KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Santorum On Repeal; Ariz. Republic Endorses Romney; How Catholic Church Almost Accepted Birth Control

The Wall Street Journal: My Economic Freedom Agenda
I'll submit legislation to repeal ObamaCare, and on day one issue an executive order ending related regulatory obligations on the states. I'll work with Congress to replace ObamaCare with competitive insurance choices to improve quality and limit the costs of health care, while protecting those with uninsurable health conditions. In contrast, Gov. Romney signed into law RomneyCare, which provided the model for ObamaCare. Its best-known feature is its overreaching individual health-care mandate. But it shares over a dozen other similarities with ObamaCare and has given Massachusetts the highest health-care premiums in the nation, and longer waits for health care (Rick Santorum, 2/27).

Arizona Republic: Romney Right For These Times
The Arizona Republic recommends that, in Tuesday's primary election, Republican voters support Mitt Romney for president. ... Despite the similarities between the national law and the health-care he championed in Massachusetts, Romney has been the most forceful of all GOP candidates at insisting that ousting Obamacare would be his first priority (2/24).

The Washington Post: How The Catholic Church Almost Came To Accept Birth Control
There is something truly baffling about the 2012 presidential candidates hotly debating Planned Parenthood and birth control. These battles were fought — and won — half a century ago. At that time, the vast majority of Americans, nearly all mainstream religious organizations and leaders in both political parties accepted contraception as beneficial to families, society and the world (Elaine Tyler May, 2/24).

The New York Times: Back to First Principles on Religious Freedom
The political ruckus over the issue has tended to obscure a central fact: the legal case against the policy is remarkably weak. The contraception benefit is plainly constitutional and a proper exercise of government power under Supreme Court precedent and a federal law dealing with exercise of religion (Dorothy Samuels, 2/25).

The New York Times: Ultrasound: A Pawn in the Abortion Wars
"Informed consent." It sounds so reasonable. That’s the stated goal of legislation being considered in Virginia that would require a woman seeking an abortion to first have an ultrasound, giving her an opportunity to examine the developing fetus and hear its heartbeat. ... [A]bortion rights advocates succeeded in reframing the proposal in the public mind as, instead, an outrageous threat to women's dignity (Eric Eckhom, 2/25).

Chicago Tribune: How Sex Hijacked Election Talk
How has an election year that was supposed to be all about economic recovery suddenly become all about sex? ... When you have made social issues like abortion, gay marriage and reproductive rights your central issues, you should not be shocked that media cover them. ... As long as the party's right wing seeks perfection in mere mortal politicians, its members will be disappointed, especially when they're talking about matters as touchy as sex (Clarence Page, 2/26).

The Washington Post: No One Is 'Playing Politics' On Solyndra Or Birth Control. This Is Politics.
But there is something troubling about the extent to which our leaders have made politics their bogeyman. Most important issues, from reproductive health to clean-energy investment, are riddled with politics — as they should be. They involve serious questions about what the country values and where it wants to invest its resources. To suggest that one’s own side is free of politics is not only sanctimonious, it’s also destructive (Alec MacGillis, 2/24).

Modern Healthcare: Politics Vs. Medicine
Clearly a goal of prenatal testing is to track the health of a developing fetus, looking for chromosomal abnormalities that might indicate any number of serious developmental problems. Could such information play a role in a decision to terminate a pregnancy? Of course. But in 21st-century medicine, that's also true of other technologies. Even some simple blood tests are used in prenatal diagnostic screening. Should governmental healthcare programs impose stricter limitations on which blood tests they will pay for? (David May, 2/25).

Des Moines Register: The Fight Over Reproductive Rights
The administration backed off in the face of a firestorm of protest, retreating to a compromise that would provide the insurance without requiring religious organizations to pay for it. Even so, Republicans are still denouncing the original plan as a violation of the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution. I don’t see it. The original Obama mandate didn’t require Catholics or anyone else to use birth control. That’s a personal choice. What it did was keep institutions from denying their employees a right that’s guaranteed by law (Donald Kaul, 2/25).

Boston Globe: Scott Brown's Presumption
Those who knew Kennedy, including his son, have lined up to say he would never have said that Catholic institutions should be able to refuse their employees birth control. Yet Brown wrote to Patrick Kennedy that he chooses to believe that he and the elder Kennedy would have been “working together’’ on this issue. Not likely (Adrian Walker, 2/27).

The Washington Post: How The GOP Would Expand The Deficit
Mr. Santorum outlines some $2.2 trillion in specific policies, such as shifting Medicare to a premium support system, transforming social programs into block grants to states and capping their growth, and cutting other domestic spending. Then he offers up the biggest magic asterisk of all time, cutting another $5 trillion within five years, details not provided. Wisely discounting that gauzy promise, the CRFB projects that under its intermediate scenario Mr. Santorum’s policies would increase deficits by $4.5 trillion through 2021, bringing the debt to a scary 107 percent of the economy (2/26).

The Washington Post: Five Myths About Medicare
Because of Medicare’s size and growth, the health-care program has taken center stage on the campaign trail and in Capitol Hill discussions about the federal budget deficit. Medicare covers almost one in six Americans and comprises about 15 percent of the federal budget, but it is often misunderstood. Let’s take a few minutes to separate fact from fiction (John Rother, 2/24).

The Washington Post: Does The Supreme Court Think Like The Average American?
By November’s elections, the Supreme Court will have heard challenges to President Obama’s health-care overhaul, Arizona’s immigration law and, as announced this past week, the consideration of race in college admissions. If the court preserves "Obamacare" or affirmative action, conservatives will cry judicial activism. If Arizona’s immigration statute survives, liberals will take up the charge, just as they did after the court’s Citizens United campaign finance decision in 2010. But is judicial activism a problem if, as a recent study found, the high court’s views mirror those of the American public? (Justin Moyer, 2/24). 

Reuters: Time Nears For An American Tax Overhaul
While almost everyone agrees on the desirability of containing federal health care spending, this is likely to be more difficult than we’d like to believe. Certainly beneficiaries can bear more of the cost of their government insurance than others, and there are steps like malpractice reform and the further encouragement of preventive medicine that should be taken. Yet without intrusions into the private health care system that are unlikely to be politically acceptable, there are severe limits on what can be done (Lawrence Summers, 2/26).

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Health Reform Scare Tactics Move Beyond Broccoli
Remember when opponents warned that it could lead to the mandated purchase of broccoli? Now some say it would let Congress require that everyone buy a car. That’s the prediction of Paul Clement, the lead attorney for the health reform challengers in the pending Supreme Court case. He issued it in a briefing last week sponsored by SCOTUSblog, an influential website that covers the Court, and Bloomberg Law. What doomsday scenario will opponents dream up next? (Robert Field, 2/24).

Des Moines Register: Court, Congress Should Avoid Showdown
The tension that always exists to some degree between Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court may be getting more intense. This tension was triggered by a pending decision in the constitutionality of the 2010 health care reform law. This has the makings of a nasty battle for supremacy between Congress and the courts, and both sides should tread lightly as they approach that line of separation between the two equal branches of government (2/24).

Denver Post: The Wrong Prescription
No one denies that America needs serious health care reform, but President Obama's health care overhaul — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — is the wrong way to go about it. Federally mandated health care will put hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work; add to the already numerous obstacles employers offering insurance plans face; increase the amount of uncompensated care in America; and, in the words of U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson, "invites unbridled exercise of federal police power" (Colorado State Rep. Amy Stephens, 2/26).

HealthyCal: Death of Single Payer Health Plan Inspires Change of Thought
California's so-called “Medicare for all” bill has died. ... an increasing number of Californians are also finding that the answers they’re looking for are literally as close as their next thought. For medical researchers and Everyday Joes alike, the connection between better thinking and better health is becoming increasingly obvious – not to mention better understood (Eric Nelson, 2/24).

Houston Chronicle: Menninger’s High Hopes For Mental Health Care
The opening this spring of the Menninger Clinic Mental Health Epicenter just eight miles from the Medical Center signals a new level of commitment to mental health treatment here. … But the costs of treatment, while high, pale in comparison with the costs of ignoring mental illness and substance abuse. In terms of both dollars and human misery, the costs of refusing to face this crisis are almost beyond count (2/24).

Baltimore Sun: Fair Treatment For All Cancer Patients
Simply put, when cancer patients are treated with intravenous chemotherapy drugs — which for years were virtually the only treatment option — their share of the costs under most insurance plans is limited to office visit co-pays, usually about $20 or $30 per session. … But the cost impact on patients has created heartbreaking situations, some of which patients shared recently with members of the General Assembly (Paul Celano, 2/27).

The Washington Post: A D.C. Hospital On Life Support
D.C. officials have made many of the decisions about United Medical Center with their backs to the wall. To save the only hospital east of the Anacostia River, they ousted one owner, helped another and eventually took control of the troubled facility — all to the tune of tens of millions of public dollars. Now the hospital is asking for more money. That should make the city pause and clearly assess its hopes and its chances of success (2/26).

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Aurora Stands Up For City, But Access Still A Problem
Aurora Sinai Medical Center, a bastion of medical care for Milwaukee's central city, will keep its emergency department and other services open at its downtown location. … Aurora made a difficult decision to keep Sinai's ER and other services open despite financial pressure to do otherwise. Give the company credit for that. Now, Aurora and the city's other health care systems should put more money and effort into bolstering federally subsidized clinics, which could ensure better and more sustainable access to quality care (2/25).

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Editorial: Medical Board Fails Quality Examination
Readers shouldn't conclude that Minnesota has a bad board, but it clearly hasn't moved as aggressively as some states to improve its transparency or evaluate how it could better protect the public. Minnesota lawmakers are now stepping in to do what some other states' medical boards have already pushed for: legislation that allows and speeds access to greater information about physicians — such as info from others states' disciplinary actions or information from malpractice cases. … Lawmakers should seize this opportunity to ensure that the state has the leading-edge medical board it deserves (2/25).

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