OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Health spending grows at slowest rate on record

U.S. healthcare spending grew 3.6 percent in 2013, the slowest rate on record since 1960, federal health officials reported Wednesday. The figures represent good news for the Obama administration in its effort to contain the growth of healthcare costs, though experts disagreed on how much the federal healthcare law played a role.

Total medical expenditures in the United States reached $2.9 trillion last year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said in an annual report. The total share of the economy devoted to health remained largely the same at 17.4 percent, while health spending per person was $9,255, up from $8,915 in 2012, the report stated.

"This report is another piece of evidence that our efforts to reform the healthcare delivery system are working," said CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner in a statement.

Civil servants who prepared the report said ObamaCare influenced the slowdown but said the economy was the biggest factor. "The most prominent provisions of the Affordable Care Act were implemented in 2014 and will be discussed in our historical report next year," said Micah Hartman, a statistician in the Office of the Actuary at CMS.

The conflicting emphases highlight a perennial policy debate over the historically low rise in medical spending over the last five years. Read more here

New ObamaCare numbers: About 1.5 million people applied for ObamaCare plans in the first two weeks of open enrollment, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Wednesday. Out of the total applications submitted, about 765,000 plans have already been picked, according to a weekly enrollment snapshot by HHS. Read more here.

NGO puts pressure on military: The head of Doctors Without Borders's U.S. branch said Wednesday that the American military must do more than “transport cement” to help fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Executive Director Sophie Delaunay said in an interview that the armed forces' current role in West Africa has been “insufficient," leaving too much of the work to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

“We did very much welcome the military in this environment,” Delaunay told The Hill. “But from the very beginning, we were critical of the fact that the job of the military would only be building the centers and leaving NGOs to actually run them.” Read more here.

Labeling rules seek to help pregnant women: Pharmaceutical companies are facing new labeling requirements on drugs that could pose a risk to pregnant women. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Wednesday it is overhauling the pregnancy labeling requirements on prescription drugs and biological products.

"More information about drugs will be provided than ever before," said Sandra Kweder, the FDA's deputy director of the office of new drugs.

Companies will be required to provide relevant information to doctors about the risks their drugs pose to pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding, and their children. The FDA is concerned doctors don’t have enough information about how prescription drugs affect pregnant women. The new requirements will make companies summarize any available information on their labels.

"Often times, companies know about the information in the medical literature and they have chosen for whatever reason not to use it," Kweder said. Read more here.

Harkin reflects on ObamaCare passage: Sen. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinTrump's trial a major test for McConnell, Schumer New Hampshire parochialism, not whiteness, bedevils Democrats Democrats must question possible political surveillance MORE, one of the co-authors of the Affordable Care Act, now thinks Democrats may have been better off not passing it at all and holding out for a better bill. The Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, laments the complexity of legislation the Senate passed five years ago. He wonders in hindsight whether the law was made overly complicated to satisfy the political concerns of a few Democratic centrists who have since left Congress. 

“We had the power to do it in a way that would have simplified healthcare, made it more efficient and made it less costly and we didn’t do it,” Harkin told The Hill. “So I look back and say we should have either done it the correct way or not done anything at all.

“What we did is we muddled through and we got a system that is complex, convoluted, needs probably some corrections and still rewards the insurance companies extensively,” he added. Read more here

Thursday’s schedule:

The Hill will host an event on the future of biosimilar drugs.
The Peter G. Peterson Foundation will launch the Peterson Center on Healthcare.

State by state:

Despite GOP opposition, Florida site will sell ObamaCare plans 

Medicaid expansion could help close Virginia budget gap, health secretary says

Court considers legality of Pittsburgh buffer zones around abortion clinics

Another GOP governor flips for Medicaid expansion

Medicaid costs up $950M in La. as hospitals privatize

Reading list:

House GOP wants omnibus to block DC pot law

Medicare spending cuts on erection aids would save $444M

Prescription painkiller deaths drop for the first time in a decade, CDC finds

WHO: Ebola spreading intensely in Sierra Leone, global toll rising

Newtown teachers ask for continuing mental health funding

What you might have missed from The Hill:

Medicare moves to boot bad actors

ObamaCare outreach campaigns microtargeting uninsured

Senate passes bill to prioritize Ebola treatments


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