Week ahead: State of the Union sets the stage for healthcare clash

Lawmakers, however, will still have to work together to get must-pass legislation through Congress. First on their health policy agenda: preventing an almost 30 percent cut in Medicare physician payment rates, set to kick in March 1. The first meeting of the conference committee tasked with extending the payroll-tax cut and the so-called “doc fix” has been scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Outside the Capitol, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is scheduled to make opening remarks at noon Monday for the 39th March for Life, when some 200,000 people will descend on the Capitol on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion to protest the decision. That morning, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) will move to introduce legislation that would ban abortions after the 20th week in the District of Columbia.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the lobby for insurance agents and brokers holds a two-day conference on “Our Response to Health Reform Moving Forward.” The National Association of Health Underwriters has serious concerns with the law, and has been pushing hard ― so far without success ― to have agents’ commissions excluded when calculating the 80 percent Medical Loss Ratio healthcare plans must meet to avoid having to pay rebates to consumers.

The conference kicks off Tuesday with remarks from Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) and Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), who will address efforts to contain healthcare costs. Alabama state Rep. Greg Wren (R) and Ohio state Rep. Barbara Sears (R) follow suit Wednesday, along with several other state and federal health officials. Boehner is scheduled to make closing remarks.

On Wednesday, first lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack team up to announce new nutrition standards for school lunches. The 2010 childhood nutrition law called for regulators to establish new school lunch standards starting in 2012, but they were watered down in the agriculture spending bills that cleared Congress at the end of last year.

On Thursday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services co-hosts the first-ever Care Innovations Summit, aimed at bringing together innovative health experts from across the country to achieve “better care and better health at lower cost through continuous improvement.”

Finally, the conservative Heritage Foundation hosts a panel Thursday on reasons to repeal the healthcare reform law beyond just the individual mandate.