OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Dems put contraception policy back in the spotlight

Democrats also broadened their focus to emphasize the other preventive services women will soon be able to access without a co-pay or deductible. Although contraception got the most attention, it is just one of the eight services made available at the advice of an expert panel. Women will also have access to screenings for cancer, sexually transmitted diseases and gestational diabetes, all without cost-sharing.

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Healthwatch has the story on Democrats’ effort to highlight the new benefits.

Abortion bill fails: The House on Tuesday failed to pass a bill banning abortion in Washington, D.C., after the 20th week of pregnancy. The 220-154 vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), said abortion should be illegal after 20 weeks because that's when he says fetuses are able to feel pain — a position that a federal judge in Arizona agreed with just a day earlier. Opponents argued that the legislation doesn't have adequate protections for victims of rape or incest and said it also would restrict abortions that are necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman.

On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced a similar proposal as an amendment to the upper chamber's cybersecurity bill. The Hill has the story.

Welfare probe: House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) are asking government investigators whether Congress can move to block a recent welfare policy change by the Obama administration. The two lawmakers wrote to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Tuesday, expressing their disappointment with the administration's decision to issue certain waivers under the landmark 1996 welfare-to-work law. Republicans say the move will allow states to circumvent work requirements for people on welfare; Democrats and the administration say the policy change will strengthen the work requirement by allowing states to test approaches that "measurably" improve employment among welfare recipients.

"This review by the nonpartisan GAO will determine whether Congress can use expedited procedures to block HHS from waiving work requirements," Camp said in a statement. Read more on the story at Healthwatch.

Doc fix, again: Congress is facing yet another massive cut in Medicare payments to doctors at the end of the year, requiring yet another short-term "doc fix" to postpone the cut. The Congressional Budget Office released new estimates Tuesday for a wide range of options, including "cliff options," which simply postpone the scheduled cut, and "clawback options," which allow the scheduled cut to grow.

The doc fix is a perennial headache for lawmakers — and doctors — and the next patch will be even more stressful, as it's coming along just as Congress will be scrambling to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff." CBO's latest analysis is here.

Obama on top: President Obama has a double-digit lead over GOP rival Mitt Romney on the most pressing healthcare issues in the 2012 election, according to the latest Kaiser tracking poll. Obama held a sizable edge when voters were asked who they trusted more on four key issues — the future of the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid and lowering healthcare costs.

Obama bested Romney on all four fronts even though public opinion on the ACA remained divided, and mostly negative, in the monthly poll. Although voters are split on the law’s merits, independent voters want politicians to move on, and they don’t support defunding the law as a backdoor alternative to repeal.

Healthwatch has more details from the poll.

Misunderstood mandate: One more note from the Kaiser survey: the number of people who think they’ll have to pay a penalty to the IRS is much bigger than the number who will actually have to. Furthermore, voters’ predictions varied based on how the payment was described.

The mandate requires most Americans to buy insurance or pay a tax penalty to the IRS. When the penalty was described as a “fine” for being uninsured, 12 percent of respondents in the Kaiser poll said they expect they’ll have to pay it. When it was described as a “tax,” 26 percent said they’d pay the penalty.

According to estimates cited in the Kaiser poll, the mandate will force about 10 percent of Americans to make a new choice between buying insurance or paying a penalty. Many will choose insurance, so the number of people paying the fine/penalty will be even lower.

“The public opinion bottom line: a substantial number of people are anticipating a financial hit that will never come,” Kaiser said.

Affordability ‘glitch’ persists: A group of healthcare and children’s advocates are pushing the Obama administration to fix a “glitch” in the Affordable Care Act’s definition of an “affordable” insurance plan. The law says an employer-based policy is affordable if it costs less than 9.5 percent of a worker’s income. People who don’t have access to an affordable policy can get subsidies from the federal government.

But the definition of “affordable” applies the 9.5 percent standard only to individual policies — not family plans. So if an employee is able to buy an “affordable” policy that only covers herself, she can’t get subsidies to help buy a plan covering the rest of her family, even if the family plan costs far more than 9.5 percent of her income.

Advocates say that’s the wrong interpretation of the Affordable Care Act, and were disappointed to see it included in implementing regulations.

“Such an interpretation is not only contrary to the language and spirit of the ACA, it would also result in serious coverage losses for children and spouses, and could lead to serious adverse outcomes, especially for children with special health care needs and pregnant women,” the groups, including Families USA and First Focus, said in a recent letter to Obama.

Read the letter here, and a recent GAO report on the issue here.


Wednesday's agenda

The House Ways and Means subcommittees on Health and Social Security will hold a joint hearing on removing Social Security numbers from Medicare cards.

Several House Republican freshmen will hold a press conference against the federal birth-control coverage mandate.

The House Judiciary Committee will mark up H.R. 2800, the Missing Alzheimer's Disease Patient Alert Program Reauthorization of 2011.

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues will convene for the first day of its tenth public meeting. 


State by state

State lawmakers in Massachusetts debate healthcare cost bill

Florida health officials come under fire for handling of TB outbreak

Arizona governor urged to halt medical-marijuana program


Lobbying registrations

SAG-AFTRA / self-registration


Reading list

Poll: A quarter of Americans expect to pay individual mandate tax

In-store clinics look to be a remedy for healthcare law influx

Medicaid could be scaled back sharply under GOP plans

NIH official calls for longer moratorium on bird flu experiments

Panel advises against routine treadmill stress tests


What you might have missed on Healthwatch

Reid rejects GOP call for health repeal vote via cybersecurity bill.

Lieberman asks senators not to add amendments on healthcare, guns to cyber bill.

Report: Rep. Bachmann wants to work with Rep. Ellison on fighting Medicaid fraud.

Harkin blasts House GOP over DC abortion bill.


Comments / complaints / suggestions?


Please let us know:

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

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

Follow us on Twitter @hillhealthwatch

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