KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Viewpoints: Finding Savings In Medicare; The Avastin Saga; Changes In Health Care Business

The New York Times: Fixing Medicare
There is no way to wrestle down the deficit without reining in Medicare costs. Ensuring that the program provides quality health care coverage to millions of older and disabled Americans is essential. These goals are not incompatible, but they require a judicious approach to policy making that is depressingly absent in Washington (11/20). 

The Washington Post:  Why There's A Debt Stalemate
We haven't had the robust democratic debate about the role of government that lies at the heart of America's budget stalemate. The truth is that most Democrats and Republicans want to avoid such a debate because it would force them into positions that, regardless of ideology, would be highly unpopular (Robert J. Samuelson, 11/20).

Forbes: How Super Committee Failure Could Be Great For Entitlement Reform
(I)n The Wall Street Journal, former U.S. Senator Phil Gramm (R., Tex.) and one of his old staffers, Mike Solon, made a very interesting observation: [I]f the super committee fails, and Republicans take power in 2012, a procedural footnote in the Budget Control Act would allow the GOP to make lasting reforms to our health-care entitlements. ... If Gramm and Solon are right, the consequences of a Republican victory in 2012 would be more significant than previously believed, as a new GOP Congress could, say, block-grant Medicaid on a majority vote in the Senate (Avik Roy, 1/19).

The New York Times: Wasting Medicare Money?
Here's a clever idea for how to save Medicare some cash without hurting patients. Don't pay for treatments found to be useless. ... So a committee that includes doctors who may stand to profit from getting the government to pay for useless medicines — or even have ties to the drug maker — can get to overrule the F.D.A. on how to spend scarce taxpayer money (Floyd Norris, 11/18).

Fox News: Will Congress Ever Pay Attention To What The American People Really Want?
The Congress is working totally at odds with this overwhelming national sentiment. ... Ninety-one percent of likely voters in the poll said they are opposed to across-the-board cuts to domestic spending, including Social Security and Medicare, while 83 percent were concerned about similar cuts to Pentagon spending (Juan Williams, 11/18).

Chicago Tribune: America's Endless Budget Drama 
No matter what the super committee does, federal Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security outlays will continue to grow faster than the economy and federal revenues. ... On health care, the fundamental problem is the federal and state governments pay 55 cents of each dollar spent on health care; hence, a private market hardly exists, as government reimbursements substantially influence most prices for health services (Peter Morici, 11/18). 

The Washington Post: The Super Committee Has The Ingredients For A Deal. But Does It Have The Political Will?
It would be a sad commentary on our state of affairs if a decade-old political pledge to a corporate lobbyist were allowed to prevent bipartisan progress on our nation's most pressing issues. Yet with massive across-the-board budget cuts hanging over us like the sword of Damocles, that seems a possible outcome (Rep. James E. Clyburn, 11/18).

Roll Call: Perriello & Bennett: Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish For Americans With Disabilities
(T)he American Association of People with Disabilities and United Cerebral Palsy have convened a shadow super committee called "America's Super Committee." ... The members are real people and they or their loved ones will be profoundly affected if Medicaid services get slashed. While Medicaid doesn't have an army of Washington lobbyists defending it, the majority of Americans do not want to see the program eviscerated. In fact, an April Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 69 percent opposed cuts to Medicaid to reduce the deficit (Mark Perriello and Stephen Bennett, 11/18).

The Wall Street Journal: The Avastin Denial
The extraordinary Avastin saga has become a kind of randomized controlled trial, pitting the Food and Drug Administration's power against potentially life-saving drugs for terminally ill patients. The results are proving that the former is far stronger. ... Dr. Hamburg's decision is an awful turn for anticancer progress and innovation, and especially for the women who may lose a treatment option in the time they have left to live (11/19).

MSNBC: Hope Gone For Last-Ditch Cancer Drug, But Don't Deny Access
The hope that Avastin might extend the lives of those dying from breast cancer is gone. Those who still want to rely on the drug as they die should not be denied that last choice — as poor as that choice may be. But there is no ethical argument in favor of paying for a very expensive drug that does not work for new patients (Art Caplan, 11/18).

The Washington Post: Health Care Costs Are Driving People Into Poverty
[A recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau] found that 2.5 million more people are living in poverty than were classified as poor under the previous (and still official) method, bringing the not-so-grand total to 49 million Americans. ... [I]f the burden of health care expenses were not taken into account, then 10 million fewer people would have been classified as poor. ... Whatever one's views on the health-reform law, repealing or drastically scaling back its tax credits for health insurance premiums would lead to more people being uninsured and poor (Drew Altman and Larry Levitt, 11/18).

The Los Angeles Times: The Conservative Case For Health Care Reform's Individual Mandate
There is a compelling conservative case for the requirements imposed under health care reform. Indeed, during the 1980s and early 1990s, many moderate GOP policymakers championed an individual mandate (Walter Zelman, 11/20).

San Francisco Chronicle: 'Essential' Also Must Be Affordable
If the federal government gets this wrong, if it mandates excessively costly health plans, then those plans will be unaffordable for individuals and families. What the department constitutes as "essential" will affect at least 68 million Americans who are already buckling under the weight of health care costs. … The bottom line: affordability must be the primary consideration because rising health care costs are the most significant barrier to obtaining and providing health coverage (Martin S. Levine, 11/21).

The Fiscal Times: Healthcare IPOs: Good Deals Or Sucker Plays?
It may have been a difficult year for companies and regulators trying to decipher and navigate the details of Obamacare, but it's turned out to be a good time for health care bankers and their clients. ... This has already been the best year for healthcare deals since 2007, and the best year for health care IPOs in more than a decade, thanks to the jumbo $4.4 billion initial public offering of HCA (Suzanne McGee, 11/21).

Modern Healthcare: Achieving Efficiency In Health Care Must Bring Consolidation
Coming to grips with the redundancies and inefficiencies in our system of care in the U.S. will include some emotional and financial discomfort. Margins will be squeezed. New efficiencies will be required for survival. Competitors will merge. Some local institutions with rich traditions won't survive. But health care, like other modern industries, must follow the path of innovation, integration and consolidation in order to maintain quality while lowering costs (Michael Leavitt, 11/21).

Modern Healthcare: Access Denied?
If all goes according to plan, next summer should be a mighty interesting time in American politics. That's when, in the heat of the presidential campaign, the nation is likely to learn the fate of the health care reform law, at least according to the collective wisdom of the U.S. Supreme Court. That timing could be off, but the impact of the ruling will be jolting no matter when it comes, given the lightning rod permanently affixed to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. And the decision will be electrifying no matter which way it goes (David May, 11/21).

McClatchy/Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Congress Isn't Ready To Act On Supreme Court's Health Care Decision
Congress isn't ready for a Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare, (U.S. Rep. Michael) Burgess says. Every member — Republicans and Democrats — and every relevant committee should get to work preparing for the day that ruling is announced (Mike Norman, 11/21).

The Los Angeles Times: FSAs Encourage Rather Than Reduce Unnecessary Health Care Spending
Like millions of other Americans, in the late fall of every year I face two annoying conundrums. Somehow I have to forecast my out-of-pocket health care costs for the coming 12 months, so I know how much to invest in my flexible account, and I have to root around for qualified medical expenses to rectify any overestimate from the year before (Michael Hiltzik, 11/20).

Los Angeles Times: Alzheimer's: What If There's No Cure?
There's one thing that all Alzheimer's researchers agree on: The mind-robbing illness is heartbreaking. But after three decades of study that have produced neither cure nor medications that significantly slow its progress, some researchers are asking: What if it's not a disease with a cure? What if it's just an unfortunate but inevitable part of aging, along with wrinkly skin, osteoporosis and heart disease? (11/21).

Kansas City Star: A Higher Cigarette Tax Would Improve Health Care, Schools In Missouri
A serious effort is under way to raise Missouri's lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax — a move that would vastly improve the health of both citizens and the state's finances. Gov. Jay Nixon and legislative leaders should be leading this charge. Not only does Missouri's ridiculous 17-cents-a-pack tax deprive the state of badly needed revenues, researchers have estimated that smoking costs the state's Medicaid system more than $600 million a year (11/20).

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: DHS Should Go Back To The Drawing Board On Medicaid
But while we think (Secretary of Health Services Dennis) Smith has come up with an interesting proposal for reining in escalating costs in the state's health care programs for the poor, we also think it is flawed.  There is no doubt his plan is innovative and an improvement over how some states have handled ballooning Medicaid costs. But his ideas risk hurting too many of Wisconsin's poor — especially kids — and we can't support his plan as written (11/19).

Kansas City Star: Stop Delaying Joint City, Police Health Care Plan
Kansas City's Police Department continues to send mixed signals over whether it eventually will approve a joint health care insurance plan with City Hall, saving taxpayers millions of dollars. Just weeks ago new Chief Darryl Forté said he hoped a deal could be worked out to end a sometimes bitter five-year tussle with the city. ... Unfortunately, in recent days the department surprised top city officials by putting its health and dental plans out for bid among different health care providers (11/19).

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