Health Roundup: Food safety vote delayed

Welcome to The Hill's evening roundup of the day's health policy news and advance look at tomorrow's schedule.

Wednesday's health news

Second chance on food safety: Senate Democrats say an error in the food-safety bill passed Tuesday can be resolved in time to send the legislation to President Obama by the end of the year.

Two senior leadership aides confirmed that the bill the Senate approved, 73-25, inadvertently contained tax provisions that, under the Constitution, must originate in the House of Representatives. That means the bill must be passed a second time by the Senate, giving critics such as Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) another chance to block it.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) indicated Wednesday the House was prepared to move on the Senate bill. "I presume they'll be able to pass it," he said. "It passed pretty handily in the Senate."

GOP senators say mini-med waivers show problem in reform: Problems implementing coverage requirements for so-called "mini-med" plans are indicative of larger issues rampant in the healthcare reform law, Senate Commerce Committee Republicans said during a hearing Wednesday afternoon.

Republicans took issue with the number of waivers Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued to employers offering low-value, mini-med plans.

"This thing is said to have reduced the deficit, but we’re seeing all sorts of unintended consequences with this healthcare reform law," said Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.).

Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) came out against the mini-med plans, saying they are misleading and do not provide substantial coverage. He said they provide ample evidence that healthcare reform is needed to make sure all Americans are offered meaningful coverage.

"More than a million Americans wake up and go to work every day thinking they have health insurance," Rockefeller said. "But they don’t. They don’t have the kind of comprehensive health insurance that protects you from financial ruin if you get sick."

Deficit commission urges SGR, CLASS Act reforms: The final report from President Obama’s deficit commission urged immediate reforms to the formula for physician payments and a long-term-care insurance program created earlier this year.

The report, released Wednesday morning, recommended freezing the sustainable growth rate (SGR), which determines doctors’ Medicare pay, through 2013. It also called for reforming or repealing the Community Living Assistance Services and Support (CLASS) Act, created by healthcare reform to provide long-term-care insurance through employers.

The commission also recommended expanding the powers of the controversial Independent Payment Advisory Board, which Republicans have promised to repeal. A vote on the commission's plan is expected Friday.

The single-payer advocates with Physicians for a National Health Program also criticized the proposal — especially the proposed increase in out-of-pocket spending for Medicare beneficiaries.

"Medicare is not the cause of rising healthcare costs but its victim," said congressional fellow Margaret Flowers. "The real culprit for skyrocketing costs is our irrational, fragmented, market-based model of paying for health care, which chiefly benefits the private health insurance industry and Big Pharma, not patients or physicians. The commission co-chairs are silent on this matter."

AHA asks for antitrust guidance on care integration: The AHA urged antitrust agencies to provide timely and clear guidance on care coordination arrangements among hospitals and other caregivers during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing. AHA general counsel Melinda Hatton said patients will benefit from having a less fragmented system in which providers and hospitals work together to coordinate care.

The best way to do this within legal parameters is "to issue user-friendly, officially backed guidance that clearly explains to caregivers what issues they must resolve to embark on a clinical integration program without violating antitrust laws," Hatton said.

In more AHA news: The association is encouraging members to reach out to new members of Congress. A new document will help guide members' conversations with lawmakers.

DEA nominee advances despite nursing-home drug concerns: Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) allowed Michele Leonhart, President Obama's nominee to head the Drug Enforcement Agency, to clear the Judiciary Committee. But Kohl said he'd block her nomination as long as DEA doesn't address the issue of nurses being barred from ordering painkillers for the nursing home patients they care for.

"I will not hold her nomination in the Committee today," Kohl said Wednesday, "but I do intend to hold her nomination on the Senate floor until we have made more progress towards our goal of ensuring that nursing home residents get timely access to the prescription drug care they need. The most recent suggestions I have received from the Department of Justice require waiting for all 50 states to take action and that is unacceptable. Every day nursing-home patients continue to suffer from agonizing pain and we need an interim solution as soon as possible."

Red flags rule flagged: The Senate approved bipartisan legislation Tuesday night that removes a requirement for small businesses, including healthcare organizations, from installing identity theft monitoring programs.

Egging them on: The Food and Drug Administration gave approval Tuesday to Wright County Egg to ship eggs again for the first time since two of their hen houses were associated with a multi-state outbreak of salmonella.

Save your pennies: People turning 65 this year will need upwards of $150,000 in savings to cover health costs in retirement, a new report says.

On the agenda for Thursday

GOP maneuver delays nutrition vote: Republicans used their last chance to amend the bill to offer a motion that would require criminal background checks for childcare workers and would have removed the federal mandate for paid meals in schools. When Democrats saw that the poison-pill amendment was headed for passage, they pulled the bill off the floor, a Democratic aide said. The aide said the background-check provision, which drew support from Democrats, would be dealt with separately and that the legislation could be brought back up as early as Thursday.

FTC proposes online privacy guidelines: The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection will hold a hearing on a new Federal Trade Commission proposal to establish a "do not track" registry allowing consumers to block websites and services from tracking their online browsing tendencies.

The recommendations could have implications for how marketers track health information. The FTC said congressional action would likely be needed to implement its recommendations.

House asks for Senate vote on 9/11 benefits: A bipartisan group of 29 House members penned a letter urging Senate leaders not to filibuster a bill that provides healthcare benefits to 9/11 first responders.

The bill, which passed the House 268-160 in September, provides medical monitoring, treatment and compensation to thousands of responders who were exposed to Ground Zero toxins.

Around the Web

Reform not to blame after all, union says: A New York healthcare workers union that dropped coverage for 6,000 children backed away from previous claims it dropped the coverage because of healthcare reform provisions, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Sacrifices ahead for doctors: Efforts to rein in health costs will require new team-based healthcare payment and delivery approaches, which would demand sacrifices from hospitals, doctors and insurers, according to the Boston Globe.

Soaring health costs examined: The Atlantic takes a look at why the United States's healthcare costs pulled far ahead of other countries in 1980.