OVERNIGHT HEALTHCARE: NIH could see $10 billion funding boost

Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday unveiled a long-awaited draft of legislation to speed up the approval of new drugs and treatments.

The bipartisan, multi-billion initiative, known as 21st Century Cures, includes major overhauls of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The bill would reform the government's rules for clinical trials, create new incentives for drug companies to study rare diseases and put a far greater focus on patient data to move toward "personalized medicine," according to the 200-page draft.

It would also add $10 billion to the NIH's budget over five years – an issue that has been a major sticking point for the committee trying to reach a consensus.

The proposed funding level would exceed President Obama's budget request this year by more than $1 billion. The committee is still deciding how the funding increases will be offset, if at all, according to an aide.

The latest version of the bill is the result of more than a year of talks between Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), as well as dozens of companies and government officials. It is about half the size of the previous version in January, which was more than 400 pages, but was not endorsed by any Democrats.

The full committee will meet Thursday to discuss the draft with officials from both the FDA and the NIH. Read more here.

FINALIZED GOP BUDGET TARGETS OBAMACARE: House and Senate Republicans on Wednesday unveiled a budget deal that aims to torpedo ObamaCare while balancing the federal books within 10 years.

The deal seeks to use the budget procedure known as reconciliation to send a repeal of the healthcare law to President Obama's desk, delivering a victory to Congress's more conservative members.

While the earlier blueprints passed by the House and Senate were similar, several differences had to be bridged by GOP negotiators, most notably on Medicare. The deal does not include a proposal from the House budget that would have called for giving seniors the option under Medicare of enrolling in private insurance. Read more here.

MEDICAID BATTLE HEATS UP BETWEEN FLORIDA, FEDS: Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) officially filed a lawsuit over ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion on Wednesday, arguing that the federal government disregarded his previous concession on the issue.

The complaint filed in the case argues that Florida actually agreed not to spend federal dollars meant for hospital reimbursements on costs that would otherwise be covered by expanding Medicaid. But Scott said that the administration's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) disregarded that concession in a letter it then sent to the state laying out its terms.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) agrees with Scott that this constitutes a hardball tactic of trying to force Medicaid expansion by threatening to separate funds. Abbott has backed the Florida lawsuit. Read more here

FEDS NOT CAREFUL ENOUGH WITH OBAMACARE GRANTS: Some states running their own ObamaCare exchanges may be illegally using federal dollars to keep them afloat, according to a new warning from a government auditor.

The inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said officials must better inform states about the purpose of the grants to prevent them from improperly using the money to prop up their health insurance exchanges.

"This issue is a significant matter and requires CMS's immediate attention," inspector general Daniel Levinson wrote to the acting head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Under current rules, states can only use the grants for costs related to "design, development, and implementation" of the sites for buying insurance. But with some state exchanges facing budget woes this year, the auditor said "there is a risk" that officials will use the grants to pay for overhead costs instead. Read more here.

Thursday's schedule

House Energy and Commerce's health panel will hold a hearing on the latest version of its 21st Century Cures bill.

The Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on health will hold a hearing on the budget for the National Institutes of Health.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) will speak at an event called "ObamaCare at Five" hosted by the Washington Examiner.

State by state

California's individual health insurance market grows 64 percent to 2.2 million

Feds tell Florida: Medicaid and hospital dollars not connected

Kansas lawmakers block audit of privatized Medicaid program 

What we're reading

Healthcare spending rises 5.5 percent while rest of economy sputters

UN says it will try to identify all Ebola cases by June

Doctors may be missing many cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia in women

What you might have missed from The Hill

House to vote on disapproving D.C.'s reproductive health law

Some insurers ignore ObamaCare birth control rule  

Senate Dems call for speedy e-cig regulations

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