Healthcare Wednesday

AHIP's new hires: America's Health Insurance Plans, the industry group representing health insurers, announced two new hires in an internal memo late Tuesday. The additions to the "senior leadership team" come "as we restructure to meet the advocacy and policy needs of a new era in health care" AHIP President and CEO said in the memo.

Here's the announcement:

"Joe Miller, General Counsel 

Joe comes to AHIP from the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice, where he was the Assistant Chief of the litigating section with responsibility for health care and health insurance.  He led the Antitrust Division’s competition advocacy efforts in health care, writing and testifying to state boards and legislatures about the consumer harm associated with Certificate of Need regulation.  Joe also was an antitrust attorney in private practice with the firm of Collier, Shannon, Rill & Scott, and began his career as a staff attorney with the Federal Trade Commission.  He received his undergraduate degree in Economics from Emory University in 1986, and his law degree from George Mason University in 1991.

Daniel Durham, Executive Vice President for Policy and Regulatory Affairs 

Dan has over 25 years of leadership experience with major policy and regulatory issues, primarily in the health care field.  He is currently the Vice President for Policy at PhRMA, where he played a very significant leadership role during health care reform and implementation of the Medicare prescription drug benefit.  He previously served in high-level policy positions in the federal government at the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Social Security Administration.  Dan also held key positions at AARP and the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.  He received his undergraduate degree in government and philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s in public policy from Duke University.  Dan joins our team effective November 15th."

State disparities raise reform doubts: Wide disparities in state-by-state average annual costs for employee health plans might have implications regarding the future implementation of health insurance exchanges and co-operatives, according to the United Benefit Advisors 2010 Health Plan Survey — the nation’s largest and most comprehensive survey of plan design and plan costs:

AEI questions AARP's drug price reports: The lobbying group for older Americans is "scaring seniors" with alarmist quarterly drug price reports that don't take into account generic-drug prices, the conservative American Enterprise Institute argues in a new report. AARP made closing Medicare's "doughnut hole" a top priority during the health reform debate.

Happening today: AEI holds a conference on "The Competition Prescription for Better Hospital-Care Quality."

Two more HHS announcements: The Department of Health and Human Services announced two new grants funded by the health reform act on Tuesday. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the availability of up to $335 million for existing community health centers across the country under the Expanded Services (ES) initiative:

Separately, Sebelius announced $3.9 million in funding to continue support for Family-to-Family Health Information Centers, non-profit organizations run by families and for families with children with special healthcare needs.

FDA overhaul of device approval process scrutinized: A non-profit representing California's healthcare sector released a new white paper Tuesday on the Food and Drug Administration's proposed changes to its expedited regulatory pathway for new medical technologies. The California Healthcare Institute's report on the more than 60 proposed changes to the 510(k) process argues that "changes to the current process have potential to disrupt the fragile ecosystem that balances academic research, risk capital and the dynamic medical marketplace."

Grassley questions reassignment of government ethics enforcer: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is expressing concern that the National Cancer Institute might have punished and transferred its ethics director for trying to make sure agency travel complies with federal law and procedures. In a letter to the institute's director, Harold Varmus, Grassley inquires whether the ethics director was retaliated against after she raised questions about travel sponsored by non-government sources, such as corporations and other private entities.

"Some government agencies have more travel than others. They should be used to transparency and scrutiny to make sure they follow the rules," Grassley said in a statement. "National Cancer Institute executives appear to have taken issue with the scrutiny to sponsored travel given by their then-chief ethics officer. It’s important to get to the bottom of whether the ethics officer was retaliated against just for doing her job."

What are the odds? The chances of the health reform law's individual mandate being "modified, stalled or repealed" if the GOP takes the House are 73 percent, according to an analysis by the firm of former Republican Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt. Get more details about the mandate and other "targets for disruption" here:

Likely modifications include raising the income threshold of those exempt from the requirement or denying funding to the IRS to hire new staff to enforce the provision. If repealed, the individual mandate could be modified to have an auto-enrollment process with an opt-out provision.