OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Sebelius warns House CR messes with Medicare

Second panel investigating waivers: Republicans on a second House panel are investigating waivers the Obama administration has awarded to more than a thousand organizations for the reform law’s annual limits requirements, The Hill has learned. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform wants to know why some groups have been denied waivers. The House Energy and Commerce Committee first started probing the waivers in January. Healthwatch's Jason Millman has the story.

Two Dems break with White House on Medicare board: Two House Democrats have signed onto a Republican bill to repeal a healthcare reform provision that the Obama administration has touted as a central tool to keep healthcare costs under control.

Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) became a co-sponsor of legislation to repeal the Medicare payment board on Wednesday, one week after Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) did the same. A spokesman for the congresswoman said she remains committed to the law's cost-cutting goals but wants Congress to be in charge. Healthwatch's Julian Pecquet has the story.

GOP takes new defunding approach: Republicans on the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, rebuffed so far in their efforts to repeal and defund the law, on Wednesday targeted five provisions of the sweeping reform law they want to subject to the annual appropriation process. Tea Party Caucus leader Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and other conservatives have seized on the reform law’s $105 billion in mandatory spending. Republicans say the law’s long-term appropriations are a unique violation of spending powers, but Democrats say the GOP has used the same approach. Read the Healthwatch story.

Debate over healthcare reform's insurance tax heating up: A conservative budget expert estimated Wednesday that the healthcare reform tax on insurance plans could raise family premiums by $5,000 over a decade, just as insurers are ramping up their efforts to get the tax nixed.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office and senior policy adviser to Sen. John McCain's 2008 campaign, analyzed the tax's impact for the right-of-center American Action Forum. Meanwhile, health insurance trade associations are lobbying Congress to drop the tax. Read The Hill's story.

Administration asks for expedited appeal: The Obama administration late Tuesday filed an appeal of the 26-state lawsuit challenging the healthcare reform law and asked for an expedited review, fulfilling a federal judge's terms. U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, who struck down the reform law, granted a stay of his decision last week for seven days provided that the administration met both terms. 

The Justice Department filed the appeal with the 11th Circuit. The ACA Litigation Blog, which tracks all the challenges to the law, predicts oral arguments will take place in June or July.

White House still backs Berwick: It took White House Press Secretary Jay Carney a while to find out, but the administration is still backing Don Berwick as its CMS chief after 42 Republican senators said last week they'd oppose his nomination. Carney was asked about Berwick during his daily briefing. His response: "We’ll get back to you."

Carney did get back to reporters, with this recycled statement: "The President stands firmly behind the nomination of Don Berwick because he’s far and away the best person for the job, and he’s already doing stellar work at CMS: saving taxpayer dollars by cracking down on fraud, and implementing delivery system reforms that will save billions in excess costs and save millions of lives."

Hospitals warn about quality measure: Like the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals warned a new proposal to reward hospitals for quality care could penalize them twice for hospital-acquired conditions (HACs). The FAH points out that the value-based purchasing proposal would ding hospitals for HACs while the reform law already provides a penalty to hospitals with high HAC rates. You can read the FAH comments here.

Panel looking at tax issues in abortion: The House Ways and Means Committee will take up H.R. 3 next Wednesday. The "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), would end tax breaks for health plans that offer abortion services. 

Pizza party: A coalition of groups opposing healthcare reform announced they are hosting a pizza and policy forum about the law next Monday to mark its approaching one-year anniversary. Groups include DeFundIt.org and The Galen Institute. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) are scheduled to attend.

Thursday's agenda:

HHS to tout more flexibility: HHS will make a Thursday announcement on the healthcare reform law. The announcement will "support state flexibility in implementing the Affordable Care Act." 

Medicare management: Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) is teaming up with the National Association of Chain Drug Stores to support the Medication Therapy Management Empowerment Act. The bill would allow seniors with a chronic disease to thoroughly review their medication with a pharmacist or care provider in a one-on-one session.

More reform law probing:
The House Education and Workforce's health subcommittee holds a hearing on the rising costs of employer-provided healthcare. Here's the agenda.

Reading list:

Missouri is looking at creating a new statewide health insurance exchange required by healthcare reform, the Kansas City Star reports.

North Carolina is unlikely to challenge the healthcare reform law, The Raleigh News & Observer reports.

Kentucky's state legislature will hold a special session to deal with its Medicaid budget, the Courier-Journal reports.

A new HealthGrades study finds that hospital safety varies widely nationwide, U.S. News and World Report writes.

The reform law has inadvertently turned doctors into over-the-counter drug prescribers, The Wall Street Journal discovers.

What you might have missed on Healthwatch:

The Washington state AG says prescription drug monitoring could help states curtail Medicaid fraud and abuse.

Two-thirds of states have cut spending on mental healthcare in the past three years, the National Alliance on Mental Illness said in a new report.

Freshman GOP Rep. Andy Harris (Md.), who drew the ire of Democrats for complaining about having to wait to receive his federal health insurance plan, has decided to keep his private insurance instead.

Comments / complaints / suggestions?

Please let us know:

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

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