Week ahead: O-Care enrollment deadline arrives

ObamaCare’s first enrollment period officially comes to a close on Monday, and all eyes will be on the administration to see how many people signed up for coverage in the law’s first year.

The White House met its own target last week when officials announced that 6 million people had entered the exchanges so far. That total is a major achievement given the messy rollout last fall, and it bodes well for the system going forward.

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Federal health officials could publish some final numbers later this week, but they will also face questions about the special enrollment period meant to help people who struggled to sign up through HealthCare.gov.

So far, the administration has not announced when that special sign-up interval will end. Insurers are concerned that if it remains open-ended, it will drive up costs on the marketplaces by raising the number of sick people who enroll.

The Senate will be down to the wire on Monday as it votes on a bill to prevent a looming pay cut to Medicare doctors.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is planning a vote on a one-year “doc fix” on the day of the deadline. If lawmakers do not approve a patch on Monday, physicians in the Medicare program could see their rates cut by 24 percent.

The House approved a short-term bill on Thursday over the objections of the American Medical Association (AMA) and other provider groups, which say lawmakers must end the cycle of patching the program and repeal the sustainable growth rate formula.

The vote also took place by voice because many lawmakers were out of the chamber, which added to the controversy.

It is unclear how many Senate lawmakers will oppose the short-term fix, as the AMA urged House members to do ahead of that chamber’s vote. Provider groups may be less staunch in their opposition to a patch on the day of the deadline, with time almost running out.

The Senate bill will need 60 votes for passage.

“The patch that we have is imperfect, but it is something that will take care of things,” Reid said last week. “I am disappointed we didn’t get a permanent fix, but we should be very happy about what we have done.”

Meanwhile, in the House, lawmakers are preparing to take up a bill to kill ObamaCare’s definition of full-time work as 30 hours a week.

Republicans argue the rule is unreasonable and lowering worker hours in the retail and restaurant sectors. Democrats say businesses are criticizing the rule in order to avoid having to provide health insurance to additional hourly employees.

House lawmakers will hold several healthcare-related hearings this week.

The Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Health will look at proposed changes to generic drug labels on Tuesday, with testimony from Janet Woodcock, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

On Thursday, a House Oversight joint subcommittee will hold a hearing on state-based ObamaCare exchanges, focusing on California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Oregon.

That day, the Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee will hold a hearing on legislation to help families coping with mental health crises.

Also this week, consumer group Families USA will propose 10 ways to improve ObamaCare outreach and enrollment in the next sign-up period.