OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Actuaries predict rising health costs

"Skyrocketing health costs hit the pocketbooks of hard-working American families who are already struggling during this severe economic downturn,” Senate Finance ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said in a statement. "The central promise of the White House's partisan health law was that it would reduce health care costs, but unfortunately, as the report shows, this law is only making things worse."

Hatch also issued a fact sheet detailing the extra spending under the new law.

Subsidy scramble: Federal regulators plan to soon address a glitch in the healthcare law's subsidies that could stick families with high health insurance costs, insurance reform chief Steve Larsen testified Thursday during a hearing on the law's impact on small-business coverage. The glitch was first reported last week by The Hill.

"We're actually looking at that very issue," Larsen told Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), the chairwoman of the Small Business Committee's Healthcare panel. "When an employer makes an offer, is that binding on the dependents, the family members, of the employee? We're anticipating in future guidance to clarify this and a number of issues relating to the application of the tax credit and how it works."

Larsen said the next phase of guidance on state health insurance exchanges, expected in the fall, "hopefully will clarify some of those issues."

Co-op rules: Health and Human Services released regulations Thursday to create health insurance cooperatives. Read the Healthwatch post.

Burr bothered: Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Thursday that he will delay the passage of a major Food and Drug Administration reauthorization unless the agency speeds up its approval of medical devices. Healthwatch's Sam Baker has more.

Letters and Numbers: House members dropped a bipartisan bill to expand the 340B drug discounts to inpatient prescriptions at safety-net hospitals. 

The trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America immediately reacted with a statement from its vice president, Karl Uhlendorf.

"PhRMA is currently reviewing the proposed legislation, but we are concerned that any proposal to expand the 340B program would undercut the original purpose of the program, which is to help underfunded providers obtain needed discounts for uninsured patients on outpatient hospital medicines," Uhlendorf said. "In addition, any expansion of the 340b program seems unnecessary as the Affordable Care Act will extend health coverage to millions of currently uninsured people."

Health reform gloom: Only 20 percent of respondents to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll think the healthcare law will help rein in insurance companies, a blow to Democrats who thought consumers' protections were among the most popular provisions of the law. In addition, almost half of respondents said the cost of healthcare would continue to rise, and 41 percent expect the quality of healthcare to get worse.

NIH attack: The Traditional Values Coalition's Andrea Lafferty urged House appropriators to put in place "an immediate six month moratorium on NIH grant awards towards behavioral science and foreign institutions, as well as an intensive round of investigations in the conduct of the NIH peer review process."

Food TV: Nineteen senators from rural states demanded Thursday that federal agencies justify their call for stringent voluntary restrictions on marketing food marketing to children. Healthwatch's Julian Pecquet has more.

Rogue pharmacies: The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy issued a public health alert to warn Americans about the dangers associated with medicines purchased through thousands of fake online pharmacies.


Friday's agenda:

Device dialogue: The Institute of Medicine weighs in on proposed reforms to the FDA's expedited approval process for low- to medium-risk medical devices. Manufacturers want the 510(k) process to be streamlined, while consumer advocates think it's already too lenient and allows too may devices to get cleared for market by showing "substantial equivalence" with a currently available device.

The device lobby is attacking the proposed IOM recommendations even before they come out, The New York Times reports

The consumer advocacy group Consumers Union responded to the article with its own strike against industry's preemptive strike.

"The Institute of Medicine is a highly-regarded, independent organization that has gathered respected experts from across a variety of fields to evaluate medical device standards, an important health issue that affects millions," senior health policy analyst Lisa Swirsky said in a statement. "Consumers deserve to know that products are safe and have been tested at the highest level, especially when it comes to their health and physical wellbeing. ... It is critical that the results of the IOM study are not prejudged and are given a fair and thorough examination."

Nursing home regs: Nursing homes are expected to find out how much they'll get paid by Medicare next year. Among the issues to look out for: Will the scheduled 11.3 percent rollback of RUGS IV overpayments be phased in? Will facilities get credit for group therapy against the parity adjustment?


Reading list

Fortune delves into the demise of Pfizer CEO Jeff Kindler.

The Huffington Post says the healthcare law's new high-risk pools are creating an incentive to go without insurance.

In a Baltimore Sun op-ed, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says the healthcare law will help Maryland's small businesses.


What you might have missed on Healthwatch:

Hearing highlights staggering cost of improper Medicare payments


Comments / complaints / suggestions?

Please let us know:

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

Sam Baker: sbaker@thehill.com / 202-628-8351

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