OVERNIGHT HEALTH: GOP blocks 9/11 health benefits bill

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

Thursday’s health news:

GOP blocks 9/11 health benefits: Senate Republicans filibustered legislation to monitor and treat first responders and emergency workers who suffered illnesses related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.The cloture vote on the $7.4 billion bill failed 57-42, making it less likely the Senate will approve the measure before the end of Congress's lame-duck session.

The bill’s passage was in doubt for many months and, in the end, no Senate Republican voted to save the bill. Even before the cloture vote failed, dozens of members signed a letter urging Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to include the bill in legislation extending the Bush tax cuts.

"We feel that we must seize every opportunity possible to ensure that this bill become law," the members wrote. http://bit.ly/fKsw57

Congress passes doc fix: One day after the Senate approved the yearlong "doc fix" by unanimous consent, the House of Representatives approved the deal, 409-2, to avoid a scheduled 25 percent cut in Medicare physician payments.

The paid-for, $19.2 billion bill now goes to President Obama’s desk, one day after he voiced his support for the agreement, even though it borrows from healthcare reform funding.

This marks the fifth time Congress has enacted a stopgap measure in the past year to avoid rate cuts to Medicare doctors. Obama and physician groups have urged Congress to come up with a more permanent fix to the rate formula next year. http://bit.ly/eggCa1

HHS Secretary approves: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius hailed the doc fix in a Thursday afternoon statement, but said more work needs to be done. “I look forward to working with the new Congress on a permanent solution to fix Medicare’s physician payment system once and for all,” she said.

Mini-meds forced to come clean: Health insurers offering so-called "mini med" plans must notify customers in plain language and within 60 days that their insurance plans offer extremely limited benefits, according to new HHS guidance. However, more than 200 plans have already been exempted from annual coverage dollar limits required by the healthcare reform law.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Congress’s biggest critic of the mini-med plans, said the guidance will provide some help to consumers.

"These 'mini med' policies have gaping holes in coverage and do not help with serious health problems," he said in a statement. "I am encouraged by HHS taking this step to begin to improve consumer protections as we transition to a fully reformed insurance market in 2014." http://bit.ly/gRszFU

GOP senator says CR funds reform: Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) criticized the continuing resolution to fund the government through next year as a “Trojan horse” for funding the healthcare reform law. Coburn said the CR includes funding for a number of provisions in the law, and he urged other members who campaigned on defunding healthcare reform to oppose the measure. http://bit.ly/hG15OO

Rising hospital costs: Transaction prices for a day in a California hospital paid by private insurers jumped more than 150 percent over the past 10 years, according to a new America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) report. Meanwhile, the same report found that hospital prices for common hospital services increased about 10 percent above the rate of inflation in Oregon from 2005 to 2009.

AHIP chief executive Karen Ignagni told reporters Thursday that the report shows that costly services, and not insurers, are driving up healthcare spending.

“We are 4 percent of total healthcare expenses,” Ignagni said. “You don’t need to have a degree in advanced mathematics to say, 'what about the other 96?' ”

Tobacco smoke an 'immediate' danger: Exposure to tobacco smoke, even occasional smoking or secondhand smoke, inflicts immediate damage to a person’s body that can cause serious illness or death, according to a new surgeon general's report. Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cardiovascular disease and trigger a heart attack, the report said.

Quitting smoking has become harder than ever because today’s cigarettes deliver nicotine more quickly and efficiently than in the past, according to the report. http://bit.ly/i2ymH2

States' rights bill introduced: Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) introduced a bill that would allow state officials to challenge federal regulations before they go into effect. Wicker said the bill was inspired by the new healthcare reform law.

The Restoring the 10th Amendment Act would allow certain state officials to file a legal brief challenging the constitutionality of proposed regulations during the comment period. Wicker said he introduced the legislation to start drumming up support for the next Congress. http://bit.ly/eQkWdI

R-E-C-A-L-L: Johnson & Johnson announced a voluntary recall of three Rolaids products after customers complained about the presence of metal and wood particles. J&J’s pharmacy division, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, announced the recall for Rolaids Extra Strength Softchews, Rolaids Extra Strength Plus Gas Softchews and Rolaids Multi-Symptom Plus Anti-Gas Softchews. This is just the latest in a chain of recalls for J&J, whose safety protocols are being investigated by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

On the agenda for Friday:

Lessons for healthcare reform: The National Academy for State Health Policy will host a discussion panel on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Maximizing Enrollment for Kids national program. http://bit.ly/hUsG6P

Innovative healthcare: The Hope Street Group will host a discussion panel on the Using Open Innovation to Reinvent Primary Care project. http://bit.ly/fDo06M

Around the Web: 

Searching for influence: Five major health insurers are trying to build their own Washington-based lobby shop, according to NPR and Kaiser Health News. http://n.pr/dE3o25

Florida challenges reform: The Florida Senate revived a proposed constitutional amendment that would block a healthcare reform provision requiring individuals to buy health insurance. http://bit.ly/efSD1v

Failing grades for women's health: The United States has missed almost every goal to improve women’s health over the past decade, The New York Times reports. http://nyti.ms/eLbYOE

Younger people in nursing homes: People ages 31 to 64 account for 14 percent of the nation’s nursing home population, up from 10 percent a decade ago, NPR reports. http://n.pr/dPMIi3

Higher mortality rate at for-profit dialysis chains: Patients treated at dialysis clinics in the largest for-profit chains have a higher risk of death than those at the largest nonprofit chains, ProPublica reports. http://bit.ly/fvIja0

Defending healthcare reform: The New York Times profiles the Justice Department lawyer responsible for defending healthcare reform. http://nyti.ms/e4suDQ

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

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