OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Tea Party concerns stall tort reform

Fast-track unlikely: In an interview with Fox News before the Super Bowl, President Obama seemed reluctant to the idea of fast-tracking the numerous lawsuits. "Well, it first it goes to the appellate court — there's district court, then there are appeal courts, and then it goes to the Supreme Court," Obama said.

Liberal study finds no good individual mandate alternatives: Two proposed alternatives to the individual mandate would leave millions uninsured, according to a new study produced by former Obama adviser Jonathan Gruber for the liberal Center for American Progress. The two alternatives are using an auto-enrollment system similar for 401(k) pension plans and penalties for late enrollment, like the Medicare system uses. No alternative covers as many people or saves much money, Gruber concluded. 

Help wanted: Advocates for poor individuals want a lawmaker to spearhead legislation that would require states to keep Medicaid-eligible people on the program for 12 months at a time. The advocates are worried about "churning," in which people enter and drop out of Medicaid several times a year as income changes. 


Appropriations eliminates Title X funding: A partial list of 70 spending cuts announced by Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) includes elimination of $327 million in Title X family planning funds. The cuts, proposed for a seven-month continuing resolution, come as House Republicans are pushing legislation that would strip Title X funding to Planned Parenthood and other groups providing abortions.

Other healthcare cuts: The bill, which Republicans say will defund healthcare reform, will provide more than $74 billion in spending cuts. Cuts to other health-related programs include: Community health centers ($1.3 billion); National Institutes of Health ($1 billion); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ($755 million); maternal and child health block grants ($210 million); poison control centers ($27 million); Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services ($96 million); Food safety and inspection services ($53 million).

The grumbling begins: The Continuing Resolution, with plenty more detail, is scheduled for release Thursday. But affected stakeholders such as the National Association of Community Health Centers are already up in arms. 

"Today’s decision by House appropriators to cut $1.3 billion in funding to Community Health Centers levels a devastating blow to Americans who are already struggling in the economic recession," NACHC President and CEO Tom Van Coverden said in a statement. "If this cut were to be approved, it would will mean that America’s health centers will lose the capacity to serve 11 million patients over the next year, with well over 3.3 million current patients losing their care within the next few months. That is equivalent to terminating all health care to the entire population of Chicago, or to everyone living in the states of Wyoming, Vermont, North and South Dakota, and Alaska combined."

Berwick looks for patient safety boost: Trying to generate support for a major upcoming patient safety initiative, Medicare chief Don Berwick told doctors on Wednesday that they must not be resistant to the effort. Instead, patient safety "should be led" by physicians, Berwick said to the American Medical Association's national advocacy conference. The Centers for Medicaire and Medicaid Services has so far been quiet about details of the patient safety initiative, but Berwick said it will be rolled out in the coming weeks and months. 

Hands off end-of-life care, Berwick says: The CMS administrator said the government should "stay out" of end-of-life care planning decisions. End-of-life care has been a hot-button issue ever since the "death panel" myth took hold in 2009.


New rules for student health plans: Many of the reform law's consumer protections will soon apply to student health plans offered by colleges under a new rule proposed Wednesday. The plans are offered by 1,500 to 2,000 higher education institutions.

McCotter targets healthcare agencies: Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R- Miss.) is seeking co-sponsors for his bill to repeal health reform's Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute and the recovery act's Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. 

Prevention investment: HHS announced a $750 million investment in prevention and public health through healthcare reform funding. About $300 million will go to community prevention, $182 million to clinical prevention, $137 million to public health infrastructure and $133 million for research tracking.

Getting serious: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told the House Budget Committee that there needs to be a "serious" look at healthcare costs. "It would be difficult, I think ... to leave healthcare programs untouched and still achieve budgetary balance in the next 15 years," he said. 

AMA asks for gripes: The doctor's association on Wednesday asked their members for their opinion on burdensome regulations. Obama said his administration will root them out, and Republicans are launching a crusade against regulations that they say hurt job creation.

PhRMA PR: The drug industry is now sharing its message through charts.

Thursday's agenda:

Top health officials on the Hill: Berwick and CMS actuary Rick Foster will give separate testimonies to the House Ways and Means Committee about the reform law's impact on Medicare. House Republicans, getting their first crack at Berwick, will likely pepper him with questions about healthcare rationing views and problems they see in healthcare reform. Foster has fallen into favor with Republicans recently because of his position that the reform law will not lower healthcare costs and that some people will not be able to stay on their insurance. 

Pro-Life Caucus speaks out: The Pro-Life Women’s Caucus and other anti-abortion House members will join with advocacy groups to call for defunding of Planned Parenthood. Lila Rose, who made the undercover Planned Parenthood videos, will also attend.

FDA in 112th: Top Food and Drug Administration Officials will discuss the future of drug and device policy in the 112th Congress and beyond. The all-day event takes place at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Center. 

Utah highlights reforms: Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) will call for the federal government to provide Medicaid flexibility in an appearance at the Heritage Foundation.

AMA, Day 2: The AMA advocacy conference continues with a keynote speech from health IT czar David Blumenthal. 


Reading list:

New Hampshire's GOP-dominated House wants the attorney general to join a lawsuit against the reform law, but the Democratic governor said he will veto the bill, the Associated Press reports.

The U.S. Postal Service is warning that it will default on a $5.5 billion payment to the retiree healthcare fund due later this year, Federal Times reports

Alabama needs at least $700 million to sustain its Medicaid program, the Montgomery Adviser writes.

The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are at odds over healthcare reform's Accountable Care Organizations, the The New York Times reports.

The Food and Drug Administration scolded drug makers for not following up after being granted expedited review of six cancer drugs, according to The Wall Street Journal.


What you might have missed on Healthwatch:

Seventy-three House Democrats said Justice Clarence Thomas should recuse himself from healthcare reform cases on account of his wife's lobbying ties. 

Senate Democrats are bracing for the possibility that the House Republican majority can force their hand on abortion legislation.

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Julian Pecquet: jpecquet@thehill.com / 202-628-8527

Jason Millman: jmillman@thehill.com / 202-628-8351