Healthcare News January 27, 2012

  • Santorum hits Romney on healthcare

    Rick Santorum launched another scathing attack Thursday against the healthcare plan Mitt Romney signed into law as Massachusetts governor.

    Thursday’s debate marked the second time in the past three GOP debates in which Santorum has aggressively attacked Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on healthcare. Both men have supported an individual insurance mandate — a pivotal part of President Obama’s healthcare law. 

    The similarities between Romney and Obama’s plans go much further.

    “We cannot give the issue of healthcare away in this election,” Santorum charged during a lengthy attack on Romney.

    Romney again cited the differences between state and federal law to defend his record on the issue. But Santorum pressed Romney to admit that purchasing insurance is mandatory “as a condition of breathing in Massachusetts.”

    Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod was happy to agree with Santorum on the similarities between the two laws, and he hit Romney for pledging to repeal Obama’s effort.

    “In explaining MA plan, Mitt just offered an eloquent explanation of the Affordable Care Act he says he would repeal,” Axelrod tweeted.

  • OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Romney and Gingrich face off on health — again

    Which issue will get more time during tonight’s Republican debate: healthcare or colonizing the moon?

    Newt Gingrich is on defense heading into tonight’s forum, the last debate before the crucial Florida primary. He has faced strong criticism this week from Mitt Romney and from Republican establishment figures. But when Gingrich is on offense against Romney, healthcare is a key focus.

    A pro-Gingrich super-PAC made a $6 million ad buy in Florida earlier this week for a spot that hammers Romney on healthcare. It’s the only issue in the ad, which includes clips of Romney saying he expected other states to follow Massachusetts’s example and require their residents to buy health insurance. The spot questions his credibility on repealing President Obama’s healthcare law, which was modeled largely on the reforms Romney signed as Massachusetts governor.

    Third-place candidate Rick Santorum has also been trying lately to bring the primary around to healthcare, arguing at the past two debates that he’s the only candidate who can draw a clear contrast with Obama on the issue.

    The debate airs at 8 p.m. on CNN.

    Seriously, they are very similar: The liberal advocacy group Families USA was out Thursday with a new comparison of Romney and Obama’s healthcare laws, emphasizing that the two have a lot more in common than an individual mandate. The report is available here.

  • Doctors lobby urges GOP to halt new insurance codes

    The largest physicians lobby has sent House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) a letter urging him to halt a federal requirement forcing doctors to switch to new insurance codes in 2013.

    The American Medical Association (AMA) says switching to so-called ICD-10 coding will require doctors’ offices to deal with some 68,000 codes, more than five times the current 13,000. The change will cost medical practices anywhere between $83,290 and more than $2.7 million, depending on size — at a time when Medicare payment rates face an almost 30 percent cut.

    The switch will “create significant burdens on the practice of medicine with no direct benefit to individual patient care,” AMA CEO James Madara wrote to Boehner.

    Madara also asked for delaying penalties for physicians’ offices that don’t switch to electronic medical records.

    “We urge Congress to consider a reasonable, sequenced timeline for these penalty programs,” Madara wrote, “so that physicians are able to meet the various program requirements to avoid penalties.”

  • Study: Drug benefits already exceed new federal standards

    Healthcare plans already provide drug coverage that’s far more generous than new federal minimums established under the healthcare reform law, according to an analysis from Avalere Health.

    The healthcare law lays out 10 categories of “essential health benefits” that every insurance plan will have to cover beginning in 2014. The law left it to the Health and Human Services Department to define the specifics of essential benefits, and HHS in turn passed that job on to the states.

    The approach has sparked concern that people in some states will only be entitled to a skimpy benefits package.

    But Avalere’s analysis says that in the area of prescription drugs, plans are already offering much more coverage than the minimums established in HHS’s essential-benefits policy.

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