Healthcare Monday

Congress is out and so is the federal government, but several recent developments will have repercussions on healthcare policy-making today.

Administration struggles with fallout from healthcare reform waivers: The Department of Health and Human Services is facing pressure from all sides as it decides who should get waivers from new mandates of the healthcare reform law. HHS ignited a firestorm of controversy over the past few weeks by granting 30 waivers for the law's restrictions on annual limits, which says that plans must allow at least $750,000 of coverage in 2011. http://bit.ly/c3MEQf

The agency said Friday that it has 114 pending applications, and it can expect lobbying on all sides as it decides what to do. Administration officials say employers — such as McDonald's —would cancel the cheapest policies if they had to meet the new requirements, but some advocates say that wouldn't be a bad thing. California-based Consumer Watchdog is raising particular concerns with MEGA Life and Health policies, which are believed to be among those seeking a waiver. 

"MEGA’s bid to evade the law is a litmus test for President Obama," Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court said in a statement. "If he waives one of the most important rules for one of the worst insurance companies in the market, why did he pass health reform at all? No insurer should get a free pass to cap insurance benefits, least of all the kind of junk policies sold by MEGA that don’t even cover common medical events like a night in the hospital or an emergency room visit." http://bit.ly/bTMcNN

Meanwhile, the administration's usual allies at the liberal grassroots group Health Care for America Now are also raising alarms.

"The Administration has to make some tough decisions to protect consumers and businesses and ensure a smooth transition to quality, affordable health care for everyone," said HCAN Executive Director Ethan Rome. "The key is to use the waiver judiciously to ensure continuity of benefits now while staying focused on a future with real health security for all."

Veterans' health breaks bank: Adding to the government's healthcare woes, the Congressional Budget Office is projecting that "the future costs for VA to treat enrolled veterans will be substantially higher … than recent appropriations for that purpose." In a new report, CBO outlines two scenarios with varying assumptions on the growth rate of medical expenditures per enrollee, eligibility requirements and the number of troops deployed overseas. http://bit.ly/d0zis2

The bottom line: The government can expect to spend $69 billion to $85 billion in 2020 on veterans' healthcare, a 45 percent to 75 percent cumulative increase over 2010 levels.

Feingold touts reform: Trailing in the polls against Republican Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold (D) is touting his vote for healthcare reform, reports The Wall Street Journal. The senator started running ads highlighting the law two weeks ago in a bid to persuade voters he's for consumers. http://bit.ly/dntMEP

Healthcare past haunts Florida gubernatorial candidate: Republican candidate Rick Scott came under withering attack for his ties to a massive Medicare fraud investigation during the first Florida gubernatorial debate Friday. Democrat Alex Sink kept coming back to the Medicare fraud scandal at Columbia/HCA, the hospital conglomerate Scott that founded and led in the 1990s, The Associated Press reports. Scott was forced out by its board in 1997 amid the federal investigation, which led to the company paying a record $1.7 billion to settle criminal charges. He was never charged with a crime. http://bit.ly/94FkOm

In other Florida news, voters won't be able to vote on the healthcare law next month, but they can decide if the state should pursue its lawsuit against it through their choice of attorney general, reports the Tallahassee Democrat. http://bit.ly/9mUVFH

Bush's fault? The Government Accountability Office says Bush-era rules defanging the Education Department have helped for-profit schools evade a federal ban on some recruitment and lending practices. 

The issue has gained wide attention in recent months as Education officials have proposed new restrictions on for-profit schools designed to ensure that their students can pay back the billions of dollars in federal loans they take out each year. Nearly one-third of for-profit schools specialize in training healthcare professionals. http://bit.ly/bOMNh2

Bredesen's back: Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) weighs in on healthcare reform in a new book slamming the new law for failing to get costs under control. In "Fresh Medicine," to be released this week by Atlantic Monthly Press, Bredesen offers ways to revamp healthcare delivery by grading doctors, reorganizing hospitals into larger healthcare systems and shifting payments for healthcare to a taxpayer-funded trust set up similar to Social Security and Medicare, reports The Tennessean.

Bredesen was on the short-list of candidates to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Before entering politics, he founded the insurance company HealthAmerica Corp. http://bit.ly/atrPIe

Republicans want answers: Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans are requesting that Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) address the issue of insurers dropping child-only coverage because of the healthcare reform law. ttp://bit.ly/bbSPSu