OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Medicare trustees push Congress to act quickly

Medicare’s hospital trust fund will be insolvent by 2024, the Medicare trustees said in their annual report Monday. The trustees said the impending budget crisis should spur Congress to act quickly, but the partisan gridlock around entitlement reform was on full display Monday.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney charged that President Obama doesn’t have a real plan to tackle entitlements, while top administration officials used the report to beat up on Republicans’ politically unpopular effort to privatize Medicare.


But if Congress doesn’t act, according to the trustees, Medicare’s hospital benefit won’t have enough money to cover its expenses, and benefits will have to be cut one way or another.

Healthwatch has the details from Monday’s report and the political fallout.

Personhood politics: Senate Democrats’ campaign arm attacked all of the potential challengers to Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillLobbying world Ex-Rep. Akin dies at 74 Republicans may regret restricting reproductive rights MORE (D-Mo.) on Monday for supporting a controversial “personhood” measure. The personhood movement seeks to define life as beginning at the moment of fertilization, which could limit access to services like contraception and in vitro fertilization.

Two of the Republicans vying to face McCaskill this fall said in a debate that they believe life begins at conception, but declined to take a specific stance on personhood. The third challenger, GOP Rep. Todd Akin, said he would support a constitutional amendment stating that life begins at conception.

Democrats’ campaign committee said all three candidates are “tacitly supporting” personhood.

Auditors slam Medicare demo as wasteful: A program designed to improve care for some Medicare beneficiaries came under fire from the Government Accountability Office, which found the effort's design problematic and its $8 billion price tag too high.

The program awards quality bonuses to certain insurers for improving care — a goal the administration stood by amid the criticism — and is meant to alleviate cuts to managed care programs contained in the 2010 healthcare overhaul.

Republicans, who have long suspected the program to be a political ploy, praised GAO's finding.

"The Obama Administration seems to be using a technicality to side step Congress and write itself a blank check to spend more money for political purposes leading into this year’s elections," Senate Finance Committee ranking member Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears MORE (R-Utah) said in a statement.

Healthwatch has more.

It’ll be over soon: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen SebeliusKathleen Sebelius65 former governors, mayors back bipartisan infrastructure deal Fauci: 'Horrifying' to hear CPAC crowd cheering anti-vaccination remarks The Memo: Biden and Democrats face dilemma on vaccine mandates MORE said the Medicare demonstration won’t be renewed, and will expire as scheduled in 2014. Asked about the Government Accountability Office’s findings on Monday, she said spending on Medicare Advantage has gone down because of the Affordable Care Act, even including the costs of the demonstration program. Seniors are increasingly moving to higher-quality plans, and MA plans now pay 107 percent of traditional Medicare, compared with 114 percent before the ACA, she said.

CMS touts savings: President Obama's healthcare law will save Medicare about $200 billion by 2016, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). CMS found that the law will also save seniors about $60 billion in out-of-pocket costs.

“In the short term, both taxpayers and beneficiaries will save billions thanks to the health care law,” acting CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said in a statement.

Healthwatch has the story.

Tuesday’s agenda

The American Enterprise Institute holds a discussion on “The Future of Medicare.” Sens. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnBiden and AOC's reckless spending plans are a threat to the planet NSF funding choice: Move forward or fall behind DHS establishes domestic terror unit within its intelligence office MORE (R-Okla.) and Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrTexas Democrat Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson announces retirement at end of term On The Money — IRS chief calls for reinforcements Burr brother-in-law ordered to testify in insider trading probe MORE (R-N.C.) are slated to speak.

The Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on the “anatomy of a fraud bust,” featuring testimony from Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel Levinson.

Kathleen Sebelius delivers a speech at an Alzheimer’s Association forum.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee begins marking up its cost-cutting recommendations for the Budget Committee, including billions of dollars in healthcare cuts.

State by state

In Connecticut, the legislature's tax-writing panel approved a medical marijuana bill and sent it to the state House.

The New Hampshire state Senate will look at half a dozen healthcare bills on Wednesday, including one to ban partial-birth abortions, one to exempt religious employers from providing contraceptive coverage to employees and one to prohibit taxpayer funding for institutions that provide abortions.

Three hospitals in Massachusetts were cited for denying emergency-room care.

Bill tracker

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) introduced legislation "to require individual and group health insurance coverage and group health plans and Federal employees health benefit plans to provide coverage for routine HIV screening." (H.R. 4470)

Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedOvernight Defense & National Security — Quick vote on defense bill blocked again Rubio blocks quick votes on stalemated defense bill Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE (D-R.I.) introduced legislation to "prevent the occurrence of cancer resulting from the use of ultraviolet tanning lamps by providing sufficient information to consumers regarding the health risks associated with the use of such devices." (S. 2301)

Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiTwo women could lead a powerful Senate spending panel for first time in history Harris invites every female senator to dinner next week Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? MORE (D-Md.) introduced legislation to "amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to allow chiropractors to provide items and services through private contracts under the Medicare program." (S. 2304)

Lobbying registrations

Hart Health Strategies / National Virus Hepatitis Roundtable

McGuireWoods Consulting / The Cook Group

Liz Robbins Associates / Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation

National Health Advisors / Hill-Rom Holdings

Hart Health Strategies / American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine

Colette Desmarais / Employers Council on Flexible Compensation

Hart Health Strategies / American Association of Tissue Banks

Strategic Health Care / Association of Organ Procurement Organizations

Hart Health Strategies / American College of MOHS Surgeons

Foley & Lardner / Cambridge Isotope Laboratories

Marmon Consulting / Active Policy Solutions on behalf of After-School All-Stars

Ferguson Groups / SAS Institute

Jeffrey J. Kimbell and Associates / Genentech

M.J. Simon & Company / National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association

Jeffrey J. Kimbell and Associates / AqueSys

Jeffrey J. Kimbell and Associates / AcuFocus

Foley Hoag / Chimerix 

Reading list

Life expectancy in the United States varies by as much as 15 years in a county-by-county breakdown, The Daily reports.

Antidepressants might not ease autism symptoms as much as the research suggests, according to a new study reported by the Los Angeles Times.

A routine appendectomy in California can cost $1,500 or $182,955, according to a study that examined variations in hospital charges. The New York Times has the story.

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