OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Supreme Court poses risks for GOP, too

It’s a hypothetical, obviously, but none of it is too far-fetched. While lawmakers aren’t discussing the possibility yet, lobbyists acknowledge that it’s a realistic possibility. Be sure to read our whole story on the challenges Republicans could face from the high court’s ruling.

Secret spending: Remember how the insurance industry gave $88 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to run ads against healthcare reform? Turns out it was actually $102 million. National Journal reported the updated total on Wednesday, adding transfers from 2010 to the previously reported spending from 2009. The contributions to the Chamber’s efforts aren’t subject to traditional political disclosures — they’re reported only on tax filings, and only in vague terms. Healthwatch has more.

Try harder: The IRS is doing a better job implementing its share of the Affordable Care Act, but still needs to make some changes, the Government Accountability Office said Wednesday. GAO said the tax agency has made good progress with its implementation effort, which covers some of the most complicated tasks in the whole law, including tax credits to help people pay for their insurance. But the IRS needs to strengthen its strategic planning and develop a better cost estimate for its work, GAO said. The report is available here.

CMM-Why: The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation is still in Republicans’ sights. Although the innovation center wasn’t initially considered to be an especially controversial piece of the ACA, the GOP has honed in on the center as potentially wasteful. Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.) joined in Wednesday with a letter to Health and Human Services asking for information about the CMMI’s grant process. Healthwatch has the details.

Brown backs military abortion access: Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) called on House GOP leaders Wednesday to accept Senate language in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would give women in the Armed Forces the same access to abortion that civilian federal employees have in cases involving rape or incest or when the life of the mother is at stake. Brown sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), which said the sexual assault of women in the military is "far more prevalent" than many believed, and said it is critical to provide them with abortion services similar to those granted to civilian employees. The Hill has more here.

Praise for Prevention Plan: Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, praised the Obama administration for releasing a new National Prevention Council Action Plan. The plan represents a second step in the implementation of the National Prevention Strategy to tackle issues such as obesity, tobacco use, health disparities and chronic disease. It involves commitments from the 17 federal departments and agencies on the Prevention Council to "increase tobacco free environments and access to healthy, affordable foods," among other priorities. "One year after the creation of the National Prevention Strategy, the Action Plan represents an important step forward to a future in which prevention and wellness are central tenets of not just our health care system, but also across every level of our government," Harkin said in a statement.

Bill would strike offensive term: Bipartisan legislation introduced Wednesday would strike the term "mentally retarded" from the section of the U.S. Code that governs major federal entitlements. The bill, from Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), would also expand the mental health services available to young people on Medicaid. The portion of the bill striking "mentally retarded" would apply to the Social Security Act, which includes Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Grassley emphasized that the new care option under Medicaid would mean better access to home- or community-based treatments for many young people with mental health needs — providing an alternative to institutional care. Healthwatch has the story.

CBO weighs cigarette tax increase: A new analysis found that increasing an excise tax on cigarettes would be a mixed bag, fiscally, for the United States in the long term, reducing average annual health spending initially but raising it as longevity increases. The Congressional Budget Office conducted the study, writing that "The federal government spends roughly $1 trillion on health care programs each year, so it is easy to imagine that policies that promote a healthier population could have a significant impact on the federal budget." It continued that the health effects of increasing a tax on cigarettes would "produce very small net reductions in the deficit for about five decades and very small increases in the deficit thereafter." Read the CBO's report and the accompanying blog post here.

More congrats for Barber: NARAL Pro-Choice America praised Ron Barber, the Democrat elected Tuesday to replace former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), for the "pro-choice values" he will bring to Congress. Barber beat his Republican opponent by six points in the special election to replace Giffords — a centrist Democrat who supported abortion rights in office. "Rep.-elect Barber is someone who will respect the fundamental values of freedom and privacy," NARAL President Nancy Keenan said in a statement. "He will stand up to those who seek to undermine a woman’s right to choose. His win reflects this district’s commitment to pro-choice policies." Read more at Healthwatch.

Thursday's agenda

The Senate Finance Committee will hold a roundtable on Medicare physician payments.

The Senate Homeland Security subcommittee on Federal Financial Management will hold a hearing on waste and fraud in Medicaid.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will continue its general meeting in Atlanta. The event will include a discussion of religious freedom — sure to refer to the Obama administration's birth-control coverage mandate — and will be streamed online.

State by state

Advocates at Consumer Watchdog filed a lawsuit against Blue Shield of California accusing the insurer of ending the sale of certain policies and then raising rates for those left in the plan. The San Francisco Chronicle has more.

Massachusetts is closer to establishing minimum standards for Alzheimer's and dementia care, the Boston Globe reports.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) says he is working on an alternative to President Obama's health reform plan, the Des Moines Register reports.

A prescription drug program in Minnesota aims to prevent doctor-shopping by drug addicts, Minnesota Public Radio reports.

Reading list

Investors, too, are preparing for the Supreme Court's ruling on healthcare reform. Reuters has the story.

The insurance industry is changing, no matter the outcome for the health law, says Aetna's CEO. Read The Wall Street Journal for the interview.

In a new study, doctors admitted to unprofessional behavior such as disparaging patients or attending events sponsored by drug or medical device manufacturers. Kaiser Health News has the story.

Birth-control pills carry an extremely low risk of stroke and heart attack, according to a new study. Reuters has more.

What you might have missed on Healthwatch

Abortion-rights groups cheer defeat of ND 'religious freedom' measure

GOP Rep. Ellmers asks administration for plan on health IT safety

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

Elise Viebeck: eviebeck@thehill.com / 202-628-8523

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