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Questionable Health Insurance Plans Cause Concern

Officials worry that people with no insurance will be drawn in by questionable health insurance plans. ABC News reports: The "[h]ealth care overhaul is stalled, resulting in a proliferation of plans that don't fully protect people, officials said. Watchdogs worry about two kinds of plans in particular." They point to the health discount cards "that say they get you cut rates on medical services but are not widely accepted." Also of concern "are limited-benefit plans that offer such skimpy coverage that a serious medical problem could still leave you stuck with enormous bills. ... Critics said it's hard to find providers that participate in these programs, and that the discounts are tiny" (Leamy, Weber and Evans, 2/2).

Lawmakers Sound Off On President's Budget And Health Costs

While White House Budget Director Peter Orszag testified on Capitol Hill about President Obama's fiscal 2011 budget, some members expressed concern about health costs, McClatchy reports. "Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., wanted more attention paid to how curbing health care costs could cut budget deficits ... Orszag, who showed no emotion during his testimony, calmly said that Obama had a long-term plan to reduce the deficits, notably an as-yet un-appointed bipartisan commission to recommend remedies and a renewed push for changes in the nation's health care system." A recommendation to bring down Social Security and Medicare costs and to raise taxes would face big resistance, however, Orszag said (Lightman, 2/2).

Lobbying, Ads Slow Down On Health Reform

"Drugmakers, business organizations and other interest groups in the health care battle have dialed down expensive lobbying campaigns as they assess how last month's stunning Republican capture of a Senate seat from Massachusetts has altered Washington's political landscape..., " The Associated Press reports. "Absent evidence that Obama and Democratic leaders are willing to aggressively revive the health package, some question whether they should push hard for a stalled measure that may never become law if all that achieves is annoying Republicans." But lobbyists are watching closely to see if a bill can be revived, "and even a small version could have an enormous impact.

States Consider Their Own Health Reform Ideas

The Associated Press/Boston Globe : "Supporters of a bill that seeks to bar lifetime and annual payment caps on health insurance plans in Maine say they expect a large crowd at a legislative committee's hearing on the proposal." The same topic has been considered by the U.S. Congress as part of Democrats health overhaul (2/3). The Baltimore Sun : "Major insurance trade groups in Maryland say the state doesn't need a new [insurance exchange] program, like the one Massachusetts created ahead of federal reform to help provide universal coverage there." Insurance agents and brokers are bracing to fight such proposals, even though Congress's bill is stalled and no local version is expected in the state legislature during this session (Cohn, 2/3).

Lawmakers Seek Details Of Obama's Closed-Door Meetings With Health Industry Groups

"In a rare display of bipartisanship, ... Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he'd help Dr. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) seek information on the names of representatives from the pharmaceutical, device, hospital, doctor, and insurance sectors, who met with White House officials regarding healthcare reform, " Medpage Today/ABC News reports. "Waxman and Burgess said they will also request any written materials regarding the 'sum and substance' of any deals made when the individual or groups met with a White House representative, and any 'written materials memorializing any agreements that were provided to outside participants.

Democrats Work To Restart Health Bill

Health care reform legislation "has a heartbeat, " Roll Call reports, adding that Democrats are hoping a "breather" helps cool emotions, but that their focus will continue to be on eventually passing legislation. "Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said a reconciliation package is under development by staff - apparently despite the opposition of moderate Senate Democrats. ... 'We're going to be working on this for the next couple weeks. I hope we have some movement on this before we leave here (for the Presidents Day recess), ' Harkin said. 'And then after we come back after that week, I hope we'll put the finishing touches on it and get it done'" (Drucker, 2/1).

Some States Restart Health Reforms While Others Push Back

"Lawmakers in at least two states, California and Missouri, have introduced legislation for the current session to create government-backed coverage for state residents, " The Wall Street Journal reports. "In others, including Virginia and New Jersey, legislators are hoping to tweak existing state programs to include more people. In 11 states, lawmakers have proposed bills for this year aimed at improving access to health care, said the National Conference of State Legislatures." Democrat Peggy Welch, head of the health committee for the group, "said states had hit the 'pause button' on many health issues, but they may soon be 'back for the states to wrestle with.

Iowa Senate To Consider Extending No-Cost Family Planning To Older Women

An Iowa Senate committee will soon debate a proposal to provide no-cost family planning services to low-income women ages 45 through 54 whose private insurance does not cover the care, the Des Moines Register reports. The proposal would include coverage of comprehensive annual exams, pap tests, cervical cancer screening, birth control and other services. Current law defines child-bearing age as ages 13 through 44. At least one Iowa physician is speaking out against extending the age limit to 54. Donald Young, a medical director at Mid-Iowa Fertility, said, "The odds of a woman taking home a baby at age 45 is one in 50, 000." He added, "The idea that we need to provide birth control/family planning services for women up to age 55 is against basic reproductive physiology and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Today's Op-Eds: Obama's Budget, Gingrich On Bipartisanship, Physician Clinics

Mr. Obama's New Budget The New York Times Medicare and Medicaid alone will cost $788 billion; that should be another reminder of why the country needs health care reform (2/1). A Bipartisan Prescription For National Health Care Reform Atlanta Journal-Constitution [W]e need a rational, bipartisan approach to health reform that is truly person-centered. It's time to come together to craft a plan that puts patients first rather than political and special interests (Newt Gingrich and Andrew Von Eschenbach, 2/1). An Obama-Sized Government National Review [The president's health] plan would create another runaway entitlement program and partly 'pay for it' with Medicare cuts that will never stand the test of time.

Hospital Mergers May Rise

Business Week/Bloomberg : "Failure to pass the health-care overhaul may accelerate a push by Community Health Systems Inc., Health Management Associates Inc. and LifePoint Hospitals Inc. to acquire facilities weakened by the recession. The nation's largest publicly traded hospital chains are stalking medical centers that have been hurt by the cost of charity care and unpaid bills in a recession, and are no longer confident stalled health legislation will add 30 million newly insured customers, said Sheryl Skolnick, an analyst at CRT Capital Group LLC in Stamford, Connecticut. A third of 5, 010 community hospitals had operating losses in 2008, according to the American Hospital Association" (Olmos, 2/2).

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