Healthcare Monday

Health insurance groups prepare election aftermath: The industry group representing health insurers is undergoing a massive restructuring seven months after passage of healthcare reform. In many ways, America's Health Insurance Plans is at a crossroads. The group, which was closely aligned with Republicans when they controlled Congress between 1995 and 2006, must work with a Democratic administration to implement the law. Meanwhile, it will be under pressure from congressional Republicans who want to repeal it. 

AHIP is focusing on the major changes the new law will bring about over the next four or so years – such as the creation of state-based health insurance exchanges and the identification of essential benefits that plans must cover – while also pursuing key legislative changes in Congress. The association will lobby members of Congress to halt the new premium tax scheduled to go into effect in 2014, allow more flexibility in age rating and scale back the tens of millions of dollars in Medicare Advantage cuts. 

Coming changes, The Hill has learned, include the hiring of more staff on the advocacy side and the combination of federal and state lobbying under one umbrella to better deal with a law that leaves many decisions to the states.

Meanwhile, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association is also making changes to its Office of Policy and Representation (OPR). Last week, the industry group announced internally that it had promoted Kathy Didawick to vice president of congressional communications, while Justine Handelman is now vice-president of legislative and regulatory policy. In addition, Jack Ericksen is taking on more executive and administrative responsibilities at OPR and will be in charge of third-party alliance development.

"Now more than ever," the BCBSA memo reads,"it is critical that we build strong coalitions to support our key issues."

Health reform big factor for voters: The latest poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press indicates that healthcare is the biggest issue this election for almost a quarter - 24 percent - of respondents. The breakdown: healthcare is the biggest issue for 28 percent of Democrats, 24 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of independents.

When asked to cite two top issues, 53 percent include healthcare. Among Republicans, comparable percentages cite the job situation (30%), the deficit (27%) and health care (25%) as most important. Among Democrats, jobs clearly tops the list (at 47%), but health care is cited by 28% as most important to their vote.

Beware of repeal: The liberal Health Information Center (HIC) warns that candidates running on a campaign to repeal health reform could be in for a "rude awakening" as voters realize what's at stake. A New York Times/CBS poll last week found that the 41 percent of respondents who favor repeal drops to 25 percent when they realize it would mean health plans could once again deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Fight over birth control? A panel of experts advising the government meets this month to begin considering what kind of preventive care for women should be covered at no cost to the patient, as required under the health reform law, reports the Associated Press. Regulators will have broad latitude in deciding how closely health plans will have to follow the recommendations but the pending review is already provoking a stir.

Healthwatch morning round-ups will be shorter this week as we focus on the elections.

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