-state challenge to the healthcare reform law has unveiled a detailed schedule for the suit's next steps. The hearing and oral argument on the motion for summary judgment will be held Dec. 16.

House to examine Johnson & Johnson 'phantom recall': House Democrats are asking the head of Johnson & Johnson to testify later this month over the April recall of 135 million bottles of infant and children's medicine.

New funding for health workforce training announced: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Mary Wakefield, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, host a conference call with reporters to announce a significant investment in America’s health workforce being made possible through last year's Recovery Act.

Mining news: The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration in the morning holds a news conference on its investigation of the explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine.