OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Employer coverage questions remain

Coverage clash: The consulting firm Mercer rekindled debate over the healthcare law's impact on employer sponsored coverage with a new survey that found only 2 percent of employers were "very likely" to dump their workers into state insurance exchanges. The results are at odds with a recent report from McKinsey that estimates more than 30 percent of employers are thinking of doing so. 

The conflicting estimates provide ammunition to both parties as they debate how much the law will end up costing and whether it fulfills its promise that people who like their coverage will be able to keep it. Even though Democrats drew attention to the Mercer report, it's not all rosy: It also found that businesses have already seen a 2 percent increase in enrollment, on average, as the law extended eligibility to dependents under the age of 26. Employers anticipate an extra 2 percent growth in 2014, when they'll be required to automatically enroll new full-time workers who don't opt out of coverage. Read the Healthwatch story.

Debt details: A senior Democratic aide tells The Hill it was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who took Medicare and Social Security cuts off the table in last-minute negotiations over the debt ceiling. The White House had previously put Medicare very much on the table, by proposing to raise the eligibility age to 67. House Democrats, though, took a harder line on Medicare and Social Security — issues they see as winners in the 2012 cycle.

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The Democratic aide said Pelosi told the White House and Senate Democrats during a Saturday meeting that her caucus wouldn't support any proposal that changed the method for calculating Social Security benefits. The aide said Pelosi also bargained the maximum Medicare cuts under the agreement's trigger mechanism to 2 percent of the program's costs, down from a proposed 4 percent.

Rate review: Advocates for federal rate review made their case again Tuesday as the Senate health committee held a hearing on state rate-review efforts and the support built into the healthcare law. Many states have some authority to at least review insurance companies' proposed rates, and the health law provides funding to enhance those efforts. But it doesn't give the federal government the power to reject proposed increases or require states to give themselves that authority.

“We have learned the hard way that disclosure and review isn’t enough to make insurance companies do the right thing," said Carmen Balber, Washington director for Consumer Watchdog.

Kids' coverage: Senate Republicans say the Health and Human Services Department should set standardized rules in an effort to coax insurance companies back to selling plans specifically for children.

A report released Tuesday by Republicans on the Senate Health committee calls for a uniform open enrollment period, established by HHS, to revive children's plans. Parents would have to purchase coverage within a certain window or pay a penalty. Read the Healthwatch post.

Milk mismanagement: Fewer than 4 percent of U.S. hospitals provide the full range of support mothers need to be able to breastfeed, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report says the shortcomings are a missed chance to combat childhood obesity. Healthwatch's Julian Pecquet has the story

Gluten count: The FDA is again seeking comment on a 2007 proposal to label foods as "gluten-free." About 1 percent of Americans can't tolerate the cereal protein, and the FDA wants to make sure its proposal to restrict the label to foods with fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten makes sense to consumers and the food industry.


Wednesday's agenda:

AIDS by the numbers: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention releases its estimate of the number of people infected with HIV in 2006-2009. The data will include national statistics as well as details by age, race/ethnicity and mode of transmission. The new measurements are the first to directly measure HIV infections with a lab test that can distinguish recent infections from long-dormant ones.

Summer break: On Capitol Hill, several Senate hearings and markups have been postponed until after the August recess following Tuesday's debt-ceiling vote. The House has already adjourned until Sept. 7.

The Senate Finance Committee's hearing on dual eligibles — the people jointly eligible for Medicare and Medicaid — has been postponed indefinitely. Melanie Bella, director of the new Medicare-Medicaid Coordination Office, was scheduled to testify.

And the Senate Health Committee has delayed until Sept. 3 its markup of legislation to reauthorize the Children's Hospital Graduate Medical Education program. Children's hospitals will cease to get paid for training residents starting Oct. 1 if the program isn't reauthorized. 

Lobbying registrations:

Capitol Hill Strategic Advocates / American College of Cardiology

Reading list

Some 2.3 million people will be eligible for Medicaid in 2014 because the healthcare law excludes Social Security income when calculating benefits, according to Milliman.

Consolidation in the drug sector has had a "devastating" impact on research and development, Pfizer's former president of Global Research and Development writes in the journal Nature Reviews Drug Discovery.

Kansas' attorney general has vowed to appeal a federal judge's injunction against a state law defunding Planned Parenthood, The Kansas City Star reports.

What you might have missed on Healthwatch:

Cancer advocates outline health reform blueprint

FDA seeks public input on food-safety fees


Comments / complaints / suggestions?

Please let us know:

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

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

Follow us on Twitter @hillhealthwatch

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