OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Healthcare in the 2012 spotlight

Democrats shot back with a lengthy rebuttal of Romney’s memo, arguing that Medicare would become insolvent in 2016 under Romney’s plan, compared with 2026 under Obama. Seniors would end up paying more their healthcare while also losing access to new benefits, such as preventive services and cheaper prescription drugs, that were provided under healthcare reform.

Not just Medicare: Newt Gingrich’s foundering presidential campaign also hit Romney on healthcare Monday, arguing in a new Web ad that Romney “can’t beat Obama” because of his record in Massachusetts. The ad highlights similarities between the Romney and Obama’s healthcare laws and says Republicans can’t win if they have to defend Romney’s record. Healthwatch has the story.

Owning it: Obama’s reelection campaign launched a new Web tool Monday to sell the new healthcare law. The site asks users about their insurance status, age, gender and income, and highlights benefits tailored around those answers. The campaign tool is here.

Oh, and also, policy: It’s not as politically sexy, but the Health and Human Services Department took a significant step Monday toward actually implementing the healthcare law. HHS finalized some of its rules for insurance exchanges, again arguing that its approach offers states as much flexibility as possible.

The new rules still don’t answer certain key questions, such as the shape of the federal fallback exchange that HHS will operate in states that don’t set up their own marketplaces. But it gives states more certainty around issues like the process for determining whether people are eligible for government subsidies to help buy insurance.

Healthwatch has details from the HHS announcement.

Mixed reaction: Stakeholders were still digesting the details in the nearly 650-page regulation on Monday afternoon, but the initial reaction was generally supportive. America’s Health Insurance Plans said the rule “recognizes that states are in the best position to establish exchanges because they have the experience and local-market knowledge needed to best meet consumers’ needs,” while also warning against redundancy in state exchanges.

The advocacy group Families USA praised the new rules as “a major milestone on the path to consumer empowerment.”

The sharpest criticism came from the Republican Governors Association, which said HHS hasn’t provided enough “clarity” on the federal exchange or issues like cost-sharing.

“This Administration’s inability to provide critical guidance to their broken healthcare reform mandate gives more and more credence to the necessity of the Supreme Court ruling this law unconstitutional,” RGA Chairman Bob McDonnell (Va.) said in a statement.

Speaking of SCOTUS: With oral arguments just two weeks away, the last written briefs are making their way to the Supreme Court. The 26 states suing over the healthcare law filed their final brief Monday on the Medicaid expansion, which they say is coercive. The brief is available here.

On Tuesday, both the states and the Justice Department will file their last briefs on the question of severability. The court appointed a third party to argue that the mandate can be struck down on its own, without taking any other provisions along with it. The states and Justice must respond to that argument by Tuesday.

About that 'rationing' board: The conservative group 60 Plus launched ads targeting five vulnerable Senate Democrats for supporting the Independent Payment Advisory Board. Separately, the trial lawyers' lobby put its foot down after House Republicans decided they were going to pay for their repeal bill with a medical malpractice legislation that's not nearly as bipartisan. Healthwatch's Julian Pecquet has those stories here and here.

Tuesday's agenda

Not much happening on Capitol Hill, health policy-wise, but plenty of action around town.

At 9:30 a.m., the Peace Corps, PEPFAR [the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] and the Global Health Service Corps get together to launch the first international service program for medical professionals. The Global Health Service Partnership (GHSP) is a public-private partnership to send doctors, nurses and other health professionals abroad as medical educators; it will be formally launched at the National Press Club.

Later in the morning, the Boston-based Pioneer Institute hosts an in-depth discussion about the Massachusetts healthcare reform law, the model for federal legislation. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) has been invited to provide opening remarks. Here's the agenda.

In Minneapolis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention host a press briefing on its week-long 2012 National STD Prevention Conference. Kevin Fenton, the director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, will give openings remarks.

Across the country, the California Endowment, 89.3 KPCC and many of California's most distinguished law schools host a moot court event to hear and argue challenges to President Obama's healthcare reform law two weeks before oral arguments in the Supreme Court. The audio will be streamed live here starting at 9 p.m. Eastern time.

State by state

Report: Healthcare law cuts put Medicare Advantage benefits at risk in some states

The Missouri House passed legislation allowing the state to track prescription drug purchases through an electronic database.

The battleground state of New Hampshire will be deluged with events and mailings marking the second anniversary of the healthcare reform law next week.

Bill tracker

Rep. Ralph HallRalph Moody HallGOP fights off primary challengers in deep-red Texas Most diverse Congress in history poised to take power Lawmakers pay tribute to Rep. Ralph Hall MORE (R-Texas) introduced a bill to cover computed tomography colonography as a colorectal cancer screening test under the Medicare program (H.R. 4165).

Rep. Charles Dent (R-Pa.) has a bill amending ERISA to require parity for health insurance coverage of prosthetics or custom orthotics (H.R. 4175).

Reg watch

HHS is weighing whether to accept men who have sex with men as blood donors. Healthwatch has the story.

The Food and Drug Administration released draft industry guidance on direct-to-consumer television advertising for prescription drugs.

Reading list

Media blogger Jim Romenesko queries newspaper editors about why they're not running this week's Doonesbury cartoons on Republican-led abortion restrictions.

Drug user legislation is key for innovation, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) argues in Roll Call.

Medicaid needs to increase reimbursement rates if it's going to strengthen access to services, new research shows.

What you might have missed on Healthwatch

First lady: Anti-obesity effort not about government telling ‘people what to do’

Specter says Obama ditched him after he provided 60th vote to pass health reform

Santorum: Romney doesn’t 'tell the truth' to voters on healthcare

Healthcare issue will be a heavy lift for Romney against President Obama

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