KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: March 7, 2011

This morning's headlines include reports about Medicaid block grants, pharmaceutical patent woes and differences in hospital costs.

Kaiser Health News: Battle Over Medicaid Block Grants Could Have Far-Reaching Impact
Kaiser Health News staff writers report:""Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and other Republican governors recently demanded that Medicaid, the state-federal health program that covers 50 million poor and disabled, be transformed into block grants. "Y'all would save a lot of money if you let us run the program," Barbour told a congressional committee. Such statements are being embraced by House Republicans, who are vowing to tackle costly programs to reduce federal spending. But any effort to turn Medicaid into block grants – federal lump-sum payments to states – raises a host of questions. Democrats argue such a move could result in loss of health care coverage for millions of people who are poor, sick and old" (Carey and Serafini, 3/6).

Kaiser Health News: Calorie Labeling Recommendations For Restaurants Coming Soon
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, Bara Vaida writes: "Like many Americans, 55-year-old Washington, D.C. entrepreneur Ron Howard eats out many times a week. Unlike many Americans, he chooses restaurants based on whether he'll be able to find out the calorie count for the meal he'll be eating. … Howard is one of the people lawmakers had in mind when they included in the new federal health law a requirement that restaurant chains and vending machines post calorie information on menus, menu boards and machines. The federal regulations directing how this should be done are due out by the end of this month" (Vaida, 3/6).

Kaiser Health News Column: The GOP's Health Policy Cynics
In his latest Kaiser Health News column, Michael Millenson writes: "The health care community is discovering to its shock and dismay that it's not simply traditional Republican conservatives who have taken control of the House of Representatives, it's a new group of cynics" (3/6).

Kaiser Health News Column: So This Is Freedom? They Must Be Joking
In his latest Kaiser Health News column, Michael Cannon writes: "ObamaCare goes the extra mile by only permitting approaches that are more coercive than itself. Its waiver provisions only apply to that law's private-insurance provisions, and require states to preserve the law's price controls prohibiting health rating, to cover the same number of people, and to provide coverage as comprehensive and subsidies as large as the new law does. These restrictions completely bar free-market reforms" (3/7).

Politico: The Liberal Campaign Against SCOTUS Conservatives
Still reeling from a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that opened the door to an explosion of political ads from corporate interests, and fearful the court could overturn President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul, liberal groups have launched an aggressive – and at times personal – attack on the court's most conservative justices (Vogel, 3/7).

The Associated Press: Romney Seeks To Address Health Care Woes
Call it an attempt to address an obvious political vulnerability. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney on Saturday derided President Barack Obama's health care law - modeled in some ways after one the ex-governor signed in Massachusetts - as a misguided and egregious effort to seize more power for Washington (Sidoti, 3/6).

Politico: Voters: 'Romneycare' Not Fatal
"Romneycare" will dog Mitt in New Hampshire, but it won't kill him. Two dozen Republicans interviewed by POLITICO this weekend said they're disappointed Mitt Romney created an individual mandate in Massachusetts requiring medical coverage, but appreciate both his vocal promises to repeal "Obamacare" and his embrace of state's rights (Hohmann, 3/6).

Politico: Haley Barbour's Mixed Message On Medicaid
Haley Barbour doesn't have many nice things to say about Medicaid these days. The potential 2012 president contender says he hates having to come to Washington to "kowtow and kiss the ring" whenever he wants to adjust eligibility or coverage (Kliff, 3/6).

The New York Times: Patent Woes Threaten Drug Firms
At the end of November, Pfizer stands to lose a $10-billion-a-year revenue stream when the patent on its blockbuster cholesterol drug Lipitor expires and cheaper generics begin to cut into the company's huge sales (Wilson, 3/6).

Los Angeles Times: Hospital Stays Cost More In Northern California Than Southern California
Northern and Southern California have long argued over which one has the best sports teams, nicer climate and most stunning scenery. When it comes to healthcare, however, there's little debate: It costs a lot less to be hospitalized in the Southland (Helfand, 3/6).

The Wall Street Journal: Looking Past HCA's Flaws
Hospital operator HCA Holdings Inc. is big, bloated with debt and facing the unknowns of the U.S. health-care overhaul. Its private owners stand to make a large gain on their original investment after paying themselves special dividends and selling 30% of the total shares in the offering. The only thing getting smaller these days at HCA seems to be the growth in its revenue and profits (Cowan, 3/7).

Los Angeles Times: New Nursing Home Paperwork Is Worth The Effort
We've all heard that government paperwork is a drag on productivity and a backdoor tax on the economy. Here's a case where it may actually be helping to improve people's lives (Hiltzik, 3/6).

NPR: Doctors Debate Criteria For Prostate Biopsy
Doctors call it "PSA velocity," the change in the level of a chemical in the blood called prostate-specific antigen. In recent years, many doctors have come to rely on it as the best indicator for when it's time for an initial biopsy to check for prostate cancer. But PSA velocity has come under challenge (Knox, 3/7).

Los Angeles Times: The Debate Over Prostate Cancer Tests
Men of a certain age have heard the pitch many times: If they care about their health, they really should get their PSA checked. The simple blood test, men are told, can help uncover hidden cases of prostate cancer and potentially save their lives (Woolston, 3/7).

Los Angeles Times: The Change In Mammogram Guidelines
The question seemed simple enough: Should women in their 40s be advised to get routine mammograms in the hopes of catching breast cancers while they are still small and, presumably, easier to treat? But the more an expert panel of doctors, nurses and preventive health specialists studied the data, the harder it was to come up with an answer (Aschwanden, 3/7).

Kaiser Health News also tracked weekend health policy developments, including more on Mitt Romney's defense of the Mass.' health plan and the political battles that stem from the budget debate and insurance costs.

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