First Edition: May 28, 2010

Today's health policy headlines focus on efforts by federal officials to get more insurance plans to move early on coverage for young adults as well as congressional Democrats' struggle to pass legislation to extend the COBRA benefit subsidy and to prevent a scheduled cut in Medicare payments to physicians.

Sebelius To Employers: Cover Young Adults Now
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey reports on a press conference yesterday in which Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius detailed how federal officials are working to get "self-insured employers — who provide health coverage for millions of Americans — to keep young adults up to age 26 on their parents’ plans before the new law requires them to do so."

Senate Approves Emergency War Funding; Larger Aid Bill Stalls In House
Late Thursday, House leaders were frantically disassembling the jobless package in hopes of winning over a large bloc of moderate Democrats for a scaled-down version. Talks were focused on removing about $24 billion in emergency aid to state governments, sought by governors in both parties, and paring back an extension of federal assistance to jobless workers who pay COBRA health insurance premiums. Both of those provisions are likely to be considered after the Memorial Day break, aides said. Meanwhile, House leaders also planned to remove a $23 billion provision that would postpone, until 2012, a 20 percent pay cut for doctors who see Medicare patients. The fee reduction is scheduled to take effect next week. (The Washington Post)

Dems Race To Pass Spending, Delay Cuts
House Democrats ordered still more cuts from their jobs and economic relief package in a desperate triage operation to save core provisions before Memorial Day. ... The latest round of cuts would eliminate $31 billion to pay for health-related benefits for the unemployed and federal aid to cash-strapped states to maintain Medicaid services. A third $21.9 billion Medicare provision, protecting physicians from deep cuts in their reimbursements over the next 19 months, will be made subject to a separate up-or-down vote. Left intact is $56.9 billion in tax-cut extensions and revenue offsets that pays for itself — as well as new infrastructure investments and summer jobs programs. (Politico) 

Levin: Tax Extenders Expected Friday
A tax extenders package will be considered on the House floor on Friday in two pieces, House Ways and Means Chairman Sander Levin (D-Mich.) told The Hill on Thursday night. … The bill doesn't include spending for COBRA insurance or federal medical assistance percentages. Those are expected to be considered separately when the House returns from a weeklong recess.
The second bill is for $23 billion and would extend for 19 months the "doc fix", a term referring to delaying a cut in Medicare reimbursements to doctors. (The Hill) 

Running Late On The EARLY Act
Although it’s racing to roll out consumer-friendly aspects of the health care law before November’s midterm elections, the Obama administration has just missed the deadlines to set up task forces on breast cancer and health care in Alaska.
The health care law required Health and Human Services to establish the breast cancer task force by last weekend and the Alaska task force by the first week of May. But sources familiar with the situation said the department isn’t even close to having the two panels ready. (Politico)

GOP Moves To Repeal Healthcare Law
House Republican leaders introduced a bill Thursday to repeal and replace the sweeping healthcare law adopted in late March.
According to Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the measure would repeal the current law and replace it with the alternative the minority party offered to the original healthcare legislation last November. (The Hill)

'Doughnut Hole' Medicare Drug Rebates Start Going To Seniors Soon
Senior citizens who hit the so-called doughnut hole in Medicare's drug benefit will begin getting $250 rebate checks in two weeks, the Obama administration announced Thursday — providing one of the first tangible benefits of the recently enacted healthcare law. (Los Angeles Times)

Checks To Seniors With High Drug Bills Out Earlier
The Obama administration says checks to help seniors with high drug costs will go out starting June 10, ahead of schedule.The $250 checks for Medicare recipients who fall into the prescription drug coverage gap are a new benefit this year, provided under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law. (The Associated Press)

Medicare Checks For Drug 'Doughnut Hole' Coming Soon
There's nothing a politician likes to say more than "the check is in the mail." And today, that's what Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius got to tell many people who get their medicines through Medicare. (National Public Radio)

Employers Urged to Act Now to Expand Health Plans
Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said Thursday that employers should immediately offer or continue health insurance coverage for workers’ children up to the age of 26, at little or no additional cost. (The New York Times)

States Enlist Ultrasound To Raise Bar For Abortions
Over the last decade, ultrasound has quietly become a new front in the grinding state-by-state battle over abortion. With backing from anti-abortion groups, which argue that sonograms can help persuade women to preserve pregnancies, 20 states have enacted laws that encourage or require the use of ultrasound. (New York Times)

Republicans Criticize Obama Administration Brochure On Health-Care Overhaul
As the secretary of health and human services explains it, the government has an obligation to spread the word about the new health-care law. To that end, the department spent millions of dollars printing a glossy brochure and mailing it this week to 40 million Medicare beneficiaries detailing what Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called "the facts." … Not surprisingly, Republicans see it differently. (The Washington Post)

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