Health Roundup: Michelle Obama-backed nutrition bill takes off

Massive coalition backs child nutrition bill: More than 1,100 groups signed a letter distributed Thursday on Capitol Hill that asks House members to immediately pass a childhood nutrition bill when they return next week.

Signers include food, beverage and supermarket companies; public health, education, anti-hunger, faith-based, children's, women's and minority groups; and unions. They want the House to pass a $4.5 billion bill that cleared the Senate by unanimous consent just before the August recess.

The groups are increasingly defending the reauthorization as a key tool to fight childhood obesity — the goal espoused by first lady Michelle Obama in her Let's Move campaign. President Obama last month rekindled hope that the bill can pass shortly when his spokesman, Robert Gibbs, listed childhood nutrition alongside ratification of the new START Treaty and the Bush tax cuts as being the Democratic priorities for the lame-duck session.

Pawlenty joins healthcare reform lawsuit: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a lawsuit challenging the new healthcare law. 

Pawlenty, a possible 2012 presidential candidate, has been a longtime critic of healthcare reform. In August, he restricted his state's participation in the new law, signing an executive order that directed state agencies to decline all discretionary participation.  

And he's said that repealing healthcare reform would be his campaign platform if he ran for president.

HHS pressed to resist health insurance lobbying: Health insurance industry efforts to lobby for weaker federal regulations should be strongly resisted, a consumer advocacy group warned this week.

In a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, California-based Consumer Watchdog asks that she reject insurers' attempts to weaken regulations on how much insurers can raise premiums and how much they have to spend on care. The letter points to a recent story in The Hill outlining the insurance industry's plans to lobby federal regulators as cause for concern.

Debate on flexible spending accounts reopened: An employer-backed group is pressing the new leaders in Congress to alleviate restrictions placed on flexible spending accounts by the healthcare reform law.

The law limits contributions to FSAs and imposes restrictions on how they can be used to help pay for healthcare reform. Liberals argue FSAs, which are designed to allow employees to pay out-of-pocket healthcare costs with pre-tax dollars, encourage the overuse of healthcare because they can be spent on many healthcare services or items regardless of their value or effectiveness.

Grassley says healthcare repeal will die in Senate: GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) admitted Wednesday that a full repeal of President Obama's healthcare law will die in the Senate. 

Speaking to Iowa radio station KCIM, the current ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee conceded that Senate Republicans do not have the 60 votes necessary to force through a full repeal.

Autopsy guidelines for post-9/11 deaths requested: The three co-authors of a compensation bill for victims of 9/11 want federal regulators to develop autopsy guidelines for people who were exposed to toxins after the 2001 terrorist attack in New York City.

Drug lobby has new top lobbyist: The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America on Thursday announced that Chip Davis has been named executive vice president of advocacy. He'll be responsible for leading and managing PhRMA’s federal, state and international government relations and advocacy efforts.

Davis comes from AstraZeneca, where he was vice president of corporate external relations.

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