OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Perry talks healthcare; Sebelius blocks Plan B

MLR probe: Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee want to know whether HHS pushed state regulators into a set of policy recommendations that could hurt insurance agents. HHS’s regulations on the medical loss ratio (MLR) are nearly identical to the model regulation crafted by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and Republicans seem to suspect that HHS might have led the NAIC down a very specific path.

The lawmakers asked NAIC officials Wednesday whether HHS ever said it would refuse to certify the group’s recommendations unless certain provisions were written in certain ways. Neither regulation excludes insurance agents’ commissions from the MLR calculation, which the NAIC said it did not have the authority to recommend. The GOP letter asks whether HHS provided legal analysis on that issue.

Saving hospitals:
Seventy House members of both parties have signed on to a letter urging House leaders to reject cuts to rehabilitation hospitals and hospital-based rehabilitation units. Healthwatch's Julian Pecquet has more here.

IPAB repeal hits 218: Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) has 218 co-sponsors for his bill to repeal the healthcare law’s Independent Payment Advisory Board. It’s hardly a surprise that IPAB repeal could pass the House on its own, given that the House has already voted to repeal the entire law, but hitting 218 makes it official. The bill could pass if it was going to come up for a vote this year — which it isn’t.

Supremes weigh medical patents: The Supreme Court on Wednesday dove into the complicated question of how to patent diagnostic tools. The court heard oral arguments in a case about whether a company can patent the instructions for observing the effects of a diagnostic test. One company says those instructions — in this case, watching for changes in a patient’s blood cells — are part of the test itself. But a competing firm says those changes are natural events, which can’t be patented.

Reuters has the details about the case and Wednesday’s arguments.

Slaughter pushes separate patent case:
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) also wants the Supreme Court to take up a separate case on gene patenting. She wants the high court to overturn a lower court’s ruling in favor of gene patents and urged the Justice Department on Wednesday to recommend that the justices hear the case. Healthwatch has more.

More from SCOTUS: The high court also heard oral arguments this week in another healthcare case. This one asks when the maker of a generic drug can sue the company that makes its brand-name equivalent — specifically, whether the generic can sue to make the brand update the drug’s official labeling. It might seem like a small-potatoes patent dispute, but SCOTUSblog says the justices seemed “fully engaged” in the arguments. The blog’s argument recap is here.

Government insuring more children: Fewer and fewer children are covered by private health insurance as the economic downturn drags on, according to a survey released Wednesday by the University of New Hampshire. The number of children covered by private plans has fallen by 2 percentage points, while the number of children on public programs has risen by 3 percentage points, the study found.

Guidelines under fire: A bipartisan group of male lawmakers on Wednesday urged federal regulators to reject draft guidelines that would curtail healthy men's access to prostate cancer tests. Read the Healthwatch story.

Thursday’s agenda

The big news on Thursday, of course, is the panel on prescription drug fraud that Healthwatch’s Julian Pecquet is moderating. The forum runs from 10 a.m. to noon in Rayburn 2456. It will feature opening remarks by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), followed by a panel discussion with officials from HHS, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association and others.

HHS is making an “Affordable Care Act announcement regarding school-based health centers.”

Department officials are also holding a conference call with stakeholders about the Affordable Care Act and mental health.

State by state

Retired state employees in New York are suing over increases in their healthcare costs.

Virginia is launching a registry for residents to identify what they want to have happen if they’re unable to make their own healthcare decisions.

A new report says Colorado’s mental-health system is improving, but is still deeply flawed.

Lobbying registrations

Holland & Knight / city of Philadelphia

Madison Associates / Vision Vitals Foundation

MicroHealth (self-registration)

Reading list

The Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff explains how employees’ healthcare costs will change if they get coverage through an insurance exchange.

Kaiser Health News breaks down the latest government data on state-by-state increases in healthcare spending.

What you might have missed on Healthwatch

Medicare cuts may force nursing homes to close, analysis says

Hatch blames government price controls for shortages of medical drugs

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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