KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Entitlement ‘Train Wrecks’ Approaching; Collecting For Health Bills At The Hospital

Arizona Republic: Hard Choices Have To Be Made
The evidence has been clear for a long time now regarding the future of those twin financial train wrecks known as Social Security and Medicare. We have known for decades that without significant reform both are on a path toward insolvency. We learned this week, however, that both runaway trains took a shortcut at the last switching station. The train wrecks are approaching faster than we thought (4/28).

The Dallas Morning News: Entitlement Reforms Are Needed Now
Here we go again. The experts who oversee Social Security and Medicare rang the alarm bells once more last week. ... Stabilizing Medicare is too big an issue for the last few months of an election year, but President Barack Obama and likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney still should lay the groundwork for action next year. ... We can't afford to waste this election. The warning bells are sounding, very clearly (4/29).

CNN: Obama, Democrats Not Serious About Passing Budget
Democrats claim that last year's Budget Control Act is an adequate substitute for a real budget because it "deems" spending caps. Obviously, it is not. It is only half the equation. It includes no plan for saving Social Security or Medicare, for reforming taxes, or for ever living within our means. But it does prove that Washington is certainly good at making sure spending continues (Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., 4/29).

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Pay Up Front For Health Care? Not So Outrageous
If anyone is shocked to learn that hospitals must either cajole patients into paying their share of bills or else try to stick somebody else with their costs (that is, the rest of us, through higher prices or increased insurance premiums or bigger taxes or all of the above), they have been living in fantasyland. Fairview is admitting to mistakes, though not to breaking the law…. There may have been violations of privacy that raise altogether different issues. And of course those who truly can't pay are entitled to treatment all the same. But it's hard to condemn reasonable attempts to collect from everyone else (D.J. Tice, 4/27).

San Francisco Chronicle: Feds' War On Medical Marijuana Goes Overboard
Obama is right to note that even though California and 15 other states have legalized medical marijuana, its trade violates federal law. But it is one thing for federal law enforcement to investigate dispensaries that have sold marijuana for recreational use and prosecute offenders. It is overboard when prosecutors raid establishments on a wholesale basis, seize their records and assets, arrest individuals and otherwise attempt to drive dispensaries out of business, even if that means denying access to legitimate medical marijuana users (4/30).

Des Moines Register: A Couple Of Options For VA Health Care
As it is currently structured, the VA health system doesn't make sense for anyone. Hiring nearly 2,000 more workers is just the latest example of what's wrong. Where will it find these people? It will recruit them away from the country's existing workforce that serves 300 million Americans and is already grappling with a shortage of mental health professionals. These people will become government employees and work for the VA, which serves about 6 million people each year. The VA system also doesn't make sense for veterans or taxpayers (4/27).

The Washington Post: Psychiatry's Bible, The DSM, Is Doing More Harm Than Good 
About half of all Americans get a psychiatric diagnosis in their lifetimes. Receiving any of the 374 psychiatric labels — from nicotine dependence disorder to schizophrenia — can cost anyone their health insurance, job, custody of their children, or right to make their own medical and legal decisions. And if patients take psychiatric drugs, they risk developing physical disorders such as diabetes, heart problems, weight gain and other serious conditions (Paula J. Caplan, 4/27).

Des Moines Register: House Action Shows A Lack Of Compassion
This past week, the Iowa House passed a health and human services budget that shows just how out of touch extreme legislators are with the people of Iowa, particularly women. Part I of an amendment attached to the budget was an example of politics at its worst, with legislators trying to push their ideological views into Iowa law. ... The Iowa House version of the budget included an amendment that would strip the rape or incest exception, essentially telling all women in Iowa that if you are a victim of rape or incest that results in a pregnancy and you receive health benefits through Medicaid — well, that's just too bad (Jill June, 4/28).

Modern Healthcare: Meeting Critical Needs
Many healthcare leaders have looked to hospital emergency departments as a logical focus for implementing changes in their systems. Emergency departments have always served as the main entry portal into hospitals, and the quality of care delivered by a hospital system begins with the emergency department. Strategies for improvement include optimizing work flow, improved care pathways, technological advances and improved physician and nursing performance. Transforming emergency departments to meet modern demands is critical to the viability of hospitals and health systems, and physician workforce issues are a key component in this change (Danny Greig, W. Anthony Gerard, Kim Bullock and Kim Yu, 4/28).

Sacramento Bee: Big Tobacco Wants You To Think Doctors Oppose Cigarette Tax
We knew it was only a matter of time before the tobacco industry unleashed a media barrage that would attempt to confuse voters about Proposition 29, the initiative on the June ballot that seeks to raise the tobacco tax to increase funding for cancer research. ... And so we are now seeing the first salvo in their misinformation campaign. Watch out for a television ad that attempts to convince you that doctors actually oppose Proposition 29, which The Bee and many health groups have endorsed (4/29).

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