OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Komen funding controversy rages

The backlash against Susan G. Komen For the Cure got even bigger on Thursday.

More members of Congress piled on the breast-cancer charity for its decision to cut off its grants to Planned Parenthood. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she was saddened by the decision, and a group of 26 Senate Democrats signed a letter accusing Komen of putting women’s health at risk to serve a political agenda.

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The flood of support for Planned Parenthood also picked up. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he will personally match the next $250,000 in donations to Planned Parenthood.

Komen officials defended their decision Thursday, saying it wasn’t politically motivated. The group’s chief executive, Nancy Brinkner, said on MSNBC that the move has been “mischaracterized,” and brushed off the possibility that it could hurt her group’s fundraising and public support.

Healthwatch has all the details of the intensifying criticism.

Give us a reason: The Washington Post reports that Komen is starting to change its explanation of the Planned Parenthood cuts. The group initially cited a new policy of not doing business with organizations that are under investigation, but officials said Thursday that they cut off Planned Parenthood because its clinics offer referrals for breast-cancer screenings rather than performing the screenings themselves.

Contraception conundrum: The White House on Thursday defended controversial rules requiring healthcare plans to cover birth control. The policy will force some Catholic institutions, such as hospitals and universities, to cover contraception for their employees, even though the church disapproves of birth control. A senior White House official noted there’s still an exemption for entirely religious employers, like churches, and said the decision not to expand that carve-out represents an “appropriate balance.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), meanwhile, said the policy is unconstitutional.

Healthwatch has the story.

We need to talk: Congressional Republicans aren’t satisfied with the way AARP is handling the Medicare debate. A group of Republican doctors sent the seniors’ lobby a letter Thursday asking for specific proposals to reform the program and save it from financial collapse, saying AARP has to bring some new ideas to the table if there’s going to be an honest conversation about Medicare’s real problems.

AARP said it plans to do exactly that.

"AARP will be spending the next year leading a national discussion to ensure that the voices of our members and all Americans are heard in the debate about strengthening and improving this vital program,” the organization said in a statement. “We will be announcing the details of this nationwide conversation in the coming weeks and invite all Members of Congress to join us as we engage the American people in meaningful dialogue about protecting the future of Medicare."

Healthwatch has more on the GOP’s outreach.

Road to nowhere: The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee earned the ire of the American Heart Association when it struck down an amendment to include money for sidewalks and bike paths in the $260 billion transportation bill.

"Today members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee jeopardized the safety and health of America’s children," AHA CEO Nancy Brown said in a statement. "By voting down an amendment that included the Safe Routes to School program, the committee has robbed our kids of the opportunity to walk and bike their way to better health."

The Hill's Transportation blog has the story.

Lack-of-trust: Opponents of the pending merger between pharmacy benefit manager giants Express Scripts and Medco scored a big win Thursday when the top senator on antitrust issues raised concerns. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel, wrote a six-page letter to the Federal Trade Commission urging it to "carefully examine this proposed merger, and only approve it should the Commission determine that the transaction is not likely to substantially lessen competition in violation of the antitrust laws." Here's the letter.

Workin' on the farm: Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's Health subpanel, vowed to add a rider in the 2013 spending bill to block proposed regulations restricting child labor on U.S. farms. The Obama administration defended the regulation during a hearing of the House Small Business agriculture panel on Thursday. Read more about the issue here.

After the hearing, the consumer group Public Citizen called on the administration to quickly adopt the rules, which would restrict employees 15 and younger from operating most power-driven equipment, handling pesticides and harvesting tobacco. Some 130 children under the age of 16 died on the job in the United States, according to the Department of Labor, 73 percent of whom worked in agriculture.

High performance: A public-private partnership of more than 60 organizations released its first annual review of healthcare performance measures that federal regulators will use when crafting healthcare programs such as Accountable Care Organizations and hospital quality reporting. Read the report here.

Help is on the way: U.S. drugmakers have more than 50 medicines in the pipeline to help treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the third leading cause of death in the nation, according to a new report.

Unimpressed: The conservative Heritage Foundation says the healthcare reform law's experiment to foster better cooperation between hospitals and doctors is too rigid to work. Read the Accountable Care Organizations report here.


Friday's agenda

The Alliance for Health Reform hosts a briefing on essential health benefits that insurance plans will have to provide if they want to be sold on state health insurance exchanges starting in 2014. Panelists include John Santa of Consumer Reports; Janet Trautwein of the National Association for Health Underwriters; and Rhode Island health insurance commissioner Chris Koller. 

And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association pair up for a briefing on pending regulations regarding the summary of benefits and coverage healthcare plans will have to share with consumers.


Bill tracker

Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced legislation that gives the Food and Drug Administration the ability to reject a medical device that's based on an earlier device if that so-called predicate has been recalled or is in the process of being removed from the market for major safety problems.


State by state

Consumer Watchdog launched a ballot initiative drive in California requiring health insurance companies to publicly justify their rates before getting permission for a rate hike.

The Minnesota group tasked with developing a state health insurance exchange shared its recommendations with Gov. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) this week.

Colorado Democrats rejected a proposed Medicaid waiver.

A new requirement that Missouri health insurers pay to treat autism raised health insurance costs just one-tenth of 1 percent.


Lobbying registrations

Cassidy & Associates / Adamis Pharmaceuticals Corporation

MJ Capitol Consulting / Michigan Health & Hospital Association

McGuireWoods Consulting / American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association

McGuireWoods Consulting / ContourMed (prosthetic manufacturer)

Affymax (self-registration) / bio-pharmaceutical company


Reading list

New federal rules for prescription drug pricing based on an Alabama program is expected to save the federal-state Medicaid program $17.7 billion over the next five years, Stateline.org reports.

Mitt Romney's "bogus" distinction between his healthcare reform plan and President Obama's is working with primary voters, the American Prospect opines.

The surge in the number of seniors and Hispanics is driving changes in the healthcare workforce, Reuters reports.


What you might have missed on Healthwatch

Grassley probes FDA over whistleblower retaliation

Administration touts $2.1 billion in prescription drug savings for Medicare recipients

House votes to repeal healthcare law's 'CLASS Act' program


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Julian Pecquet: jpecquet@thehill.com / 202-628-8527

Sam Baker: sbaker@thehill.com / 202-628-8351

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