OVERNIGHT HEALTH: State of the Union stokes clash over healthcare reform

The State of the Union is just a few hours away. The White House hasn't leaked any specifics about healthcare, so there are still several possibilities for how President Obama will address the issue. One thing we do know: the first lady’s guests include a cancer survivor who was able to stay on his parents' health insurance because of the new healthcare law.

Med-mal-o-drama: House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans did not just release a YouTube video knocking Obama for saying in last year's State of the Union that he was open to tort reform ... it's more like they released a chilling tale of deceit and betrayal that is about Obama and tort reform.

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The plot: Obama said in last year's speech that he was open to malpractice reform, and Republicans passed malpractice reform bills, yet malpractice reform is not law.

The twist: Obama and Republicans have never supported the same approach to the issue. Republicans want to cap jury awards; Obama wants to leave them uncapped but shield doctors from trials altogether if they adhere to best practices.

The suspense: Seriously, watch the video. It’s like the trailer for a John Grisham movie.

Upstaged: Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee released a much more staid attack ahead of Tuesday night’s speech. In a standard, video-less press release, bereft of swelling strings, the committee cited new Gallup numbers saying the number of uninsured adults has risen steadily during the Obama administration. While young adults have gained coverage, the number of uninsured people older than 25 has risen from 14.8 percent to roughly 17 percent over the past four years. Healthwatch has more.

Healthy school meals: First lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will unveil on Wednesday new nutrition standards that school meals will have to meet starting this year. The new standards are expected to:

• double the amount of fruits and vegetables;

• require all grains to be whole-grain rich;

• require that all milk served be low fat;

• set the first-ever limits on salt and trans fat; and

• require lower calorie minimums and, for the first time, calorie maximums to better balance concerns about hunger and obesity.

CLASS warfare: The House is set to vote next week on a bill to repeal the healthcare law’s CLASS Act, which was intended to provide insurance for long-term care. Health and Human Services has said the program can’t be implemented, and the GOP wants it off the books for good. Like all healthcare repeal efforts, this one will probably pass the House and stall or fail in the Senate. Democrats argue that Congress should be fixing the CLASS program rather than repealing it, but Republicans maintain that’s not the right path.

"The likelihood of us coming together and fixing it in this presidential election year is slim to none, and slim has left the room," Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said Tuesday during a Rules Committee meeting.

Healthwatch has the story on next week’s vote.

Muddled messages: Mitt Romney quickly distanced itself from former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) after the latter told a TV interviewer that Republicans won't repeal the healthcare law despite their high-flying rhetoric. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, meanwhile, vowed to "keep going" with the law even if the Supreme Court strikes down the mandate.

More on Coleman here and Sebelius here.

Summary skirmish: A group of consumer advocates wants the White House to hurry up and publish a final regulation on the summary of benefits that insurance plans will soon have to provide. The groups, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and AARP, said they’re concerned the rules are being watered down.

"Weakening the rule would undermine the intent of the law, to provide consumers with readily understandable information to make the best choice when selecting health coverage," the groups said.

Save our diabetes tests: The National Association of Chain Drug Stores weighed in Tuesday on the latest "doc fix" negotiations, urging lawmakers not to make cuts that could limit access to diabetes testing supplies. That would include greater use of mail-order pharmacies as well as expanded competitive bidding, NACDS said.


Wednesday's agenda

Children's health groups host the first in a series of four briefings on the Medicaid program. The "Fundamentals of How Medicaid Works for Kids" briefing will focus on how Medicaid is structured, including whom the program serves, how it serves children and adolescents and how it is financed. Here's the agenda.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) offers closing remarks on the last day of the National Association of Health Underwriters' Capitol Conference. State Reps. Greg Wren (R-Ala.) and Barbara Sears (R-Ohio) are also slated to speak, as is Steve Larsen, the director of the federal center tasked with putting in place the health law. Here's the agenda.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee, holds a media briefing at 2:30 p.m. to outline his panel's agenda for the year.


State by state

Vermont officials tasked with overhauling the state's healthcare system released a 21-page report on how to implement a single-payer plan over the next few years.

Iowa legislators are considering shuttering a $35 million high-risk pool funded through President Obama's healthcare reform law because it has denied coverage to some 100 HIV-positive residents.

A West Virginia lawmaker is facing intense drug industry pressure over his proposal to require prescriptions for oft-abused cold and allergy medicines.


Lobbying registrations

Holland & Knight / The ElderCare Companies (geriatric disease management service)

G2G consulting / Intelomed (cardiovascular health monitoring technology)

G2G consulting / Therapeutics Systems Research Laboratories (oral drug delivery specialty firm)

Ogilvy Government Relations / DJO Global (orthopedic rehabilitation device company)


Reading list

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent letters to 34 states this week asking what steps they had taken to investigate doctors who prescribe way more commonly abused drugs than their peers, ProPublica reports.

Mitt Romney spent more than $14,000 on health insurance in 2010, National Journal reports.

At the Incidental Economist blog, Aaron Carroll explores the downside of high-deductible plans.


What you might have missed on Healthwatch

Report finds holes in government's efforts to combat prescription drug abuse

Nursing-home industry releases state of long-term-care report ahead of president's speech

Abortion foes attempt to muscle into 2012 debate


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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