KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Viewpoints: Administration ‘Finally’ Comes Around On Plan B; ‘Legal Loophole’ Creates Another Compounded Drug Scare

The New York Times: An Important Victory On Morning-After Pills
Reluctantly yielding to a federal-court decision, the Obama administration announced on Monday that it will take steps to allow a version of the so-called morning-after pill, known as Plan B One-Step, to be sold over the counter to girls and women of all ages. They will not need a prescription, nor will they be required to show any identification to obtain the emergency contraceptive. There will be no restrictions on where the drug can be sold; it will be up to the manufacturer to propose appropriate venues (6/11).

Los Angeles Times: On Plan B Contraceptive, The White House Gets It Right – Finally
The White House has smartly reversed its opposition to allowing girls of all ages to buy the Plan B One-Step contraceptive pill over-the-counter. The Obama administration still resists the sale of cheaper, more generic versions of the emergency contraception drug. That’s unfortunate, but at least the White House has stopped its long, drawn-out court battle over availability of a drug that scientific research and the Food and Drug Administration have found to be safe and effective for girls and women of all ages (Carla Hall, 6/11).

CNN: A Victory For The Morning-After Pill
The Obama administration finally got it right when it decided to stop fighting to put age limits on who can buy morning-after pill Plan B without a prescription. The fight started a year and a half ago, when apparently for the first time in history, the secretary of health and human services overruled a Food and Drug Administration decision. The FDA said Plan B should be sold the way aspirin is sold -- with no restrictions. The Obama administration wanted age limits; a coalition of reproductive rights groups sued the government, and on Monday, the Justice Department backed down and ended the legal wrangling (Aaron Carroll, 6/11).

The New York Times’ Economix: The New Subsidy For Layoffs
Employers may also offer to help laid-off workers continue with their health insurance during the unemployment spell. (Indeed, a laid-off worker who intended to spend some severance pay on health insurance premiums would save money on taxes if the former employer were paying those premiums, even if it meant lower severance.) Severance pay and health insurance costs for former employees are significant expenses that employers presumably take into account when they decide the number and timing of their layoffs. During 2009 and 2010, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act had the federal government pay some costs of layoffs, especially with its premium-assistance program, which paid 65 percent of the premiums that a laid-off employee would pay to stay on the former employer’s health plan. People who could join a spouse’s employer health plan and people without health insurance on their previous job were ineligible for the program (Casey B. Mulligan, 6/12). 

The New York Times: Healing The Overwhelmed Physician
We physicians are susceptible to a kind of medical Stendhal syndrome as we confront the voluminous evidence about the clinical choices we face every day. It would take dozens of hours each week for a conscientious primary care doctor to read everything he or she needed in order to stay current — a dizzying and impractical prospect. To remedy the problem, many medical groups issue clinical-practice guidelines: experts in a field sort through the reams of clinical research on a medical condition and pore over drug studies, then publish summaries about what treatments work best so that physicians everywhere can offer the most appropriate, up-to-date care to their patients. While this sounds straightforward, the process can go astray (Jerry Avorn, 6/11). 

Politico: Legal Loopholes Compound Drug Safety Problems
The Food and Drug Administration is sounding alarm bells, warning health care providers that an injectible drug produced by a compounding pharmacy in Tennessee has been implicated in more than a dozen illnesses. If the story sounds eerily familiar, that’s because it is. ... American consumers expect that the medications they take are not only effective but safe. There’s a good reason for that. As a country, we have made a commitment to rigorous oversight by the FDA. And while the rigor of this process requires a substantial financial investment and is time consuming, the result is a high level of safety and confidence in our nation’s drug supply. But when compounded medications are mass manufactured and distributed all over the country without FDA oversight, public health is compromised (Tommy Thompson, 6/11).

The Washington Post: Welcome Disclosure About Medicare Payments
Information can be efficiency’s best friend. The more that participants in the marketplace know about the true costs and benefits of various goods and services, and about the behavior of other individuals and firms, the easier it is for them to get the most for their money. The U.S. health-care system notoriously lacks transparency, which may be a reason why it produces poorer results at higher cost than do systems elsewhere. So one of the more encouraging recent developments in health care has been the Obama administration’s disclosure of data about how Medicare spends roughly $500 billion each year (6/11).

The Washington Post: IRS Taxing Of Tanning Beds And Other Obamacare Absurdities
It is reassuring that amid so much government dysfunction, the Internal Revenue Service has resolved the question of when and whether to tax tanning beds under the Affordable Care Act. Do not be concerned about that giddiness you feel. You are not having a nervous breakdown but are suffering a symptom commonly associated with recognition that the absurd has become the accepted norm — and that you are, in fact, alone (Kathleen Parker, 6/11).

Bloomberg: Retirement Will Kill You
Teddy Roosevelt once said "the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." Recent research suggests he may have been more right than he knew: Life’s "best prize" might actually extend life itself. Our common perception is that retirement is a time when we can relax and take better care of ourselves after stressful careers. But what if work itself is beneficial to our health, as several recent studies suggest? (Peter Orszag, 6/11).

St. Louis Beacon-Journal: Achieving Middle Ground On Medicaid Is Still Possible
The Missouri legislature closed its 2013 legislative session without resolving what was likely the most important question facing it: whether to adopt the proposal put forward by Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, to expand the Medicaid program to a projected 260,000 uninsured people in Missouri. While a bipartisan solution did not pass, the legislature appointed a committee to consider this question further. Recent signals suggest that a compromise solution could be found in the 2014 session (Timothy McBride, 6/11).

The Medicare NewsGroup: Medicare Trustees Report Presents A Fuzzy, Moving Target
Due to the moving-target nature of the ACA reforms and the SGR, though, the underlying tone of the trustees report is far from sanguine. There's a huge gap between implementing the SGR cuts (which won't happen soon) and alternatives, as illustrated in a chart in the report. That could amount to hundreds of billions of dollars in additional spending if Medicare can't reel in costs. The best-case scenario savings are "an illustration of the very favorable financial outcomes" outlined in the report (John Wasik, 6/11).

Health Policy Solutions (a Colo. news service): Consumer Revolutions Needed For Real Health Care Reform
If we want to flatten the cost curve in health care, maybe we should shift our focus to hospitals and doctors. All of us know that their prices are outrageous and ever rising. But, when you inspect financial statements and cost reports of health providers, you reach the same conclusion you reached when you looked at insurance company profitability (Francis Miller, 6/11).

Health Policy Solutions (a Colo. news service): Access To Health Care Major Issue For LGBT Coloradans
In addition, the Division of Insurance made changes to current regulations to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. As we celebrate LGBT Pride Month this June, there are now many new opportunities for Colorado’s LGBT community than in years past. However, there is still much work to be done to ensure that LGBT Coloradans have access to the care they need to get and stay healthy (Sarah Mapes, 6/11).

San Francisco Chronicle: Breast Cancer Treatments Less Disruptive
Early in my practice, it became clear to me that breast cancer treatment was not just a health issue, but a family and work disruption issue for busy women. This was frankly pointed out by a patient who presented me with the book she had written after her treatment called "Breast Cancer? Let Me Check My Schedule." Cancer remains a disruption, but not nearly as much as three decades ago (Nima Grissom, 6/11).

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