OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Medicaid still dominates health policy conversation

Berwick rejects block grants with little explanation: As Republican governors are building a consensus for Medicaid block grants, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services chief Don Berwick told reporters on Tuesday the administration won't support them. Berwick, who in Tuesday comments to the Federation of American Hospitals stressed flexibility for Medicaid, declined to elaborate on the administration's opposition to block grants. 

"That's all I have to say about that right now," Berwick said. Healthwatch's Jason Millman has the story.

Barbour backs block grants: “Most governors would take [them] in a heartbeat,” Barbour, a possible Republican presidential candidate, said at the FAH conference. "We would make Medicaid better. We would make Medicaid less expensive.”

Watching for Vinson: The federal judge who ruled the reform law unconstitutional is expected to say "promptly" whether he meant to halt the law's implementation. The Obama administration, in a Monday night court filing, said U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson's Jan. 31 ruling never addressed stopping the law's implementation. Even if Vinson says he meant to halt the law, the administration will likely seek an immedate stay of the decision. 

Governors want answers: Barbour and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) urged Congress Tuesday to press for the Supreme Court to quickly resolve the legal challenges against the healthcare reform law.

"We already have conflicting opinions at the district court level," Barbour said. "Conflicting decisions from different circuits would just compound the problem. So, for those of you who have any influence on that, we would like to have that question answered sooner rather than later." Read The Hill's story.

More bad reviews for accelerated waivers: Some key Republicans on Tuesday blasted President Obama's Monday announcement that he would support moving up the reform law's waiver date from 2017 to 2014 to allow states to propose their own versions of healthcare reform.

"From what we can see, everything in the statute would still be enforced," Barbour said at the Energy and Commerce hearing. "Moving it up to 2014 doesn't change any of the benefits package. ... It sounds good, but it's very, very [limited]."

Senate Finance Committee ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said the Obama administration's claim that an earlier opt-out provides flexibility to the states is "bull."

"It's the same mandate, the same problems, the same things [the states] have to meet," Hatch said at the FAH conference.

California insurer gets rate approval from auditor: An independent auditor hired by Blue Shield of California, which is proposing rate hikes of up to 59 percent for some individuals, said Tuesday that the rate proposals are sound. "We find that these rates are reasonable, are not excessive, and meet the loss ratio requirements of both the California Department of Insurance and that recently prescribed by the Federal [healthcare reform law]," the auditor wrote.

Consumer group cries foul: "Hiring a consultant to check your math and claiming it’s a legitimate, independent review is laughable,” said Consumer Watchdog executive director Doug Heller. California law allows the state's insurance department to review rates, but the commissioner doesn't have the power to block them.

Probe Medicare contractors, Senate Dems say: A group of Democratic senators are asking the health department’s top investigator to examine Medicare contractors and their subsidiary relationships. In some cases, the senators wrote, an oversight contractor was found to be the subsidiary of a company with a Medicare claims processing contract. Read the Healthwatch story

Navigating health reform: A new coalition of health groups launched on Tuesday a new website meant to provide "easy-to-understand" information about the healthcare reform law. HealthCareandYou.org was launched by a coalition of eight organizations: AARP, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American College of Physicians, the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the Catholic Health Association and the National Community Pharmacists Association.

Berwick explains ACO delay: New proposed rules on accountable care organizations are slow in being released in order to gather more stakeholder input, Berwick told reporters Tuesday. “Even before the proposed rule, we were really trying to hear back,” he said. “What’s going on now is the integration of ongoing feedback from many sources, and I think it’s worth the investment in time.” The proposed rule was submitted to the Office of Management and Budget last month for final regulatory review.

Bye-bye, Senate Finance: Monday was the last day for Susan Walden, Sen. Charles Grassley's counsel on the Senate Finance Committee. Walden said in an e-mail to her colleagues that she's "taking some time off for the next few weeks."

Wednesday's agenda:

Medicare fraud times three: Three congressional panels will investigate Medicare fraud, waste and abuse on Wednesday. The rundown, with featured witnesses:

  • Senate Finance Committee: Peter Budetti, director of the the CMS Center for Program Integrity, and Daniel Levinson, Health and Human Services Inspector General. 
  • House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee: Budetti; Karen Ignagni, America's Health Insurance Plans president and CEO; and Aghaebuna Odelugo, Medicare fraudster.
  • Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee: John Spiegel, CMS director of Medicare Program Integrity, and Kathleen King, Government Accountability Office director of health care.
We've got the testimony: Budetti will summarize the healthcare reform law's investments and the "significant opportunity to enhance our existing efforts to combat fraud, waste, and abuse in Federal health care programs." As for Levinson, expect him to strike a more somber note. 

"Medicare and Medicaid fraud, waste, and abuse cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year and these losses and risks is magnified by put beneficiaries' health and welfare at risk," his written testimony states. "The impact of the growing number of people served by these programs and the increased strain on Federal and State budgets. Moreover, new and expanded programs under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ... further heighten the need for robust oversight."

Constitutionality explored: As court cases challenging the healthcare reform law play out, the Brookings Institution on Wednesday hosts an Oxford-style debate on the law's constitutionality. 

Essential benefits on tap: The Institute of Medicine holds its second meeting on essential health benefits required under healthcare reform. The two-day meeting is in California and won't be available by webcast. Audio files will be posted after the meeting.

Reading list:

A new poll finds that half of U.S. adults oppose the individual mandate, U.S. News & World Report writes. The results are somewhat kinder to the individual mandate than a February Kaiser Family Foundation poll that said two-thirds of individuals oppose it. 

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's (R) administration is looking to scale back a proposal to drop Medicaid coverage for 250,000 enrollees, the Associated Press reports.

Washington's governor and attorney general are at odds over healthcare reform, ABC News writes

The National Institutes of Health will study how cleaning up the Gulf oil spill may have affected the health of the 55,000 people who helped, CNN writes.

Correction: Monday's Overnight Health reported that the Wyden-Brown opt-out provision has been scored at $3 billion. That should have read $4 billion.

Comments / complaints / suggestions? 

Please let us know:

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

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