OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Abortion, not jobs, consumes Capitol Hill

It's the economy: Democrats also hammered Republicans for making abortion legislation a major priority early into the new Congress. They accused the GOP of abandoning a campaign pledge to create jobs. 

“I do not understand how this Republican Congress can move from that mandate to create jobs, to create opportunities in this country toward how we undermine women’s reproductive health,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). 

Cantor rejects talking point: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), saying that the federal government doesn't create jobs, said Republicans are trying to make good on one of their "Pledge to America" promises by cutting taxpayer funding for abortion. "This is also consistent with reducing spending in Washington," Cantor said Tuesday during his weekly meeting with reporters.

Cantor says bill will defund: The House will pass a funding bill next week that cuts off money for the healthcare reform law, Cantor predicted Tuesday. The bill, now being formed in the Appropriations Committee, is not expected to include defunding language right away, but Cantor expects an amendment choking off reform law funds will be attached to the bill. 

"I expect to see one way or another the product coming out of the House to speak to that, to preclude any funding to be used for that," Cantor said.

If approved, such a bill would set up a fight in the Democratic-controlled Senate to restore funding. The current resolution funding the government expires on March 4. 

Poll shows HR departments struggling with reform: Many American businesses want more regulatory guidance before they make decisions about the healthcare benefits they offer, a new poll shows, but three-quarters think repeal is a pipe dream.

The Society for Human Resource Management conducted the poll in late December, before a federal judge struck the law down and the House voted for repeal. At the time, 48 percent of respondents said they were waiting for more regulatory guidance on specific provisions, while 13 percent said they were hoping for full repeal. The Healthwatch story: http://bit.ly/hzBcQU

Appeals courts set up spring debate on individual mandate: The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday granted expedited review of the Thomas More Law Center's challenge against the individual mandate, with oral arguments likely between May and July. The government won that case in October.

The government also joined with plaintiffs to request a quick review of two cases in Virginia. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond has already agreed, and oral arguments have been set for May.

Doc prescribes ACO regs: Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), a doctor and chairman of the Republican Congressional Health Care Caucus, said he wants to see the physician community as a "driver" in new accountable care organizations. "To the extent that barriers are put up, I think that would be ultimately hurtful," he told Healthwatch. 

Even with the uncertainty surrounding the future of healthcare reform, Burgess said the healthcare industry should continuing working to implement ACOs. "The concept of can we do things better, faster, smarter, cheaper, right care, right time - all of the catchwords you hear - all of those are important concepts," he said.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has a new organizational chart.

Wednesday's agenda

Tort reform takes off: The House Judiciary Committee marks up bipartisan legislation that caps non-economic damages at $250,000. The bill has cleared the House several times in the past but is a non-starter in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Democrats have offered 27 amendments to the bill.

Abortion, Day 2: Abortion remains front and center as the Energy and Commerce health subpanel holds a hearing on Chairman Joe Pitts' (R-Pa.) bill to prohibit federal funding for abortions in the healthcare reform law.

Republicans say the law has loopholes that need to be closed. Democrats counter that the law already prevents the use of taxpayer funds to buy coverage and that Pitts' bill would make it almost impossible for insurers to offer abortion coverage in the new state insurance exchanges.

Health reform and the economy: The House Education and Workforce (formerly Labor) Committee holds a hearing on health reform's impact on the economy, employers and the workforce. Witnesses include Neil Trautwein, vice-president of the National Retail Federation.

Liberals defend mandate: MIT economist Jonathan Gruber will release a new paper defending the individual mandate in a conference call from the Center for American Progress. The paper, which demonstrates why a mandate is the most effective way to expand coverage, comes as centrist Democrats are openly considering alternatives to the unpopular provision as the 2012 elections loom.

Bigwigs address doctors' meeting: Medicare chief Don Berwick, AHIP and AHA bosses are on the agenda for the American Medical Association's national advocacy conference.

Medicaid churning: Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) hosts a briefing on ways to prevent Medicaid churning, which occurs as beneficiaries go on and off the rolls because of outdated and burdensome renewal practices.

A recent Health Affairs article found that the healthcare reform law could disrupt coverage for as many as 28 million adults within the first twelve months, as their eligibility shifts between Medicaid and the new state health insurance exchanges. 

Medical technology on the Hill: The California Healthcare Institute and LifeScience Alley partner with the House Medical Technology Caucus for a briefing on U.S. medical technology innovation. 

Reading list:

The Obama Administration isn't backing away from the individual mandate, the Huffington Post writes.

MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, a key architect of the healthcare reform law, is working on a comic book that explains the law, writes the Boston Herald

Connecticut’s Medicaid program will shift to a self-insured model, the Hartford Business Journal reports.

Insurers are starting to adjust to new rules requiring them to spend a certain percentage on healthcare services, the Associated Press says.

Kindred Healthcare’s $877 million purchase of RehabCare Group may signal more acquisitions in the healthcare industry, Bloomberg reports

What you might have missed on Healthwatch

PhRMA hired Cassidy & Associates to lobby on comparative effectiveness, FDA budget.

The FDA unveiled an accelerated review process for medical devices.

Liberal groups hit GOP lawmakers over vote to repeal healthcare reform. 

The Medicare chief faces a grilling Thursday. 

Comments / complaints / suggestions? 

Please let us know:

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

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