Week ahead: Health programs in flux amid ‘fiscal cliff’ talks

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Exactly which Medicare and Medicaid cuts are on the table isn’t yet clear, but the talks have so far revolved largely around raising the Medicare eligibility age and requiring wealthier seniors to pay higher premiums for the popular program. Some combination of provider cuts could also be in the mix, although those savings likely won’t add up to Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) ambitious $600 billion target.

This week also marks the deadline for states to decide whether they plan to set up their own insurance exchanges. States must tell the Health and Human Services Department by Friday whether they plan to operate their own exchanges, but only a handful of states have yet to make a decision.

After New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie rejected a state exchange again this past week, the undecided states are Pennsylvania, Idaho and Tennessee. If those states don’t want to set up exchanges entirely on their own, they have the option to work in partnership with the federal government or leave the task entirely up to HHS.

States also have a decision to make about whether to participate in the healthcare law’s Medicaid expansion, though they don’t face a deadline for making that call. Republicans have largely rejected the expansion, even though the federal government covers all of the additional costs in the first few years.

Exchanges and Medicaid will be the subject of a hearing Thursday of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Healthcare panel. HHS and state health officials are slated to testify at the hearing, titled “State of Uncertainty: Implementation of PPACA’s Exchanges and Medicaid Expansion.”

Also on Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on options for the reducing costs and improving the quality for patients who receive both Medicare and Medicaid.

In the House, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday on the use human growth hormone by professional football players. Later that day, a Ways and Means subcommittee will hold a hearing on child deaths from maltreatment.

Off Capitol Hill, the Bipartisan Policy Center is holding an event Monday on health information technology. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is slated to attend.