KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Exploiting Botched Exchanges; Falling Number Of Uninsured; Medicare Drug Plan Retreat

The New York Times: Harassment Of Troubled State Exchanges
Now that the badly botched rollout of the federal government's health care website seems to be behind us, Republicans have shifted their criticisms to several states that are experiencing problems enrolling people on their state-run exchanges. Their attacks would be more credible if they showed the slightest desire to help fix the problems. But their main goal is to belittle the efforts of states that are working hard to make their systems better, to scare people away from the state websites and to discredit the health care reform law itself (3/10).

The New York Times: The Democrats Stand Up To The Kochs
Democrats have for too long been passive in the face of the vast amounts of corporate money, most of it secret, that are being spent to evict them from office and dismantle their policies. By far the largest voice in many of this year's political races, for example, has been that of the Koch brothers, who have spent tens of millions of dollars peddling phony stories about the impact of health care reform, all in order to put Republicans in control of the Senate after the November elections. ... Democrats may never have the same resources at their disposal — no party should — but they can use their political pulpits to stand up for a few basic principles, including the importance of widespread health-insurance coverage, environmental protection and safety-net programs (3/10).

Los Angeles Times: New Data Show Obamacare Gaining Traction
Here's a rundown of the latest metrics on the Affordable Care Act. -- The percentage of uninsured Americans is falling sharply, reaching 15.9% as of the end of February, according to Gallup. That's the lowest rate the survey firm has measured since 2008. The greatest gains in insured status were shown by people earning less than $36,000 -- a prime target for the act -- and black Americans. Hispanics still lag. -- The cost of health insurance and medical care came sharply down in January, according to number-crunchers at Goldman Sachs and the Commerce Department. Goldman Sachs attributed the slide to cuts in the reimbursement formulas for Medicare services, which are written into the law. The ACA is effectively putting more money in people's pockets -- the Commerce Department estimated that the expansion of Medicaid benefits under the ACA amounted to $19.2 billion in January (Michael Hiltzik, 3/10).

Bloomberg: Good Obamacare News That Might Even Be True
Is the Affordable Care Act starting to reduce the number of uninsured Americans? Democrats and ACA supporters are buzzing about a new Gallup poll showing that the percentage of uninsured has dropped to 15.9 percent, the lowest level since 2008. I’d be cautious, however. On the plus-side, this is a large survey, with a 28,000-person sample. But this line of questioning also has a history of spikes in both directions. The latest results need to be reconciled with the finding just six months ago -- in the third quarter of 2013 -- of 18 percent uninsured, the worst-ever rate (Jonathan Bernstein, 3/10). 

Bloomberg: Unions Suffer For Obamacare
Unite Here, a union that represents service industry workers, has released a pretty blistering report condemning Obamacare. ... Notwithstanding my reservations about the quality of this report, unions actually do have three big problems with Obamacare. As the Official Blog Spouse has chronicled, Obamacare has made things hard for the multiemployer health plans that many unions offer (Megan McArdle, 3/10).

The Richmond Times-Dispatch: Medicaid Expansion
As we have said before, the Senate's "Marketplace Virginia" plan – using federal Medicaid money to provide premium support for low-income Virginians’ purchase of insurance on the private market – makes the most sense and would be the best course to pursue. It deserves to pass. At the same time, we see no need to link the Medicaid dispute to the state budget. If House Republicans are wrong to oppose the Senate plan, then Democratic leaders and the governor are wrong to play parliamentary games. It's time to decouple Medicaid expansion from the budget and settle each issue separately (3/10).

On other health care issues -

Los Angeles Times: CVS Probed In Alleged Loss Of Painkillers
CVS Caremark Corp. could face as much as $29 million in fines for allegedly losing track of prescription painkillers at four of its California stores, from which authorities said thousands of pills may have been sold on the black market. Officials at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the California Board of Pharmacy told me Monday that more than 37,000 pills were apparently taken from CVS stores in Modesto, Fairfield, Dixon and Turlock. Meanwhile, CVS pharmacists in Southern California said they've been instructed by the drugstore chain to get their paperwork in order so that no other prescription meds are found to be missing (David Lazarus, 3/10).

The Washington Post: Health-Care Costs And The 'Moral Hazard' Problem
An article posted Sunday on the Los Angeles Times's Web site reports that two new, potential blockbuster drugs to treat hepatitis C, Sovaldi and Olysio, will be priced as high as $1,000 per pill, or $84,000 for a 12-week treatment cycle. Given the incidence of the illness, these prices could cost patients, insurers and taxpayers billions of dollars a year for California patients alone. This story illustrates one problem – although certainly not the only one – with the U.S. health-care system that makes it by far the most expensive in the world. (We spend about 18 percent of economic output on medical care.) In the United States, private health insurance sometimes excludes from coverage certain categories of care but essentially covers all treatments with any medical efficacy for illnesses that are covered, without any consideration of cost effectiveness (Russell Korobkin, 3/10).

The Wall Street Journal: The Medicare Drug Benefit Revolt
Liberals claim that only government can control health costs, and when market competition proves otherwise, the White House tries to hide the evidence by sabotaging the market. So taxpayers can be thankful that, amid a bipartisan political backlash, the Administration on Monday shelved its plan to ruin the Medicare prescription drug benefit (3/10). 

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