Overnight Healthcare

OVERNIGHT HEALTHCARE: Final Burwell vote expected this week

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has scheduled a procedural vote for Wednesday on the nomination of Sylvia Burwell for secretary of Health and Human Services.

The nomination is expected to easily clear the test vote, likely setting the way for Burwell to be confirmed as a member of President Obama’s Cabinet by the end of the week.

{mosads}While Democrats and some Republicans have touted Burwell’s management credentials in private and public life, a few Republicans have objected to her nomination as a protest against ObamaCare, which she will be responsible for managing once she takes the place of Kathleen Sebelius.

BURWELL COMMITTED TO CARBON PLAN: Speaking at the Health Consortium’s Health Datapalooza conference Tuesday, Sebelius praised the Obama administration’s new carbon plan and said Burwell, is committed to the changes as well.

Sebelius praised Obama’s plan to reduce carbon emissions, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says will cut 150,000 asthma attacks in children by 2030.

“Many of these reforms were years in the making,” she said. “The wonderful new incoming secretary is committed to them as well.”

GOP HUNTING HHS OFFICIALS: House Republicans are pushing the Obama administration to release the names of federal officials involved in awarding grants to troubled health insurance exchanges around the country.

The letter from Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) furthers the GOP’s effort to investigate and criticize failed exchanges at the state level, including Cover Oregon and Maryland Health Connection.

The lawmakers accused HHS of spending $1.3 billion on seven marketplaces where serious problems persist.

REGULATING HEALTH SOFTWARD: Upton and several of his GOP colleagues also wrote to Karen DeSalvo, national coordinator for health information technology (IT) at HHS, questioning whether the Office of National Coordinator (ONC) has the statutory authority to regulate health IT products based on a new report and whether it has the authority to receive user fees under its budget request.

The Food and Drug Administration is authorized to regulate medical devices under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and the lawmakers want to know what similar authority ONC has.

They are also looking into the extent to which the office is moving from its focus on coordinating and promoting health IT to regulating the industry, and what role the office will play in developing requirements for health IT and electronic health records certification.

DeSalvo’s efforts do have supporters. On Tuesday, she was praised by the industry group Health IT Now Coalition for restructuring ONC in a way the organization says could improve the use of electronic health records.

“The Health IT Now Coalition is encouraged that interoperability will be ONC’s top priority and focus under the realignment,” said Joel White, Executive Director of HITN. “We hope the realignment will focus and transform Meaningful Use into a truly meaningful program for patients and health care providers.”

PhRMA ATTACKS INSURERS: The leading pharmaceutical trade group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, is criticizing insurance carriers on ObamaCare’s exchanges for allegedly failing to help consumers afford high-cost medications.

In a blog post Tuesday, PhRMA pointed to new research showing that insurers tended to apply federal cost-sharing subsidies to deductibles and out-of-pocket caps rather than to specific treatments and services, including specialty drugs.

The comments are the latest in an all-out feud between PhRMA and the top insurance lobby group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, over the rising cost of specialty drugs.

HOSPITALS WANT SOME AUDITS STOPPED: The American Hospital Association has sent a letter to Sebelius asking HHS to stop what they say are redundant audits by HHS’s Office of Inspector General and recouping overpayments that are based on flawed statistical methods used by Medicare Recovery Audit Contractors (RAC).

The issue of RAC audits was the subject of a recent congressional hearing. Some lawmakers have voiced concerns the process may be too burdensome for some healthcare providers.

PREMIUM PRICES: While critics of ObamaCare have warned it will lead to higher premiums at least one company is actually lowering its premiums by double digits.

Oregon’s ObamaCare exchange is proposing to lower premiums an average of 16 percent next year, according to a report. The news come as state officials around the country begin to shed light on what consumers might pay on ObamaCare’s exchanges next year.


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Tags Harry Reid Health Health insurance exchange Healthcare reform in the United States Kathleen Sebelius Kathleen Sebelius Medicare Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Sylvia Burwell United States Department of Health and Human Services

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