OVERNIGHT HEALTH: All Romney all the time

I am rubber, you are glue: It’s a big change for Mitt Romney to be the one mounting an attack over healthcare, and one that underscores just how deftly he has managed to neutralize the issue that was once seen as his biggest weakness. If Romney wins Florida tomorrow, it’ll be despite a $6 million ad there attacking his healthcare record, and despite strong criticism in the last few debates from Rick Santorum.

We took a look over the weekend at why Santorum’s attack might have come too late. And as an addendum, the Red White and Blue Fund, a pro-Santorum super-PAC, tells Healthwatch that it probably won’t try to press the healthcare issue after Florida. The group is planning to run ads in Nevada, but they likely won’t focus on Romney.

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Maybe it’ll work for Democrats: Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) is holding an event tomorrow at a Florida senior center to press another healthcare attack on Romney — his ties to a company that committed Medicare fraud. The hit comes from Romney’s days at Bain Capital, which invested in Damon Corp., which was accused of Medicare fraud.

Wasserman Schultz will speak at 9:45 a.m. For background on the attack, read this.

Nobody knows: People don’t know much about Mitt Romney’s healthcare law, according to a new Harris Interactive poll. Although 62 percent of those surveyed agreed that Romney’s and Obama’s healthcare laws are similar, only 29 percent knew that Romney’s version includes an individual mandate.

As for President Obama’s healthcare law, the poll found certain provisions becoming more popular, but opinion on the overall effort remains split. Increasingly popular provisions include ones that bar insurers from turning down sick people (71 percent support); allow children to stay on their parents' plan through age 26 (57 percent); and create state-based insurance exchanges for people to buy coverage starting in 2014 (59 percent).

The results are here.

The other healthcare issue: Remember about a year ago, when House Republicans passed a budget that called for drastic changes to Medicare, and suddenly people were asking whether the House was in play for Democrats? Well, Democrats are itching for a replay. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has come out swinging since Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he’s not backing down from a premium-support model for Medicare. Healthwatch has more on the coming Medicare wars.

Skeptical of the states: The states can’t keep control of  “essential health benefits” forever, the liberal Center for American Progress says. Health and Human Services doesn’t plan to define essential benefits itself — rather, it will let each state choose its own “benchmark” plan, which will set the level of essential benefits in that state. The first public comments on HHS’s unexpected approach are due Tuesday.

CAP said in its comments that deferring to the states is fine for now, but eventually HHS will have to step in.

"A state-based approach would not satisfy an important principle of equity — that all Americans should be guaranteed access to the same benefits, no matter where they live," CAP said.

Food fight: A coalition of more than 30 food industry groups wrote to the Obama administration Monday urging officials to request more congressional funding for food safety efforts instead of relying on food taxes. Healthwatch’s Julian Pecquet has the story.

More information please: House Republicans are demanding that the Obama administration make public more information about the healthcare law's Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, which gets $1 billion a year to evaluate changes to how healthcare is delivered. Their letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is here.

More OJ drama: The consulting firm FDAImports.com has a handy infographic explaining the latest scare over fungicides in orange juice — and why it's overblown. Our takeaway: "Drink beer until the problem goes away."

Menopause: The Older Women's League is requesting congressional support for a national evidence-based menopause education campaign.


Tuesday's agenda

The House after 6:30 p.m. votes on the rule for legislation repealing the healthcare law's long-term-care CLASS Act. Vote on the repeal bill itself is scheduled for Wednesday.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) — the new chairman of the Republican Policy Committee — addresses the free-market group Economics 21 regarding the healthcare reform law's impact on employer-sponsored health insurance. That's at 3 p.m. in the Capitol Visitor Center, Room SVC 212. Here's the agenda.

The National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisers on Tuesday hears from Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.) ahead of the group’s annual Day on the Hill. NAIFA is one of the leading supporters of Boustany’s bill to repeal the CLASS Act.

Military families brief Congress on legislation that would guarantee that they qualify for autism benefits under TRICARE, regardless of duty status. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Reps. John Larson (D-Conn.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.) — sponsors of the Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act — host the briefing at 11:30 a.m., Capitol Visitor Center Room SVC 203.


Bill tracker

Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), co-chairmen of the Congressional Rural Health Caucus, are scheduled to introduce legislation on Tuesday to improve rural health care. 

Their bill would extend provisions in the tax code that establish parity between rural and urban hospitals set to expire and would reform the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission to give rural communities a stronger voice in the Medicare decision-making process.


Lobbying registrations

Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications / Harvard Pilgrim Health Care (health benefits company)

Oakley Capitol Consulting / National Association of Children's Hospital

Oakley Capitol Consulting / Kennedy Krieger Institute (specialty children's hospital)

Oakley Capitol Consulting / Blank Children's Hospital


State by state

The bishop of the Lincoln, Neb., diocese vows to ignore federal regulations on birth control coverage; calls HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius a "bitter, fallen-away Catholic."

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says he needs more time to create a state-run health insurance exchange.

Alaska prepares to consider legislation setting up a state-based health insurance exchange.


Reading list

Mitt Romney signed legislation requiring Roman Catholic and other private hospitals to dispense emergency contraception to rape victims when he was governor of Massachusetts, the Huffington Post reports. The Romney campaign has called the Obama administration's mandate on birth control coverage "a direct attack on religious liberty."

Roll Call lists five Hill staffers to know on healthcare.

ProPublica continues its investigation into veterans who suffer traumatic brain injuries with a look at the new National Intrepid Center of Excellence.


What you might have missed on Healthwatch

Week ahead: CLASS Act repeal vote to put Dems on defensive

Drugmakers pledge to donate 14 billion treatments for tropical disease

GOP rivals' attacks on Romney healthcare record fail to land blow

Gingrich, Democrats criticize Romney links to Medicare fraud


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