OVERNIGHT HEALTH: South Carolina edition

It'll also be the first debate without former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, whose experience establishing an insurance exchange could have provided a stronger contrast with Romney's healthcare record. Healthwatch's Julian Pecquet has a look back at Huntsman’s criticism of Romney on healthcare.

They're baaack: Well, kind of. House members return to the Capitol in time for late votes on Tuesday, but they'll be back campaigning in their districts Thursday and Friday. Senators aren't due back until next week.

What's on their agenda? Not much, health-wise. Lawmakers have until the end of February to figure out how to stave off an almost 30 percent cut to Medicare physician payments scheduled under the Sustainable Growth Rate. Physician groups dismayed by the dysfunctional formula — Congress routinely postpones the cuts rather than fixing the problem once and for all, with December's two-month "doc fix" as just the latest example — are clamoring for a permanent, $300 billion solution. Healthwatch's Sam Baker has the story.

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That's not likely to happen. Best case scenario: A one- or two-year fix, to get lawmakers beyond election season. The panel that recommends Medicare payments might have made that a little easier last week, with recommendations for hospital payment cuts that could help pay for another short-term fix. Healthwatch's Julian Pecquet has more.

Repeal fight: In other news, House Republicans rekindle their attacks on President Obama's healthcare reform law after recharging over Christmas break. The Ways and Means Committee is marking up legislation to repeal the law's long-term-care CLASS Act on Wednesday in a bid to quickly get the legislation to the floor and build momentum for GOP attacks on the law ahead of the Supreme Court's June ruling on its constitutionality.

Pay to play: Finally, the House begins debate over drug and medical industry user fees with a trio of hearings in February. Healthwatch has more on the schedule here.


Tuesday's agenda

Battling Alzheimer's: The Advisory Council on Alzheimer's Research, Care, and Services reconvenes Tuesday and Wednesday. A representative from the Department of Health and Human Services is scheduled to present an overview of the Draft National Plan to Address Alzheimer's disease, which aims to eliminate the disease by 2025.

The Obama administration unveiled the draft plan earlier this month. The framework was required by the National Alzheimer's Project Act, which was signed into law one year ago after unanimous passage by the House and Senate.

Abortionomics: The founder and owner of one of the first and largest abortion clinics in the United States tackles the recession's impact on abortion rates during an event at the National Press Club. Merle Hoffman's appearance comes on the eve of the 39th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion.


State by state

2012 will be a year of "excruciating decisions" for state Medicaid programs, Stateline.org reports.

The New Hampshire House for a second year is demanding that the state join the lawsuit against President Obama's healthcare reform law.

Anti-smoking measures saved states' Medicaid programs money.


Bill tracker

Legislation that would reverse the Public Access Policy of the federally funded National Institutes of Health is supported by the publishing industry, MapLight reports.


Reg watch

New proposed rules would require drug companies to disclose the payments they make to doctors for research, consulting, speaking, travel and entertainment, The New York Times reports.

The Medicare agency released a proposed rule that allows providers to get reimbursed for delivering care that isn't covered by insurance. Current regulations only reimburse hospitals for treating patients who have no insurance at all.


Lobbying registrations

Policy Development Group / Gilbert Hospital (Arizona)

Thompson Hine / Texas Biomedical Research Institute (Great Ape Protection Act)

Van Heuvelen Strategies / Alliance of Community Health Plans

Shockey Scofield Solutions / Genentech (pharmaceutical company)

Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti / Personal Care Products Council (FDA regulations)

Drinker Biddle & Reath / International Pharmaceutical Privacy Consortium (data privacy)

The Connolly Group / Health Physics Society (radiation safety)


Reading list

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is charging that drugmakers bear responsibility for drug shortages because they seek to limit production of low-profit medicines and sometimes pay manufacturers of generic drugs to keep cheap alternatives off the market, Minnesota's Star Tribune reports.

Thomson Reuters is out with its fourth annual ranking of the Top 15 health systems.

A healthcare reform bill that would have added private firms to the state health sector has sparked protests in Romania, Reuters reports.


What you might have missed on Healthwatch

States face uphill climb in legal challenge over health law's Medicaid expansion

Regulators reach agreement on drug industry 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