KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Viewpoints: Daschle, Frist Urge Senate To Confirm CMS Chief; ‘Insane’ Incentives In Health Law; Medicaid Does Better Job Than Private Insurance So Why Change It?

The Washington Post: The Health Care Leader We Need
Imagine a large company operating for seven years without a CEO. A company with a product that accounts for more than 15 percent of our nation's gross domestic product. A company implementing the largest national effort at reform since its creation. A company set to gain an additional 30 million customers in the next year. Unfathomable. Yet that is exactly the situation at one of the largest federal "companies." The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has not had a Senate-confirmed administrator since 2006 (Tom Daschle and Bill Frist, 3/3).

Politico: To Contain Health Care Costs, Pay Doctors Differently
We cannot control runaway medical spending without changing how physicians in this country are paid — currently the single most significant driver of health care costs. We pay physicians according to the number of services they provide. The skewed financial incentives inherent in a fee-for-service model promote fragmented care and encourage doctors to provide more — and more costly — care, regardless as to whether those services improve the health of patients (Bill Frist and Steven Schroeder, 3/4).

The Wall Street Journal: Yes, Hospital Pricing Is Insane, But Why?
Put aside whether President Obama could have pushed real reform if he wanted to. ObamaCare as it emerged from Congress fulfills the insight that any highly regulated system ends up benefiting those with influence, i.e., health-care providers and high-end customers, not those of modest means. What are ObamaCare's mandates on individuals and employers except an attempt to force back into the insurance market those who have been priced out by previous "reforms" so their money can be used to prop up a system of gold-plated coverage that mostly benefits those in the highest tax brackets? What are ObamaCare's minimum coverage standards except a requirement that these customers buy more costly coverage than they would choose for themselves so their money can be used for somebody else? (Holman W. Jenkins Jr., 3/1).

The New York Times: Mooching Off Medicaid
Now, in the end most states will probably go along with the (Medicaid) expansion because of the huge financial incentives: the federal government will pay the full cost of the expansion for the first three years, and the additional spending will benefit hospitals and doctors as well as patients. Still, some of the states grudgingly allowing the federal government to help their neediest citizens are placing a condition on this aid, insisting that it must be run through private insurance companies. And that tells you a lot about what conservative politicians really want. ... But why would you insist on privatizing a health program that is already public, and that does a much better job than the private sector of controlling costs? The answer is pretty obvious: the flip side of higher taxpayer costs is higher medical-industry profits (Paul Krugman, 2/3). 

Los Angeles Times: Put Medi-Cal Expansion On The Front Burner
The state is expected to expand Medi-Cal eligibility to childless adults and more families near the poverty line, as allowed by the 2010 law. But even so, it will barely make a dent in the number of eligible Californians who sign up for coverage, recent projections show — in part because of the difficulties faced by those who don't speak English. In other words, the lack of coverage among the very poor is deeply entrenched. The Brown administration should join lawmakers in attacking the problem as aggressively as it can (3/4).

Kansas City Star: Listen To Those Who Need Medicaid Expansion
In the state capitols of Missouri and Kansas, elected officials dither over expanding Medicaid. For them, the debate is about numbers, future budgets, free market arguments, and the merits and flaws of the federal Affordable Care Act. For Kierra Hawkins, it is about the fist-sized cyst on her right ovary. Hawkins, a 23-year-old community college student in Kansas City, was at her job as an aide in a day-care center when acute stomach pains sent her to the hospital in late September. Tests detected the cyst, and found it was not cancerous. Still, doctors said it would need to be removed. Hawkins skipped her follow-up doctor's visit. She is uninsured and couldn't afford the $350 initial copay, much less the entire bill (3/2).

Politico: A Blueprint To Improve Health Care For Minorities
With so many advances in medical technologies and treatments, many of us are living longer and healthier lives. Too often, however, how long we live and what we die of are largely determined by the color of our skin, our gender and where we live. Despite all the progress minorities have made over the past few decades in areas of employment, education and politics — health remains an area of significant disparity (Tom Daschle and John Whyte, 3/3).

Des Moines Register: Price-Gouging In Medicine On 'Free Market'
When folks pan the Affordable Care Act for being nearly 3,000 pages long, here's a sensible response: It could have been done in a page and a half if it simply declared that Medicare would cover everyone. The concept of Medicare for All was pushed by a few lonely liberals. And it would have been, ironically, the most conservative approach to bringing down health care costs while maintaining quality (Froma Harrop, 3/3).

MinnPost: The Health Care Pandora's Box
On November 7, 2012, the world changed — by not changing. So says Margo Struthers, a partner specializing in health care law at the Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly law firm in Minneapolis. Now that President Obama has been re-elected and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (popularly known as Obamacare) is unlikely to be repealed, Struthers expects a significant impact on her work (Jamie Swedberg, 3/4).

The Wall Street Journal: Federal Drug Bust
(FedEx and UPS) have long cooperated with the feds to break up criminal shipping schemes. But in recent years the Justice Department has also taken action against pharmacy chains like CVS merely for filling orders they have no reason to know are illegal. Now Justice is also going after the shippers. The government's position is that FedEx and UPS are abetting illegal drug sales from online pharmacies merely by unwittingly shipping their products. The feds are threatening criminal charges (3/3).

Baltimore Sun: Disability Insurance Entitlement Explodes Under Obama
Those of you paying attention have noticed that the Obama administration is actually doing what it promised: transforming America into a gigantic welfare state. And there are plenty of takers willing to cash in on it and "get mine." Numbers don't lie. Forty percent of the population was on some form of public assistance when the president took office; today, that number stands at 55 percent. And fraud is rampant. "Exhibit A" is the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI), a classic Washington entitlement that chews up tax dollars while (often) negligently providing for unqualified beneficiaries, an increasing number of whom are wont to remain on the public dole for … well, forever if they don't get caught (Robert Ehrlich, 3/3).

Des Moines Register: Our Antibiotics Are Less Effective; Routine Use In Farming Is Cited
But the vast majority of antibiotics developed to treat people are given to the animals people eat. Farmers add low doses to feed and water to prevent disease in crowded livestock facilities. The drugs also promote growth. A bigger cow, pig, turkey or chicken translates into more money for producers. How does this widespread use in animals affect humans? It is killing us, a growing number of scientists say (3/3).

The New York Times: Snubbing Our Cigarettes For Good
Perhaps no public official was as synonymous with the antismoking movement as C. Everett Koop, who died last Monday at age 96. Dr. Koop, who worked tirelessly to turn America into "a smoke-free society," did not live to see that goal reached. But the rest of us have the power to make it happen (Richard A. Daynard, 3/3).

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.