OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Senate approves 1-year doc fix deal

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:

Senate approves 'doc fix': The Senate passed Wednesday night a one-year, fully paid-for fix to Medicare rates that would avoid a scheduled 25 percent cut to physician payments on Jan. 1.

The bill, which passed the Senate by unanimous consent, taps into subsidies for state-run insurance exchanges created by the new healthcare reform law to pay for the $19.2 billion fix to Medicare physician rates. The bill now moves to the House. http://bit.ly/faTN9O

President supports fix: President Obama gave his blessing to the "doc fix" Wednesday afternoon, even though it would take away funds from the healthcare reform law. He called on leaders to develop a more long-term solution to the physician payment formula over the next year.

“This agreement is an important step forward to stabilize Medicare, but our work is far from finished,” Obama said. “For too long, we have confronted this reoccurring problem with temporary fixes and stop-gap measures. It’s time for a permanent solution that seniors and their doctors can depend on, and I look forward to working with Congress to address this matter once and for all in the coming year.” http://bit.ly/h0baVd

Food safety passes House: The controversial food-safety bill was approved by the House, 212-206, Wednesday night as part of the continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded through Sept. 30.

House Democrats moved the food-safety bill into the CR Wednesday morning to avoid expected Republican opposition to the bill. Republicans took to the floor Wednesday afternoon to denounce Democrats for the legislative maneuver.

“This is the sort of nonsense that Americans rejected just a few weeks ago,” said incoming Agricultural Committee Chairman Fred Lucas (R-Okla.) on the House floor.

The bill originally passed the Senate, 73-25, last week, more than a year after the House passed its own, stronger version of the bill. However, a technical error voided the bill, and House Democrats scrambled to rush through the Senate version before the end of the lame-duck session.  

House Dems say bill is good enough: House Democrats said the bill wasn’t perfect, placing blame on the Senate for waiting more than a year to pass its own version of the bill. However, they said the bill was good enough for their support.

Health IT needs more guidance: The federal government must facilitate the widespread adoption of universal standards that will allow healthcare stakeholders to better share electronic health information and maintain patient privacy, according a report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services should develop guidelines to facilitate the adoption of a universal language for assisting the exchange of electronic health information and the transition from paper to electronic health records, PCAST said.

Although leveraging health information technology in the healthcare setting provides numerous benefits, the impact of health IT over the past decade has been “modest,” with nearly 80 percent of physicians lacking basic digital records, PCAST said. Further, electronic health records already in existence are limited in function and cannot be easily shared. Last year’s stimulus package included as much as $27 billion to promote the adoption and use of electronic records. http://bit.ly/eMPuZS

Waxman grabs second spot on committee: Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), current chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, will be the ranking member in the next Congress.

Declining confidence in access: Americans' confidence in their ability to obtain and afford healthcare dropped by 3 percent in October, according to the Thomson Reuters Consumer Healthcare Sentiment Index released Wednesday.

Over the past three months, consumers said they postponed, delayed or cancelled healthcare treatment significantly more frequently than at any time since May, Thomson said. Over the next three months, consumers predicted a much higher chance of delaying or cancelling elective surgery.

It’s good to be from New England (or Hawaii): Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut and Hawaii were named the healthiest states in America’s Health Rankings 2010 report. Mississippi ranked last, followed by Louisiana, Arkansas, Nevada and Oklahoma.

Global health costs soaring: Healthcare costs in the 20 Organisation for Economic Co-operation countries, as well as Brazil, India and China, will grow by 51 percent over the next decade, according to new estimates from PricewaterhouseCooper’s (PwC) Health Research Institute. Health spending in those countries is rising faster than their gross domestic products, the PwC report said.

California health chief named: Democratic Gov.-elect Jerry Brown selected Diana Doorley, CEO of the California Children’s Hospital Association, to lead the state’s health and human services department. Doorley served as an assistant to Brown during his first stint as governor.

On the agenda for Thursday:

Cloture vote on 9/11 benefits: The Senate delayed a cloture vote on a bill providing health benefits to ground zero first responders until Thursday. If approved, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act will provide $7.4 billion in health benefits and compensation to workers at the ground zero site in the months following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Alzheimer’s hearing on the Hill: A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold a hearing on Alzheimer’s Disease. The 11 a.m. session will be held in 2322 Rayburn House Office Building. http://bit.ly/fzCCqu

MACPAC meetings begin: A two-day Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission meeting kicks off Thursday afternoon at the Renaissance Washington, D.C., Dupont Circle Hotel. http://bit.ly/ftCN6S

“Right to Die” debate: The American Constitution Society will host a panel of law and bioethics experts to discuss constitutional protections for a competent, terminally individual to choose assistance in dying. http://bit.ly/gRrnID

Around the Web:

Incoming oversight chairman shows interest in medical devices: Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the incoming chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, will target the use of costly medical devices, The Wall Street Journal reports. http://on.wsj.com/hC2UUy

Reform deals may be revisited: Deals that the White House cut with major industries to gain support for healthcare reform may be scrutinized in a Republican House, the Huffington Post reports. http://huff.to/f9Q8sS

Unintended consequence of healthcare reform:
Companies have started notifying children’s hospitals that they no longer qualify for hefty discounts on drugs that treat rare medical conditions, The New York Times reports. http://nyti.ms/gdx1m5

MA too costly: Medicare Advantage plans have not provided the same services at a lower cost than traditional Medicare, a Health and Human Serivces regional director said, according to The Albany Times Union. http://bit.ly/eMF2Rh

Medicaid smoking program shows success: Massachusetts hospital stays for heart attacks and blocked arteries dipped by almost half after the state began paying its poorest residents to enroll in smoking cessation programs through Medicaid, The Boston Globe reports. http://bit.ly/gBNp5P


Please let us know:

Julian Pecquet: jpecquet@thehill.com / 202-628-8527

Jason Millman: jmillman@thehill.com / 202-628-8351