KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Viewpoints: Looking For The Budget’s True Bottom Line; The Debate On Plan B Reignited; Medicare Cuts Have Impact

The Wall Street Journal: A Primer For Understanding Obama's Budget
President Obama will release his overdue budget on Wednesday. It will doubtless project a reduction in the federal budget deficit—a projection that journalists, commentators and policy makers should ignore. To do otherwise is to be complicit in fraud. Strong statement? Not really. … Fortunately, some years ago the CBO began to present "alternative scenario" budget projections, in which differences from current-law projections are explained in detail. In its early February update, one example is that the 25% cut in physician Medicare reimbursements scheduled for next Jan. 1 will not occur. That adjustment increases the projected deficit in 2023 by $16 billion, and cumulatively by $138 billion from 2014-23. Congress has overridden the scheduled cut in physician reimbursements every year since 2003, in a legislative provision known as the "doc fix" (William Poole, 4/8).

USA Today: If Plan B Goes OTC, Common Sense Suffers: Our View
Thanks to a federal judge's ruling last Friday, the Plan B One-Step emergency contraceptive pill could soon be available on drugstore shelves to everyone, no matter how young. That would be a mistake, and the Obama administration should appeal the judge's ruling (4/8).

USA Today: 'Plan B' Contraception Ruling Correct: Opposing View
As a mother, I can understand the visceral reaction of many parents to the idea of teens having direct access to emergency contraception. But as the leader of the reproductive rights organization that sought the elimination of limits on the over-the-counter sale of emergency contraception, I feel it's my duty to ensure that the broader point of this effort — to expand access to a safe and reliable means of preventing unintended pregnancy for women of all ages — does not get lost (Nancy Northup, 4/8).

Los Angeles Times: Don't Punish People Who Really Need Painkillers
But the biggest providers are well-meaning doctors who underestimate the hazards of dependence with commonly prescribed painkillers like Vicodin. "Doctors were led to believe the risk of addiction was low ... that you could prescribe these drugs safely," said drug expert Dr. Michael Von Korff. Now studies suggest that as many as 1 in 4 patients wind up abusing their opioid medication. What the research doesn't tell us, though, is how many people feel their lives are better because they take the drugs (Sandy Banks, 4/9).

The Medicare NewsGroup: Why Crude Medicare Cuts Will Quietly Kill Seniors
The recent news that thousands of seniors with cancer are being denied treatment with expensive chemotherapy drugs as a result of sequestration-mandated budget cuts raises the question of whether other patients being equally harmed, but less visibly. A careful study of the impact of past federal budget cutting suggests a troubling answer. That study, in a National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper published in 2011 and revised last year, established an eerily direct link between slashing hospital reimbursement and whether Medicare patients with a heart attack live or die (Michael Millenson, 4/8).

PBS Newshour: Finding The Prescription For Improving U.S. And Global Health Care
Whenever I travel around the country -- or the world -- and people I meet learn that I am a journalist focused on health and health care, they often ask: What country do you think has the best health care system? Often they have their own ideas of what the right answer is. … As for me, when asked this question, I sigh. I've learned too much in my travels around the U.S. and the world, and spent too much time with people involved in their nation's health systems, to believe that any of them is perfect. Almost every system -- ours, England's, France's, Japan's, Germany's, Canada's, Israel's, you name it -- has its strengths and weaknesses. And right now, almost every one of them is in pursuit of the elusive Triple Aim (Susan Dentzer, 4/8).

The Washington Post: Planned Parenthood's Defense Of Infanticide
When Rep. Todd Akin made his outrageous comments about "legitimate rape" it was front page news — and rightly so. But when a representative of Planned Parenthood is caught on camera defending infanticide, it merits barely a mention in the mainstream media. Testifying against a Florida bill that would require abortionists to provide emergency medical care to an infant who survives an abortion, Planned Parenthood lobbyist Alisa LaPolt Snow was asked point blank: "If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion, what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?" She replied: "We believe that any decision that's made should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician" (Marc A. Thiessen, 4/8).

The Chicago Tribune: Utter Arrogance Of Obamacare
The Associated Press recently reported that Obamacare could price older smokers out of the insurance market because it "allows health insurers to charge smokers buying individual policies up to 50 percent higher premiums starting next Jan. 1." ... So much for the promise of lowering health insurance costs for all. ... So, I guess they would also agree that other high-risk behavior should require penalty-sized premiums. Single teenage girls who engage in unprotected sex should pay more to cover their prenatal and baby care — or abortions. And whatever else bureaucrats deem to be risks that should only be insured at a higher premium. It also sounds very Republican (Dennis Byrne, 4/9).

Sacramento Bee: Nevada Needs To Atone For Patient Dumping
Nevada authorities say they're sorry for how they treated James Flavy Coy Brown, who at age 48 has been battling mental illness for his entire adult life. But Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Nevada Legislature need to provide more than lip service, and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, whose underlings say they're investigating, must focus on the reasons behind Nevada's mistreatment of Brown and possibly many others. ... Nevada authorities housed Brown at the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas. On Feb. 11, they sent him by Greyhound bus to Sacramento, a city where he had never been and had no relatives. To tide him over on the bus ride, Nevada supplied him with a three-day supply of antipsychotic medication, four bottles of Ensure and what he called "cheesy peanut butter crackers" (4/9). 

Sacramento Bee: Pérez Bill Could Add To Health Reform Costs
Assembly Bill 1263 by Speaker John A. Pérez seeks to improve and expand medical interpreter services for Medi-Cal patients. ... If all the bill did was improve testing, training and monitoring of health care interpreters, and push the state to draw down more federal funding available for their services, it might merit support. But nearly half the bill deals with setting up a process for interpreters, most of whom are private contractors now, to join a public employee union, pay dues and collectively bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions. It also sets a guaranteed minimum compensation of $60 an hour, more than what most interpreters earn now. ... Creating a new unionized work force within the health care field is certain to increase financial pressures in a system stressed by soaring costs (4/9). 

Sacramento Bee: Consumer Watchdog Should Know Better
Recently, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones approved a grant worth up to $88,305 to the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog. Not surprisingly, Consumer Watchdog last week issued a report finding that Anthem Blue Cross is asking for too much in its latest rate request, as the Los Angeles Times reported. If Consumer Watchdog had stopped there, no one would be raising red flags. But in touting its taxpayer-funded findings about Anthem in a news release, the Santa Monica-based organization also promoted an initiative that will be on the 2014 ballot. Some federal taxpayers undoubtedly will be uneasy knowing their money is being used to help an advocacy group with one of its ballot campaigns (4/8). 

Health Policy Solutions (a Colo. news service): Looking Out For No. 1 In Health
In college basketball, being No. 1 means winning the Final Four. In cinema, it means taking home an Oscar. But when it comes to Colorado's health, being No. 1 could improve hundreds of thousands of lives and greatly benefit the local economy and business environment. Though Colorado already is No. 1 in certain measures (we have the leanest and most-active adult population of any state), the 2012 Colorado Health Report Card shows there's plenty of room for improvements. For example, we're No. 31 among other states in prenatal care and No. 38 in children's preventative dental care. And though our adult population is the leanest relative to other states, our obesity rate for adults and children has risen dramatically in recent years (Michelle Lueck, 4/8).

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: State Right To Maintain Pressure On Complex
The testimony in recent weeks in the Oct. 6 death of Brandon Johnson at the Milwaukee Mental Health Complex was heartbreaking. And the report Saturday by the Journal Sentinel's Steve Schultze that state regulators are keeping up pressure over staffing concerns was certainly sobering. Both should serve as a reminder that a fundamental transformation of the delivery of mental health services deserves the highest priority from county and state officials. Gov. Scott Walker and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele have committed themselves, respectively, to providing more money and a deadline for moving to a new model (4/8).

Medpage Today: The Physician Pay Reform I'd Like To See
Look, here's my idea: stop redirecting the truth about what's really eating up the cost of health care.  It's time we address the excessive costs of all of these excessive middle management healthcare leeches.  If you want physician payment reform, stop creating ridiculous fronts called "National Commissions" of doctors that act as our modern-day Physician Inquisitors. Instead, pay us what we're each worth (trust me, it's not that hard to find out and it sure as heck doesn't take a year of meetings held at expensive hotels that results in just one white paper with 14 co-authors that carry innumerable conflicts of interest into the discussion) (Dr. Wes Fisher, 4/8).

Boston Globe: Medicalized Condition Doesn't Always Need Treatment
We doctors do this a lot, actually, this medicalizing of things that really aren't medical conditions. We're not so much doing it to sound smart or alarm people, it's just how we talk. And sometimes, making something a condition is easier for us because then we can offer tests and medical treatments, which is what we know how to do. The problem is, not all of those tests and treatments are necessary (Dr. Claire McCarthy, 4/8).

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