Morning CheckUp: February 29, 2012

Maine court backs authority to limit insurers’ profits: “In a case closely watched by the insurance industry, Maine’s top court Tuesday upheld state regulators’ authority to hold down rate increases sought by Anthem Health Plans of Maine.” [Kaiser Health News]

Women’s health at risk: “A wave of mergers between Roman Catholic and secular hospitals is threatening to deprive women in many areas of the country of ready access to important reproductive services. Catholic hospitals that merge or form partnerships with secular hospitals often try to impose religious restrictions against abortions, contraception and sterilization on the whole system.” [NYT]

Senate to vote on Blunt amendment Thursday: “The heated battle over insurance coverage for contraception is shifting to Capitol Hill, with the Senate due to vote Thursday on a measure to let employers opt out of covering any health treatment they find morally objectionable.” [WSJ]

Republicans move forward with IPAB repeal: “House Republicans launch their effort to repeal the healthcare reform law’s cost-cutting board on Wednesday with a markup in the Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee. The bipartisan bill — 17 Democrats have co-sponsored it — is expected to sail through, with even ranking member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) planning to vote in favor, according to CQ HealthBeat.” Ways and Means Health Chairman Wally Herger (R-CA) announced he’s holding a hearing on the IPAB next Tuesday. [The Hill]

Hochul under fire for birth control flap: “Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul finds herself under fire from conservatives nationwide after saying last week that the federal government was “not looking to the Constitution” in drawing up a requirement that religiously affiliated employers provide their workers with insurance coverage for birth control.” [Buffalo News]

Virginia panel kills anti-abortion bill: The Virginia Senate Finance Committee “killed a bill Tuesday that would have prevented poor women whose fetuses have gross mental and physical abnormalities from using state funds for abortions.” The Senate did pass a measure requiring women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound. [WP]

Texas doc charged with $350M health fraud: “When it comes to schemes to defraud Medicare and Medicaid, there seems to be no limit to the ingenuity and tenacity of would-be scammers. Still, a Texas doctor and six co-conspirators indicted for an alleged long-running home health care scheme look to have set a new record for a one practice: at least $350 million in fraudulent Medicare bills and $24 million under Medicaid over nearly six years ending in late 2011. [NPR]

Experts suggest priorities for essential benefits: “Ensuring transparency in benefit design and paying close attention to benefit administration should be among the top priorities of healthcare advocates working on the development of essential health benefits packages, a panel of experts said in Washington.” [Modern Healthcare]

Sleeping pill cause early death? “A new study suggests that people who take sleeping pills are more likely to die within a couple of years than those who don’t, though it doesn’t prove that the pills caused people to die before they otherwise would have — and outside experts say patients shouldn’t panic and toss their medications.” [WSJ]