KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Viewpoints: Don’t Change Course On Medicare Reforms On Medical Equipment Prices; Liberals’ Agenda Depends On Cutting Entitlements; Making Hospital Prices Public

The Washington Post: Medicare Changes Must Be Implemented Now
Marilyn Tavenner has been administrator of Medicare and Medicaid officially for only about a month, but already she faces a policy challenge from Congress. A majority of the House, 145 Republicans and 82 Democrats, wrote to Ms. Tavenner on Wednesday, asking her to delay implementation of a Medicare cost-reduction initiative, scheduled to take full effect July 1, for six months. They complain that procedural irregularities threaten patient access to wheelchairs, oxygen tanks, beds and diabetes test strips -- known in Medicare parlance as "durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics and supplies," or DMEPOS for short. In fact, these concerns are overblown. Ms. Tavenner should not postpone these overdue reforms to Medicare's DMEPOS program (6/15).

The Washington Post: Liberals Should Lead Entitlement Reform 
Social Security, Medicare and the other major health care programs will account for more than half of all federal spending 10 years from now, CBO says. That takes into account the recent good news of slower-than-expected growth in health care costs, and it assumes Medicare cuts that are unlikely to be implemented. The guts of these programs have to be preserved, as liberals rightly argue. Social Security keeps the elderly out of poverty. Medicare ensures that they get health care, and Medicaid and Obamacare should come close to extending that promise to all Americans. But while federal programs aimed at the young and the poor -- and at investments in the future -- are slated to dwindle, the entitlement programs are on track to give ever richer benefits to a growing older generation, some of whom don't need all that much help (Fred Hiatt, 6/16). 

Los Angeles Times: Human Gene Patenting Is A thing Most Of Us Aren't Ready For
In the course of our country's history, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has bestowed coveted protection on many strange and wondrous inventions: the three-legged pantyhose (in case one leg runs), the sealed, circular peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, the motorized ice cream cone. And of course, the human gene (Robin Abcarian, 6/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Will Companies Stop Offering Health Insurance Because Of The Affordable Care Act?
We asked a panel to tackle the question: Will the Affordable Care Act, as the law is formally known, lead many employers to stop offering health insurance? Our panelists are Kevin Kuhlman, a manager of legislative affairs at the National Federation of Independent Business, a research and lobbying group for small business; Christine Eibner, an economist at RAND Corp. who has studied the possible effects of the law on health-insurance markets; and David Marini, managing director, strategic advisory services, at Automatic Data Processing Inc., who also has studied the law's effects (Thrum, 6/16). 

The Wall Street Journal: Should Physician Pay Be Tied to Performance?
We need to rethink how we pay doctors. That's one thing almost everyone can agree on. The question is, how? Currently, most doctors get paid for every service they perform. But one of the big ideas behind President Obama's health-care overhaul is paying doctors based on how well they do their job. … The idea of paying providers for their performance has found plenty of backers -- and opponents -- throughout the medical community (6/16). 

The Wall Street Journal: Should Hospital Residency Programs Be Expanded To Increase The Number of Doctors?
Bills have been introduced in Congress that would increase the number of spots. But some critics say that we have too many doctors already, and that this contributes to the current problems in health care. Arguing in favor of training more doctors is Atul Grover, director of legislative affairs for the Association of American Medical Colleges. His opponent, Elliott S. Fisher, endorses ways to make health care better while reducing the number of doctors. Dr. Fisher is a professor at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, director of Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, and co-director of the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care (6/16). 

Boston Globe: Hospital Prices Should Be Published
Steven Sonenreich, chief executive of Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, has pledged a move virtually unheard of in the health care industry: to publish what his hospital charges insurers for procedures. "We will post our prices relative to Blue Cross and Aetna, our contractual prices," Sonenreich said during a local radio appearance in May. He went on to challenge other hospitals to follow his lead, and they should (6/17).

USA Today: Target Obesity With Health Care Reform 
The Medicare Board of Trustees just released its latest report on the program's finances and the results are terrifying. Despite a decline in health care costs, the Medicare Trust Fund will be bankrupt in 2026. For the program to survive for future generations, innovation will be essential. The old medical paradigm of diagnosing and treating diseases must give way to a more holistic approach aimed at eliminating risk factors that lead to disease. The best place to start is by addressing the growing problem of adult obesity (Tommy Thompson and Kenneth Thorpe, 6/15). 

JAMA: The Medicare Trustees Report: Time For Reflection, Not Celebration
As I and others have cautioned, there has been an excess of exuberance about the recent slowdown in health care spending. The jury on that is still out on the degree to which the encouraging numbers are due to profound and lasting changes in the system rather than the recession. Now there is another round of excitement -- in this case misplaced rather than just excessive -- thanks to the recent Medicare Trustees Report (Stuart Butler, 6/17).

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: The Cost Of Ignoring Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer's is one of the most feared of all diseases of aging. It is one of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. There is no cure, and there are no effective treatments. No one has ever survived. The fiscal and human costs of Alzheimer's are intergenerational and will change our society if we ignore them. The Alzheimer's Association estimates that 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's and that the number of persons and families affected by this disease will increase by more than 50 percent over the next 20 years (Mark A. Sager, 6/15). 

Richmond Times-Dispatch: Malpractice
Officials in Maryland apparently have been so impressed with Obamacare's ability to take a bad health care system and make it worse that they want to see if they can do the same. Maybe that's why they are planning to switch from the state's long-running system of specific price controls to an even more onerous system of global price caps. Since the 1970s, Maryland has essentially dictated what its 46 hospitals can charge for various procedures. Doing so has enabled the state to boast the lowest average cost for hospital care in 2011 -- but only at a significant cost to everyone else. Years ago, Maryland worked a special deal with Washington that enables its hospitals to receive considerably higher payments from Medicare (6/17).

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