KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Viewpoints: Politicians Flirting With Danger On Medicare Eligibility Age; Maybe Doctors Should Be Paid Less

Bloomberg: To Cut Health-Care Costs, Pay Doctors Less
[T]he 2010 health- care law, which imposed immediate and heavy cuts on hospitals, drugmakers and insurers, left doctors relatively untouched. A 1997 law that reduces doctors' Medicare payments is consistently overridden by Congress. And none of the proposals for entitlement reform now circulating around Washington calls for significant sacrifices from physicians. It's worth asking whether doctors, who account for almost one-fifth of health spending, really need the special treatment (Christopher Flavelle, 12/12).

Los Angeles Times: Poll: Raising The Eligibility Age For Medicare
Medicare may not be the third rail of American politics -- that distinction belongs to Social Security -- but politicians who alter it put their careers at risk. ...  some advocates of the change insist that, like Social Security, Medicare needs to respond to the significant gains in longevity that have occurred since it was created in 1965. Seniors are living about eight years longer on average now than they were 45 years ago. They're working longer too, and the current system lets employers offload their oldest workers' healthcare costs onto the federal taxpayers. So where do you come down? Take our wildly unscientific poll, leave a comment below or do both (Jon Healey, 12/12).

The Wall Street Journal: Means Testing
What means testing in a general way means ... is that the very wealthy who do not need to receive a Social Security check or Medicare payments will no longer receive them, or no longer receive them in full. The object is to cut spending. You can argue that means testing would be unjust—people paid into the system throughout their work lives and have the right to receive the benefits in old age, even if the benefits make little difference in their lives and they can do without them (Peggy Noonan, 12/12).

The Medicare NewsGroup: Progressives Launch Medicare Defense Campaigns
It remains to be seen whether the White House will go beyond the above-stated "savings" and venture into the realm of even-more radical reform at this point in the fiscal-cliff battle. The next tier of savings may involve chipping away at the Medicare’s expensive, but-popular, "fee for service" model, which many progressives have suggested needs to be reexamined and possibly abandoned over time. Despite the pitched battle that has created this political equivalent of a World War I-style stalemate, radical reform—if it comes at all—will most likely be delayed ... It's far too complicated and politically toxic to undertake now as Congress faces a year-end deadline with no compromise in sight  (John F. Wasik, 12/12).

Los Angeles Times: Why Not Expand Medi-Cal In California?
California's Democratic-controlled Legislature has been an enthusiastic supporter of the 2010 federal healthcare reform law, but it has yet to take advantage of one of the most important provisions: the opportunity to offer Medi-Cal, the state's version of the Medicaid insurance program for the poor, to more Californians largely at the federal government's expense (12/12).

Georgia Health News: Medicaid Expansion Should Go Forward
The Georgia chapter of (the American College of Physicians) believes that it is imperative that our state accept the unique opportunity that is now available to use federal dollars to expand Medicaid to the working poor and near-poor in our state…. If Georgia turns down or delays accepting this unprecedented offer of federal money to extend Medicaid, we will be leaving our poorest citizens with no other way to get coverage (Dr. Jacqueline Fincher, 12/12).

The New England Journal of Medicine: Off-Label Marketing And The First Amendment
On December 3, 2012, a three-judge panel of a U.S. appeals court took a controversial leap toward what some fear will be license by the courts to invalidate a host of state and federal regulations, including some applicable to health care. ... At the heart of Sorrell was the question of whether governments are permitted to enact regulations, even those protecting the health of the public, that single out a particular industry (e.g., the pharmaceutical industry) and allow some messages (e.g., promoting brand-name drugs for off-label uses) but not others (Marcia M. Boumil, 12/13).

Politico Pro: Why Comparative Effectiveness Research Needs Guardrails
We must improve the quality of care provided and reduce costs. ... One way to reach this goal is through the increased use of comparative effectiveness research, which, in its simplest terms, is the comparison of one health treatment to another. While the hope for CER is that it will identify the best treatment to be used for specific diseases or conditions, and in turn provide improved information for patients and providers, medicine and science have proved that all people do not react the same way to the same treatment. This creates a big challenge: What can we do to help patients who do not respond to the most common treatment? (Dan Leonard, 12/13).

Health Policy Solutions (a Colo. news service): Just How Healthy Is Colorado?
As UnitedHealthcare's medical director for Colorado, I have witnessed efforts statewide on behalf of the public and private sectors to improve certain health trends, such as the prevalence of binge drinking and immunization coverage, and to improve our overall health outcomes, such as reducing infant mortality and geographic disparity. UnitedHealthcare Colorado has several programs in place for businesses that seek to address the health concerns underscored in this year's America's Health Rankings (Dr. Bill Mandell, 12/12).

Health Policy Solutions (a Colo. news service): Pediatric Dental Health Crucial To Long-Term Success
Research shows that good oral health is critical to a child's long-term success in life. Unfortunately, the data are not promising for Colorado kids. Tooth decay is almost entirely preventable, and yet around half of our Kindergartners suffer from it. ... If we care about a bright future for children, then we must care about the health of their teeth (Sarah Mapes, 12/12).

Kansas City Star: Challenges Come Fast For Johnson County Mental Health System
The colorful flier lies. "Change can be easy" is the leading quote in a flow chart to help guide people through Kansas' shift to managed care for those covered by Medicaid. But change is never easy. Not for humans. And this is a massive undertaking, set to begin next month (Mary Sanchez, 12/12).

Baltimore Sun: A Small Step Against Obesity In Howard Co.
Howard County's new ban on the sale of sugary drinks on government property won't solve the obesity epidemic. It won't prevent Howard Countians from slurping down empty calories by the Big Gulpful. ... But the ban, announced Tuesday by County Executive Ken Ulman, is a step toward aligning the wares available at libraries, parks and office buildings with what the county's health department recommends about a healthy lifestyle, and for that reason alone it is worthwhile (12/12).

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