Overnight Healthcare: GOP Pounces on Healthcare Mergers

A frenzy of healthcare mergers has given Republicans’ a new line of attack against ObamaCare, which they say is boosting profits for insurance giants at a cost to consumers.

The merger mania — evidenced most recently by a $35 billion deal announced by Aetna and Humana last week — is sparking new fears that shrinking competition in the marketplace could result in less choice for patients.

Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have been quick to blame ObamaCare for planned mergers, pointing to the spate of new regulations they say make it tougher for smaller companies to survive.

“The incentives are in there for consolidation,” Ed Haislmaier, a senior health research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said about the healthcare law.

“For all the talk about competition, its really much more about consolidating everything so the government can better manage it,” he added.

The new company combining Aetna and Humana would include more than 33 million members — or roughly 13 percent of people with health insurance in the United States.

The turn toward consolidation is also worrying smaller providers, who fear that they may lose leverage to the larger insurance companies. For example, if insurers believe a certain provider’s rates are too high, it could decide to drop the firm out of their network.

The Aetna merger is likely to set off a fresh round of deal-making among other insurers looking to bulk up and keep pace. Read more tomorrow in The Hill’s print edition and on TheHill.com.

HERITAGE ACTION ADDS HURDLE TO 21ST CENTURY CURES: A bipartisan medical cures bill hit a bump Tuesday when the conservative group Heritage Action urged lawmakers to vote against it. The move from Heritage Action, which is influential with conservatives, is a sign that the bill could face at least some opposition, after having passed out of committee on a rare 51-0 vote in May.

Still, the bill is cosponsored by 230 members, more than a majority of the House, and leaders have been aiming for as many as 350 votes this week to send a strong signal to the Senate to speed up its work. The bill won support from some conservatives in the unanimous committee vote in May.

Noelle Clemente, a spokeswoman for Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), called Heritage Action’s move “surprisingly short-sighted.”

Heritage Action objects to the bill, the 21st Century Cures Act, skirting budget caps put in place in 2011 by boosting funding for the National Institutes of Health through mandatory spending that is not subject to those limits or the normal appropriations process.

The bill provides $8.75 billion over five years in mandatory new funding for medical research at NIH. The funding is fully offset, and was reduced from $10 billion originally amid wrangling over the offsets. Read more here.

2014 BROUGHT ‘MODEST’ HIKE IN OUT-OF-COST COSTS: A new study has found that the rise in out-of-pocket health costs has been moderate over the last year.

The new data, which includes 15,000 physicians, is the latest sign that healthcare prices for patients are not skyrocketing under ObamaCare as some critics had predicted.

Still, deductibles increased across the board for every type of physician visit – an average increase of about $8. For example, the deductible for a primary care visit increased from $14 to $20, while orthopedics increased from about $27 to $35. Read more here.

Wednesday’s schedule

The House Rules Committee will meet to discuss the 21st Century Cures Act.

The health panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on improving Medicaid.

Health Affairs Journal will hold a press briefing on the 50th anniversary of Medicaid.

State by state

California tax officials blast Blue Shield in audit

At least five kids got wrong immunizations at NJ clinic

Right-to-die bill stalls in California with Catholics opposed

What we’re reading

CVS Health quits U.S. Chamber over stance on smoking

Republicans can’t figure out what to do next after ObamaCare’s court victory

NIH sees reversal of fortune with proposed funding boosts

What you might have missed from The Hill

CDC: Heroin use growing at ‘alarming rate’

Dem calls for lower prices for heroin overdose drug


By Sarah Ferris and Peter Sullivan

Original article:   http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/overnights/247117-overnight-healthcare-gop-pounces-on-healthcare-merger-mania?utm_campaign=hillhealthwatch&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

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