Healthcare Thursday

HHS fights back on child-only coverage: The Obama administration is doing all it can to show it's being reasonable and flexible in implementing the healthcare reform law ahead of the midterm elections — and that insurers who still drop coverage are the ones to blame. The Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday announced new guidance on how states and insurers can work together to ensure child-only health plans can make a profit now that the law bans discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions. http://bit.ly/at5wVa

The announcement was immediately praised by the administration's allies and healthcare reform proponents. Health Care for America Now's Ethan Rome said "there is no legitimate reason for insurers to withdraw from these markets." Ron Pollack at Families USA added there is "no excuse" for insurers to pull out now that HHS has articulated a "reasonable position that gives health insurers the needed flexibility to protect against adverse risk selection." And the American Academy of Pediatrics calls on insurers to "do the right thing by returning to the market and offering quality child-only plans."

Today's the day for healthcare reform lawsuit: Federal Judge Roger Vinson has until the end of the day to meet his deadline for deciding whether the multi-state lawsuit against healthcare reform should go forward. http://bit.ly/ckKGZX

Hearing expected on Ohio abortion ads: The Ohio Election Commission is expected to hold a hearing today on whether to halt billboards that attack Rep. Steve Driehaus's vote for healthcare reform. The billboard ads, sponsored by the Susan B. Anthony List, accuse Driehaus of supporting taxpayer-funded abortion, which Democrats say is a distortion of what the law does. http://bit.ly/b0X9sb

Next door in Pennsylvania, Democrat Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper is also trying to stop another pro-life group from airing radio ads against her, The Associated Press reports, and SBA List has launched its own TV ad campaign criticizing her vote. http://bit.ly/aCoYT7

Administration to propose new rules on black lung: The Obama administration is scheduled to propose new rules today designed to eliminate black lung, a scourge affecting the nation's miners. The disease, more technically known as coal worker's pneumoconiosis ("dusty lung") is caused by inhaling coal dust over long periods of time. 

The big question about Thursday's announcement: Will the agency propose to reduce workers' permissible exposure limit to coal dust? Or will it simply take steps to limit miners' exposure to the dust? http://bit.ly/9e3BuG

Medicare Advantage fight continues: The debate over just how much the healthcare reform law will affect Medicare Advantage — and the millions of seniors who rely on the program — is flaring up again with the release of a new report from Medicare's chief actuary. The key finding: The law's impact on out-of-pocket costs for enrollees will steadily increase until 2017, to a high of $923 in 2017, before falling to $873 in 2019.

Federal Medicaid assistance to states falls short: So says a new report that looked at 24 states that count on recently approved federal funds to fill their Medicaid budgets. Those federal funds — known as the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages, or FMAP — fell $1.74 billion short of what those states hoped for, leaving gaping holes in state budgets, according to new research by The Council of State Governments. http://bit.ly/caYpE4

IOM recommends better nutrition labeling: Nutrition rating systems and symbols on the fronts of food packaging would be most useful to shoppers if they highlighted four nutrients of greatest concern — calories, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium — says a new report from the Institute of Medicine. These food components, the IOM says, are routinely overconsumed and associated most strongly with diet-related health problems affecting many Americans, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. http://bit.ly/cxPbI5

Pesticides ban demanded: Some 13,000 individuals and organizations from across the U.S. sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday calling for a ban on the pesticide chlorpyrifos and a phase-out of other organophosphate pesticides. The signees include consumers, families, health advocates and farm workers raising concerns with the widely used pesticides' link to attention and learning problems.

Concurrently, the Endocrine Disruption Exchange announced the addition of chlorpyrifos to their publicly-accessible online database, Critical Windows of Development, spotlighting animal research that links prenatal, low-dose chlorpyrifos exposure to altered health outcomes in the brain and other organs. http://bit.ly/10gZJ

Third workshop set on orphan drugs: The Food and Drug Administration has scheduled the third in a series of workshops on orphan drug designation for academics, biotechnology companies and those unfamiliar with the process for Nov. 4-5, 2010, in Lansdowne, Va. http://bit.ly/b22QAe