KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Sen. Whitehouse Argues Deficit Fix Shouldn’t Be About Medicare; Is A Plunge Over The Cliff So Bad?

Politico: Health Care Savings Without Medicare Cuts
As President Barack Obama and congressional leaders continue discussions to avert the so-called fiscal cliff — the mix of tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect automatically in January — we hear a troubling but familiar refrain in Washington: To fix our deficit, we must cut Medicare benefits. That is flat-out wrong. The fact is, we have a systemwide health care cost problem in America. Health care expenditures are nearly 18 percent of our gross domestic product. The next least-efficient developed country in the world spends 12 percent of its GDP on health care (Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., 12/4).

Baltimore Sun: Why We Must Stop Obsessing About The Budget Deficit
America's wildly inefficient, balkanized health-care system is already taking a far larger share of the total economy than that of every other rich nation (18 percent), and yet our health outcomes are worse. ... So instead of fighting over how to cut the budget deficit, we should be having a constructive conversation about how to use government's bargaining power through Medicare and Medicaid to hold down health care costs. And then use the Affordable Care Act as a stepping stone toward a single-payer health-care system (Robert B. Reich, 12/5).

The Washington Post: Opening Bids On 'Fiscal Cliff' Talks Are Too Small
Mr. Boehner would cut $600 billion in medical entitlement spending, $300 billion in other entitlements and $300 billion in discretionary outlays — numbers that he suggested are based on ideas raised in congressional testimony a year ago by Erskine Bowles, a former co-chair of the national deficit reduction commission. The reference to Mr. Bowles’s recommendation also would imply applying a new inflation adjustment to federal taxes and benefits, yielding $200 billion in savings, and a gradual increase in the Medicare eligibility age (12/4).

The Wall Street Journal: The Budget Baseline Con
Both the White House and House Republicans are pretending that their goal is "reducing the deficit," which they suggest means making real spending choices. They are talking about a "$4 trillion plan," or something, regardless of how that number is reached. Here's the reality: Those numbers have no real meaning because they are conjured in the wilderness of mirrors that is the federal budget process (12/4).

Los Angeles Times: 'Fiscal Cliff’? Let's Take The Plunge 
Let's join hands and walk to the bottom of the cliff together. It's not very far down. The deficit and national debt will be reduced; Social Security, Medicaid and, for the most part, Medicare will go on unharmed; America will go back to tax rates that worked better than the cuts we've been living with; and Congress will actually be forced to do something for a change: Republicans and Democrats will have to work together to repair those programs damaged by sequestration (Jack Shakely, 12/5).

Los Angeles Times: Your Guide To The 'Fiscal Cliff' 
So far, Democrats have managed to duck tough decisions on how much to cut from Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Their day of reckoning will come, but probably not until next year (Doyle McManus, 12/5).

The Tennessean: State Should Run With Ball, Manage Own Health Care
State [health insurance] exchanges will have lots of authority. Though they will not be setting the insurance rates, they can bar an insurer from an exchange for raising its rates too high. ... We believe it is best for Tennessee to develop its own exchange, because exchanges are an innovative, market-driven strategy that foster competition, choice, cost-savings and quality among insurers. It leaves Tennessee in charge, and not the federal government (Drs. Manoj Jain, and William H. Frist, 12/4).

The Wall Street Journal: The FDA Vs. Free Speech
The dirty not-so-little secret of health-care regulation is how frequently it infringes on civil liberties. On Monday a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals said that Food and Drug Administration rules on the promotion of drugs violate the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. ... [The Second Circuit decision is] ...a reminder that health regulation is by nature health coercion. This is especially important to keep in mind now that the health-care system awaiting under ObamaCare depends very much on coercing people for "their own good" (12/4).

Bloomberg: Hospital Incentives Help Babies Determine Own Birth Dates
As hospitals and insurers struggle to contain expenses, a confluence of interests emerges. By reducing elective birth interventions, providers and insurers can cut costs while mothers and newborns achieve better health. A two-year effort in Washington state shows the possibilities of such an approach. ... A handful of other states are experimenting with measures to reduce optional early births (12/4).

Health Policy Solutions (a Colo. news service): Medicaid Expansion May Be More Costly Than Advertised
For the first time in decades, [the federal health law] makes it reasonable for Colorado to begin mending its structural fiscal imbalance by reversing the excessive growth in the state’s Medicaid and child health insurance programs. The act makes commercial insurance widely available for both working and nonworking people at all income levels (Linda Gorman, 12/4).

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Pharma's "Vision" For The Future Or Three Blind Mice?
Last month the pharma columnist at Forbes, Matthew Herper, wrote that after "talking to executives around the drug industry," most are pursuing one of the following three alternative scenarios: The blockbuster model, the expanded orphan strategy and the access model. Here, I offer up some insight into each of these "visions" of the future (Daniel R. Hoffman, 12/4).

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