Week ahead: Crunch time for ObamaCare

With just days left in the enrollment period, the Obama administration is pulling out all the stops to encourage people to sign up for insurance through ObamaCare.

Supporters of the law are hoping that young, healthy people rush into the marketplaces before March 31. Higher participation from that low-cost demographic would strengthen the risk pools and help prevent dramatic price hikes in 2015.

The stakes are high for the White House, federal health officials and congressional Democrats, not least because Republicans are hoping the law's problems will carry them to victory in November’s elections.

The administration has enlisted leading athletes to promote ObamaCare and is pouring considerable resources into advertisements and media appearances related to March Madness.

While President Obama will be out of the country for most of the week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will continue her enrollment tour with a stop on Monday in Montclair, N.J.

March 31 is also the deadline for Congress on Medicare doctor payments. The current sustainable growth rate (SGR) patch expires next Monday, so lawmakers are expected to approve another short-term "doc fix" this week.

Passage of the legislation would be a disappointment for doctor groups, which pushed lawmakers to end the temporary fixes once and for all by repealing the SGR. Congress is closer than ever to reaching that goal, but committees are held up by how to pay for the reform, which could cost as much as $180 billion over 10 years.

The House recently passed a payment system overhaul that would fund itself by delaying penalties under ObamaCare's individual mandate. The bill is dead on arrival in the Senate, where Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is seeking support for using war spending to implement a new system.

There is a slim chance that lawmakers could reach an agreement on a permanent doc fix before March 31. Absent that outcome, Congress is expected to approve another patch and pay for it with healthcare cuts.

Lawmakers will hold a handful of healthcare-related hearings this week.

The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight will hold a hearing Wednesday on the shortage of hospital beds available for people with serious psychiatric conditions.

On the same day, the Senate Special Committee on Aging will hold a hearing on how to protect seniors from Medicare fraud.