KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: September 8, 2011

In today's headlines, reports from last night's GOP presidential debate, as well as explorations of what the future might hold for the 'Super Committee' and news developments related to physician payment issues.

Kaiser Health News: Capusles: Seniors Falling Into Doughnut Hole Buy Fewer Drugs; Study Details Impact Of Increasing Health Care Costs
Now on KHN's news blog, Phil Galewitz writes: "About 12 percent of people receiving the Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2009 fell into the gap in coverage — the much maligned 'doughnut hole' — according to a study. While in the doughnut hole beneficiaries bought fewer drugs, including about 11 percent fewer monthly prescriptions in 2009, compared to when they're still getting prescriptions subsidized, said the study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. … Other studies have shown a similar effect" (9/7).

Also on the blog, Jordan Rau reports that "the median-income family of four with health insurance from their employer saw their real annual earnings rise from $76,000 in 1999 to $99,000. But nearly all that gain was eaten up by rising health care costs, a new study finds. After taking into account the price increases for other goods and services, the typical family had just $95 a month more in 2009 than in 1999 to devote to non-health spending, according to the paper by David Auerbach and Arthur Kellermann of RAND" (9/8). Check out the blog.

Kaiser Health News also tracked news coverage of Wednesday night's GOP presidential debate and what candidates had to say about the health law.

The Washington Post: Debt Supercommittee Faces Super-Sized Challenges
The new bipartisan congressional committee created to reduce the federal deficit will hold its first meeting Thursday, and if it is to fulfill its mandate, it must come up with enough savings to buy every team in the National Football League. And then buy the whole league over and over again — 35 times. The mission is to lower the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, enough money to cash out Oprah Winfrey 400 times over (Helderman, 9/7).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: As Congressional Debt Reduction Panel Starts Its Work, Democrats Want It To Address Jobs Too
The panel is charged with finding, by Thanksgiving, $1.5 trillion in savings over the next decade, no easy task given the capital's sharp partisan divisions. Democrats want to produce a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases. Republicans have insisted they would oppose tax increases, though some have indicated they might accept the closing of some tax loopholes (Fram, 9/8).

Politico: Many Have Input For Supercommittee
The Defense and State departments — and their allies in Congress and on K Street — are warning that steep cuts could endanger national security. Powerful players in the health sector are calculating that they face less exposure if the supercommittee fails and automatic cuts to Medicare — limited to about 2 percent by the new debt-limit law — are imposed. Even Washington's cottage industry of "good government" groups are leaning on lawmakers to conduct the kind of public deliberations that some insiders think would make it impossible for the supercommittee to make a deal (Allen and Kim, 9/8).

The New York Times: Attacking The Democrats, But Not Always Getting It Right
During more than an hour and 45 minutes of intense debate on Wednesday night, the Republican presidential candidates did not shy away from exchanging blows with each other. But some of the toughest criticism — and some of the most factually problematic — was reserved for the policies, programs, and principles traditionally associated with Democrats, from tackling climate change to broadening access to health care to providing retirement insurance for the elderly (Broder, Confessore and Calmes, 9/8).

The Wall Street Journal: Perry, Romney Clash At Debate
Rick Perry and Mitt Romney clashed from the opening bell of a Republican presidential candidates' debate Wednesday, challenging each other on job creation, health care and Social Security in pointed exchanges that signaled their burgeoning rivalry is likely to dominate the contest in the months ahead (King and Weisman, 9/8).

The Associated Press: GOP Rivals Gang Up On Romney Over Health Care Law
The plan that critics call "Romneycare" required the state's citizens to purchase health insurance. The "individual mandate" component of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul is one of its most controversial. At Wednesday night's Republican debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Romney's plan is a bad example for the rest of the nation and called it a great opportunity for seeing what won't work (9/7).

Politico: State-Based Health Bill Loses Speed
The Republican presidential candidates have been pushing for a state-based approach to health reform — but a Senate proposal to allow that to happen through the national health reform law has vanished from the congressional agenda (Dobias, 9/7).

The Wall Street Journal: Primary-Care Doctors Push For Raise
Primary-care physicians are pressing the agency that oversees Medicare to change a payment system they say places a higher value on work done by specialists. The American Academy of Family Physicians has sent a letter demanding changes to a committee that plays a key role in Medicare's process for setting physician payments. The academy wants the panel to add more members representing primary-care groups, among other adjustments (Mathews, 9/8).

The New York Times: Doctor Fees Major Factor In Health Costs, Study Says
Doctors are paid higher fees in the United States than in several other countries, and this is a major factor in the nation’s higher overall cost of health care, says a new study by two Columbia University professors, one of whom is now a top health official in the Obama administration (Pear, 9/7).

The New York Times: Medical Practices Work On Ways To Serve Patients And Bottom Line
They do not teach business in medical school. When doctors go into private practice, they learn about profits and losses on the job, in a complex industry that is subject to large-scale forces beyond the control of most individuals (Lewis, 9/7).

Los Angeles Times: Healthcare Costs Rose While Insurance Coverage Fell, Studies Show
U.S. workers whose wages stagnated over the last decade also saw their health insurance degrade, even as medical costs gobbled up a growing share of their income, two new studies show. An estimated 29 million adults who had health insurance lacked adequate coverage in 2010, leaving them exposed to medical expenses such as high deductibles that they couldn't afford, according to a survey by the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund (Levey, 9/8).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Study: Fewer Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Enrollees Hit Coverage Gap Known As Doughnut Hole
Fewer Medicare prescription drug plan enrollees are falling into a coverage gap known as the doughnut hole in which they bear the full cost of their prescriptions, according to a study from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation (9/7).

The Washington Post: 91 Charged With Medicare Fraud Across The U.S.
The Obama administration escalated its crackdown on health-care fraud Wednesday, announcing charges against 91 people in eight cities who are accused of bilking the Medicare system out of nearly $300 million and victimizing the elderly and disabled people who rely on the federal insurance program (Markon, 9/7).

USA Today: Medicare Fraud Sting Results In 91 Arrests Nationwide
The cases in the coordinated nationwide strike consisted of billing for services never provided, money laundering, providing kickbacks for Medicare beneficiary numbers, and, in one case, threatening Medicare recipients that they would lose their housing if they did not participate in a scheme in Miami. More than 400 agencies participated in the sting (Kennedy, 9/7).

The New York Times: Study Is Ended As A Stent Fails To Stop Strokes
A promising but expensive device to prop open blocked arteries in the brain in the hope of preventing disabling or fatal strokes failed in a rigorous study, researchers reported on Wednesday. Those who got the device actually had so many more strokes than those assigned to control risk factors, like blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes, that the study was abruptly terminated (Kolata, 9/7).

The Washington Post: 'Brain Stents' For Stroke Patients Do More Harm Than Good, Study Shows
A new federal study Wednesday dimmed hopes for a significant advance in stroke treatment but encouraged public health experts by demonstrating how to check the seemingly irresistible idea that the newest, most expensive medical tool is always best (Stein, 9/7).

Los Angeles Times: 12 Hospitals Are Fined Over Medical Errors
State public health officials have fined 12 California hospitals for medical errors that hurt or killed patients, according to a report released Wednesday. Three of the hospitals — L.A. County/USC Medical Center, Torrance Memorial Medical Center and Brotman Medical Center — are in Los Angeles County (Gorman, 9/8).

The Washington Post: Lower-Income Northern Virginians Struggle To Get Dental Care, Report Finds
In Northern Virginia, 16 percent of lower-income adults have not gone to a dentist in more than five years, according to a report that looks at disparities in oral health in one of the most prosperous regions in the country. Among lower-income adults who have health coverage, only one-fourth have coverage that includes dental care, compared to 64 percent for higher-income adults (Sun, 9/8).

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