Health Roundup: HHS sells healthcare reform to reporters

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and several of her staff met with national health reporters on Tuesday to discuss recent trends in healthcare coverage — and why the Democrats' law was necessary to stem the tide of rising prices. Sebelius said she hoped to start having "periodic" meetings with the media to put her department's work in context.

"I think the trends have been pretty alarming," she said — employer-sponsored coverage, for example, "we could say was on a slow death spiral before (the Affordable Care Act)."

The meeting comes as President Obama and prominent Democrats in Congress argue that their unpopular healthcare reform law was good policy but was poorly explained to the public. In particular, HHS officials pushed back against allegations that the new law was driving premiums up; they reminded reporters that actuaries inside and outside the government have linked the improved coverage required so far (insurers can no longer drop coverage for sick children, for example) to increases of at most 1 percent to 2 percent next year.

Sebelius recalled her experience as a Kansas legislator to point out that attempts by state lawmakers to mandate more generous coverage were inevitably met with united industry opposition, followed by dire warnings about skyrocketing premiums.

"Over and over again," she said, "those projections turned out to be wildly wrong."

GOP lawmakers under pressure to decline coverage: Congressional Republicans who assailed the Democrats’ healthcare law in the run-up to the midterm elections are facing pressure to decline government-provided coverage when they take office.

GOP Reps.-elect Bobby Schilling (Ill.) and Mike Kelly (Pa.), both opponents of the law, have already vowed to refuse government-backed health insurance when they come to Capitol Hill next year. http://bit.ly/e3UVUw

House Dem dares GOP on healthcare repeal: Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) is daring Republicans to make good on one of their top legislative priorities: repealing the healthcare law. 

Using a somewhat unusual tactic, Ackerman, a strong advocate for the healthcare reform law, vowed Tuesday to introduce a series of bills next week that would roll back some of the most popular provisions of the law. http://bit.ly/htWKQO

Nurse loses freedom of conscience suit: The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled Tuesday that a private individual does not have the right to sue her employer after being forced to participate in an abortion.

Read the Americans United for Life amicus brief here: http://bit.ly/fs9F0C

Emergency departments decry surgeon shortage: Three quarters of emergency department directors responding to a new survey report inadequate surgical coverage, and nearly one-quarter report a loss or downgrade of their hospitals' trauma center designations. 

The report is prompting renewed calls for medical liability reform to help reverse the dearth of specialists. http://bit.ly/gUK6Vx

Ohio judge allows third healthcare reform challenge: A federal judge in Ohio has ruled a lawsuit against the healthcare reform can proceed, marking it at least the third challenge to get a green light. Two similar lawsuits have been dismissed.

Judge David Dowd of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio issued a split ruling on Monday, dismissing three claims brought by the conservative U.S. Citizens Association but allowing one to move forward. Dowd agreed to hear arguments that the law's individual mandate — the requirement that people buy insurance — violates the Constitution's commerce clause. http://bit.ly/gsAgNV

Now this is funny: The Sons of Confederate Veterans awards a $35,000 medical fellowship for research into "non-union fractures." http://bit.ly/dH5T6y

Happy Thanksgiving. The morning roundup will resume on Monday, but if you have any news you want to draw attention to between now and then, please drop me a line at jpecquet@thehill.com.