OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Administration defends health budget

HHS seeks cash, employees: The health department's budget request would quadruple the department's public relations arm while nearly doubling its staff. The Health and Human Services' Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs is looking for an increase from $4.8 million to $19.9 million in fiscal 2012, while increasing the number of full-time equivalent employees from 24 to 46.

Brokers unhappy: Joel Ario, director of insurance exchanges for HHS, had the unenviable task Tuesday morning of trying to smooth over relations with insurance agents and brokers, who feel slighted by the healthcare reform law. They say new requirements limiting insurers’ administrative costs and Web-accessible state exchanges will push brokers out of the health insurance system.

There is some reform law funding, however, for "navigators" who educate consumers about state exchanges. Ario drew boos from attendees of the National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU) conference when he offered this explanation for navigators: "I think the people who advocated for them and why they got into this law did have the argument that agents today don’t necessarily serve all the different types of populations as well as they could be served."

Ario says leave it to the states: Ario said states will probably determine whether navigators must be licensed. "It's possible" that federal regulation will address the issue, he said.

HHS continues its outreach effort to NAHU on Wednesday with appearances by Richard Popper, Deputy Director for Insurance Programs, and Steve Larsen, Deputy Director for Insurance Oversight.

Budget details CLASS Act spending: The administration wants $120 million to implement the healthcare reform law's new long-term care insurance program, with about three-quarters of the funding going toward education and outreach. About 30 staff members would be added to the HHS office overseeing implementation of the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act.

Trial lawyers jumped on the budget proposal's investment in state medical malpractice grants.

Senators call foul on smokeless tobacco: A pair of Democratic senators called on Major League Baseball to ban the use of tobacco products in big league parks. "The use of smokeless tobacco by baseball players undermines the positive image of the sport and sends a dangerous message to young fans, who may be influenced by the players they look up to as role models," wrote Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

Wednesday's agenda:

Budget defense, Day 2: Secretary Sebelius will be back on the Hill Wednesday morning to defend the president's budget, this time on the opposing team's turf. She'll testify before the House Ways and Means Committee. 

E&C investigates reform: The Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight subpanel holds its first hearing probing the healthcare reform law. Republicans want more details on the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, including an explanation of why the center was moved from CMS into the secretary's office.

Health exchanges: HHS will make a 2 p.m. announcement regarding health insurance exchanges created under the reform law. HHS isn't providing much detail about the announcement, but it's possible that the department will reveal "early innovator" grants for states developing information technology systems to operate the new exchanges.

NIH on the Hill: With Republicans looking to slash funding for the National Institutes of Health, the agency's director and lawmakers will hold an event showcasing the NIH's work.

Individual mandate constitutionality: Weeks after the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the reform law's constitutionality, its House counterpart will explore the constitutionality of the law’s requirement for individuals to purchase health coverage by 2014. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who successfully challenged the individual mandate in federal court, will testify.

White House tweets reform: The White House will field questions on Twitter about healthcare reform at 11:30 a.m. People can send in questions to @whitehouse with the hashtag #hcr. White House staffer Kalpen Modi — best known for his role in the "Harold and Kumar" movies — will be providing the pithy answers.

Reading list:

A bill that strengthens the abortion restrictions in the healthcare reform law cleared the Energy and Commerce Committee, writes Christianity Today. 

House Republicans are proposing multiple amendments to their stop-gap budget resolution that would eliminate healthcare reform provisions or prevent the law's implementation, Think Progress reports

The U.S. government charged 20 people in a $200 million Medicare fraud scheme, the Miami Herald writes.

Michigan’s new Republican Gov. Rick Snyder won’t propose Medicaid reductions, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, testifying before the House Budget Committee, said entitlement reform is necessary for slashing the debt, the Wall Street Journal writes.

Kaiser Health News explains how the Medicare prescription drug “doughnut hole” is disappearing.

Former Democratic Rep. Vic Snyder (Ark.) has been named the new corporate medical director for Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Arkansas Online reports.

What you might have missed on Healthwatch

Rep. King pushed to defund mandatory spending in health law.

The Senate's top appropriator blasted a proposed GOP cut to community health centers. 

The head of health insurance exchanges at HHS defended the healthcare reform law against governors' criticism. 

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

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