OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Romney predicts Supreme Court will strike healthcare law

Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney reiterated his opposition to President Obama’s healthcare reform law while still refusing to disavow his own, similar effort as Massachusetts governor. Romney said in an interview with Fox Business Channel that he’s confident the Supreme Court will strike down the federal law’s individual mandate and that he still believes his healthcare law was right for Massachusetts.

Romney didn’t take a position on whether Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan should recuse herself from the healthcare challenge. Check out the Hill’s rundown of Romney’s comments.

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Say what? Elsewhere in the Republican field, Michele Bachmann launched a somewhat less cohesive indictment of Obama’s healthcare law. ThinkProgress has the video of her latest attack, in which the Minnesota congresswoman recounts the story of a seven-foot-tall doctor who said that because of “ObamaCare,” he had to call the IRS and get permission to treat a Medicare patient.

Suprecommittee struggle: Democrats have given plenty of ground on healthcare cuts in the supercommittee’s deliberations, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday. She pushed back against supercommittee co-chairman Jeb Hensarling’s (R-Texas) suggestion yesterday that Democrats hadn’t come to the table with significant entitlement reforms.

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“One of the reasons to address the entitlement issue is to strengthen them, to prolong them,” Pelosi told reporters. “If the goal is to eliminate them, if the goal of the Republicans is to say that we are not going — as has been rumored but I'm just going by what I've seen in the press — that the Speaker has said that the Bush tax cuts must be extended, that repealing those cannot be part of the plan. So if the plan is to extend the Bush tax cuts and to repeal the Medicare guarantee for our seniors, well, that's not balanced and that's a place we cannot go.”

IRS concerns: President Obama's healthcare law will leave millions of families without affordable coverage unless tax officials rewrite the rules on who gets subsidies, advocates warned Thursday. Healthwatch's Julian Pecquet has more.

(More) unintended consequences: A handful of Senate Democrats warned that the healthcare reform law could be bad news for farmers. Thousands of farmers buy health insurance for themselves and their families through cooperatives, but many low-income farmers might leave their cooperatives to take advantage of subsidies in the new insurance exchanges. Several Senate Democrats want the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to grant a waiver that would let farmers claim their subsidies and remain in their cooperatives. Healthwatch has the details.

Innovation and regulation: Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) admitted that House leaders haven’t paid much attention to his bill on genetic tests, but said it’s an important issue that ought to gain more traction. Burgess’s bill would explicitly state that the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have the authority to regulate laboratory-developed tests. Burgess spoke Thursday at a policy breakfast sponsored by The Hill — read our coverage of the event for more on his bill and the emerging science of genetic testing.

Exchanges planning: The National Governors Association has selected six states for intensive, customized “retreats” on insurance exchanges. NGA staff will provide technical assistance catered to each state’s unique situation. The lucky six are Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Nevada, Utah and Washington.

Pizza wars: The House passed the omnibus spending bill that guts stringent new nutrition standards for school meals. Health advocates and many Democrats were appalled by the joint House-Senate conference's decision to eliminate limits on potato servings and to continue classifying pizzas as vegetables.

Read more on the vote here. The Senate takes up the bill on Friday.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) lambasted the last-minute changes, saying Congress is "allowing the salt, potato growers and frozen food industries to continue feeding the childhood obesity epidemic." He also used it to tout his legislation that would eliminate tax deductions for advertising and marketing of fast food and junk food that targets children.

Saving grace: The bill's support for the Food and Drug Administration got a much better reception from the health sector. The Pew Health Group, for example, praised the bill for increasing FDA funding by $50 million, to $2.5 billion — money that will be directed in part towards implementing the new guidelines and regulations laid out in the Food Safety Modernization Act passed last year.

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In other agriculture news, the pro-organic Cornucopia Institute is urging members of the USDA's National Organic Standards Board to preserve the integrity of organic food and farming at its upcoming meeting later this month in Savannah, Ga. The 15-member advisory panel is due to vote on the use of genetically modified and synthetic additives that have been petitioned for use in organic foods and drinks, including baby foods and formula.

Set your DVR: The Discovery Channel is airing a one-hour special Saturday on health information technology. The program, produced together with Booz Allen Hamilton, “takes a close-up look at the groundbreaking ways technology is impacting physicians in their everyday delivery of care: from hospitals to out-patient services to private practice.”

The documentary is set to premiere at 8 a.m. Saturday.

EHR milestone: More than 100,000 rural doctors have signed up for a program that will help them adopt electronic medical records, HHS said Thursday. The department said more than one-third of all primary care doctors have committed to work with regional extension centers to adopt the new technology.

Pfizer on the hot seat: Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) says Pfizer is blocking access to generic versions of Lipitor, its blockbuster cholesterol-lowering drug. He wants the Federal Trade Commission to look into a deal Pfizer struck with pharmacy benefit managers, saying the agreement “is a sweet deal for the drug companies at the great expense of consumers, employers and taxpayers.”

Friday’s agenda

MACPAC — Congress’s Medicaid advisory panel — continues its two-day meeting. Friday’s agenda includes a discussion of Medicaid managed care.

State by state

Indiana bets on high-deductible health insurance

Virginia is waiting for a Supreme Court ruling before deciding whether to set up a health exchange

Montana prosecutors want the state Supreme Court to lift a judge's block on a new law banning medical marijuana sales.


Fraud fight

The owner of a durable medical equipment company in Louisiana was arrested and indicted for allegedly billing Medicare for orthotic kits (neck, shoulder, elbow, waist, knee and ankle braces) that were never delivered.

A Texas couple was arrested on charges they set up several healthcare businesses in order to commit bankruptcy fraud.

Three Texas defendants were indicted on charges they ran a conspiracy to defraud Medicare by submitting more than in $700,000 in claims for office visits and diagnostic tests that were never performed.


Bill tracker

Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Michael Bennet (D-Co.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Reps. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) and Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation Thursday to increase penalties for trafficking counterfeit drugs.

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Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) introduced a bill to ensure rural health clinics are eligible for electronic health record incentive payments through the Medicare program.


Lobbying registrations

Butler Snow Omara Stevens and Cannada / AnazzaoHealth

Dutko Worldwide / Peoria NEXT Innovation Center

Reading list

Mitt Romney’s initial plan for healthcare reform was significantly different from what ended up being implemented in Massachusetts, Politico reports.

The website for Newt Gingrich’s think tank still has a section endorsing an individual mandate, Talking Points Memo notes.

Kaiser Health News takes a fresh look at the cost and difficulty of caring for patients who receive both Medicare and Medicaid.

At the Incidental Economist, Austin Frakt argues that traditional Medicare might do just fine against competition from private health insurance plans.

What you might have missed on Healthwatch

ACLU challenges Catholic bishops on birth-control rules

Slaughter blasts US on antibiotics as Europe announces national strategy

Obama urges Americans to quit smoking

News bites: Premiums’ inexorable increase


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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