OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Congress closes in on another short-term 'doc fix'

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), once of the conferees, also said he's "not happy with the pay-fors," or about doing another short-term doc fix. But he said he'll still vote for the bill.

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While lawmakers were preparing to declare victory, physicians' groups unleashed a familiar torrent of criticism for yet another failure to repeal the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula once and for all: 

• "People outside of Washington question the logic of spending nearly $20 billion to postpone one cut for a higher cut next year, while increasing the cost of a permanent solution by about another $25 billion," commented American Medical Association President Peter Carmel.

• "There are still no answers for the Medicare community on a permanent SGR fix," deplored Alliance of Specialty Medicine spokesman Alex Valadka.

• "Temporary extensions do not solve the problem, and Congress should not pretend they are resolving their constituents' health insecurity with such patches," scolded Glen Stream, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

The American Osteopathic Association, meanwhile, declared itself "deeply disappointed that Congress continues to squander opportunities to repeal the flawed" SGR.

Contraception controversy: The debate over President Obama’s birth-control mandate continues tomorrow with a hearing in the House Oversight committee. The panel will hear from bishops, a rabbi and a Baptist minister on the birth-control policy and the question of whether the White House has “trampled on” the freedom of religion.

With Rep. Darrell Issa (D-Calif.) at the helm, the hearing could provide some of the fireworks that were noticeably absent from a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday. Republicans hardly mentioned the birth-control issue as they questioned Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusFederal investigators concluded Ryan Zinke's MAGA socks violated Hatch Act Federal investigators concluded Ryan Zinke's MAGA socks violated Hatch Act Kansas Senate race splits wide open without Pompeo MORE, despite the Senate GOP’s pledge to keep fighting until the administration gives in.

Healthwatch has more on the conspicuous silence.

The only questions about contraception came from Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchA health insurer takes on his own industry: Describe clearly what we favor, not attack what we oppose A health insurer takes on his own industry: Describe clearly what we favor, not attack what we oppose Trump to award Medal of Freedom to economist Arthur Laffer MORE (R-Utah), who wanted to know whether Sebelius hadconsulted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops about the new policy. She said she did not. You can read the Healthwatch post on that, too.

Just sayin’: More than 80 million people got preventive healthcare services last year because of healthcare reform, according to figures the White House just happened to release right in the middle of a Republican attack on one of the preventive services covered by healthcare reform.

Healthwatch has the details.

The other mandate: The individual insurance mandate is constitutional, President Obama said during an interview with a Las Vegas television station. He said he wouldn’t try to predict the Supreme Court’s ruling on the mandate, but that he’s confident it passes constitutional muster.

“I would not have proposed the notion that people have to get insurance ... if I didn’t think it was constitutional,” said Obama, a former constitutional law professor. The video is here.

Muddled mandate messaging: White House Budget Director Jeff Zients contradicted part of the Obama administration’s healthcare defense on Wednesday, telling the House Budget Committee that the mandate is not a tax. People who don’t buy insurance will have to pay money to the federal government — whether they’re paying a “penalty” or a “tax,” though, is up for debate. The Justice Department has defended the mandate in part by arguing that it’s a fair use of Congress’s taxing power, but politically, Democrats have insisted it’s not a tax.

Read more about Zients’ testimony here.

Blowing the whistle: The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) announced that it is broadening its investigation into the Food and Drug Administration's alleged retaliation against nine whistleblowers who raised concerns that the agency was approving unsafe medical devices. The investigation was requested by Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Trade chief defends Trump tariffs before skeptical Congress | Kudlow denies plan to demote Fed chief | Waters asks Facebook to halt cryptocurrency project On The Money: Trade chief defends Trump tariffs before skeptical Congress | Kudlow denies plan to demote Fed chief | Waters asks Facebook to halt cryptocurrency project Trade chief defends Trump tariffs before skeptical Congress MORE (R-Iowa) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). Healthwatch has the story.

Keep on taxing: With the medical device industry pushing for Congress to nix the healthcare reform law's 2.3 percent tax as part of its reauthorization of user fees, the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is out with a new report pushing back against lobbyist talking points. In particular, the report points out, medical device makers won't shift production overseas because the tax applies to both imported and domestically produced medical devices while exempting U.S. exports. Here's the report.


Thursday's agenda

Karen Mills, the administrator of the Small Business Administration, teams up with John Arensmeyer of the pro-healthcare-reform Small Business Majority at 11 a.m. for a conference call to discuss "one of President Obama’s proposals to help make health care more affordable for small businesses."

Steve Larsen, the director of the agency implementing the healthcare law's insurance overhaul, makes an "important announcement relating to a provision of the Affordable Care Act" at 3 p.m.

In the morning, SCOTUSblog and Bloomberg Law host a Supreme Court argument briefing on the constitutionality of the healthcare reform law at the National Press Club. 

Panelists include Paul Clement, counsel to the plaintiff states; Michael Carvin, counsel to plaintiff National Federation of Independent Business; Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general; and Yale Law School Professor Akhil Reed Amar. The event will be moderated by SCOTUSblog's Tom Goldstein.


Bill tracker

Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganTillis trails Democratic challenger by 7 points in North Carolina poll Tillis trails Democratic challenger by 7 points in North Carolina poll North Carolina businessman will challenge Tillis in GOP primary MORE (D-N.C.) dropped a bill to accelerate the development of medical treatments for people with unmet medical needs. The Transforming the Regulatory Environment to Accelerate Access to Treatments (TREAT) Act is intended to accelerate the review and approval process for medicines that:

• treat an unmet medical need;

• significantly advance the standard of care; or

• are highly targeted therapies for serious or life-threatening diseases or conditions.

Reps. Kathleen Hochul (D-N.Y.) and Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) introduced legislation requiring the Veterans Affairs Department to improve telehealth and telemedicine for veterans (H.R. 4023)

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions MORE (R-Utah) dropped a bill restricting abortions in the district of Columbia (S. 2103).


State by state

Alaska is making progress on setting up an insurance exchange despite its adamant opposition to the healthcare reform law.

Missouri lawmakers endorsed legislation that would allow any employer to refuse to provide health insurance coverage for contraception if doing so goes against the employer's religious beliefs.

The Oregon Senate backed the governor's healthcare overhaul.


Lobbying registrations

Mr. Dean Martilli / Noble Hospital (Westfield, Mass.)


Reading list

The Washington Post asks why prevention funding gets shortchanged on Capitol Hill.

The Christian Science Monitor ponders the extent of the nation's healthcare fraud problem.

HealthcareITNews examines the repercussions of the Medicare agency delaying new reporting burdens on doctors.


What you might have missed on Healthwatch

Health agency chief urged to sit out Obama fundraisers


Comments / complaints / suggestions? Please let us know:

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

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

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