KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Viewpoints: High Court’s Scrutiny Of Home Health Workers Law; Patient ‘Dumping’ On LA’s Skid Row; Hospital Fund Raising

The Washington Post: The Fight For Homecare Workers
On Tuesday the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Harris v. Quinn, ... It was brought by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW), whose mission is to use "strategic litigation" to "eliminate coercive union power and compulsory unionism abuses," in this case on behalf of several personal assistants who provide in-home services to persons with disabilities under Illinois's Medicaid program. ... Taking away home health-care workers’ collective bargaining rights would destroy the careful balance at least seven states have created to deal with aging populations and increased health-care costs (Moshe Z. Marvit, 1/20).

The Wall Street Journal: The Court And Union Coercion 
Illinois uses Medicaid to subsidize home care for the disabled, which the governors used as the legal excuse to redefine home-care workers as state employees and provide the SEIU with some 20,000 new dues-paying members. ... In Knox v. SEIU in 2012, the Justices ruled that forced unionization deserves a high level of First Amendment scrutiny. "Mandatory associations are permissible only when they serve a 'compelling state interes[t] . . . that cannot be achieved through means significantly less restrictive of associational freedoms.'" Let's hope the High Court follows this logic to find Illinois's forced unionization unconstitutional (1/20). 

Los Angeles Times: No Excuse For 'Patient Dumping' In L.A.'s Skid Row
It's hardly news that some hospitals have engaged in "patient dumping," the egregious practice of discharging homeless patients and simply dropping them off on the streets of skid row. Patient dumping made headlines in Los Angeles nearly a decade ago when reports of homeless people in hospital gowns and socks wandering skid row — or, in the case of a paraplegic man with a colostomy bag, crawling ... Given the universal denunciation of patient dumping from all corners of the city at that time, it's extremely troubling to learn that it is occurring on skid row again. Or perhaps it never completely went away (1/20). 

Los Angeles Times: Doctors And Hospitals Posing As Charity Cases? It’s Nauseating
Obamacare was intended, in part, to rein in sky-high healthcare costs. Yet some doctors and hospitals are responding to the reform law with outstretched palms and brother-can-you-spare-a-dime pleas for more money from patients. ... Dr. David Reuben, head of UCLA's Division of Geriatrics, defended the fundraising effort (David Lazarus, 1/20).

Fiscal Times: Medicare Execs Are Overpaying $35 Billion a Year … And They Don’t Seem to Care
Medicare's Private Fee-For-Service Plans, just one of the many entitlement programs run by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, overpaid billers by $34.6 billion dollars in 2013, according to its own estimates. With an "improper payments" rate of 10.1 percent of outlays, Medicare FFS is one of numerous government programs that wastes tens of billions of taxpayer dollars annually yet does little to recover any of that cash (Rob Garver, 1/21).

The New York Times: Sex And The Single Senior
What is happening in retirement communities, assisted living facilities and nursing homes? You might imagine quiet reading, crossword puzzles, bingo, maybe some shuffleboard. Think again. Think about sex — unsafe sex. The Department of Health and Human Services released a little-noticed report on Medicare a few months ago that had this startling statistic: In 2011 and 2012, 2.2 million beneficiaries received free sexually transmitted disease screenings and counseling sessions. And more than 66,000 received free H.I.V. tests (Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, 1/18).

The Kansas City Star: Health Scare Can Give New Perspective On Life
The Tikker is a rather understated wristwatch, with a plain, digital face and a simple band that comes in black or white. But it is fancy. It ticks down to death. The goal of the watch — which uses age and habits to establish a user’s estimated time of death, and then counts down to it — is to remind people that their time is limited, and that it’s not worth it to sweat the small stuff. … As Colting notes, individuals who have battled potentially terminal diseases or narrowly escaped death often describe a marked shift in perspective, a change in how they view the world, how they prioritize things (Dugan Arnett, 1/20).

The Boston Globe: When The Writer Becomes The Patient
Should I have gotten the mammogram that started all this hand wringing? Medical researchers are still trying to answer that question. A study in the December 2013 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine found that a woman in her 40s, after a decade of annual mammograms, is between 7 and 100 times more likely to be needlessly treated than to be spared a breast cancer death. But that’s a big range. I’ve met women with my diagnosis who chose more extensive treatment than I did, and some who chose less. We are all pulling from the same data, and presumably we want the same outcome — a long and comfortable life, with little regret. But we vary greatly in our tolerance for risk-taking, our trust of technology, our appetite for medical intervention (Karen D. Brown, 1/20).

Los Angeles Times: The Global Grip Of Cigarette Smoking
Fifty years ago this month, U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry announced the bombshell conclusions of a new report to a crowded room of journalists: Cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, is associated with other deadly illnesses and warrants remedial action. That 1964 surgeon general's report on smoking and health spurred profound and lasting changes in tobacco use and policies in the United States, but its call to action has gone unfulfilled internationally. In the intervening decades, smoking has expanded in developing countries and has had devastating consequences for the world's poor (Thomas J. Bollyky, 1/21).

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