KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Considering Baby Boomers’ Future Burden On Medicare; Holtz-Eakin Endorses State Exchanges; The Value (Or Not) Of Mammograms

The New York Times: The Baby Boom Bump
The Congressional Budget Office projects that if current policies continue, total federal spending will rise to 24 percent of gross domestic product in 2022. [Republicans and Washington deficit hawks'] proposed solution is a cap on government spending. ... These plans ignore the simple fact that you cannot repeal the aging of the boomers. The main reason expenditures are rising this decade is that spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is increasing by a whopping 3.7 percent of G.D.P. as the baby boomers age and retire. This demographic fact also has been driving increases in disability insurance payments as more knees give way and backs give out (Kenneth S. Baer and Jeffrey B. Liebman, 12/6).

The Wall Street Journal: Beneath The Presidential Platitudes
Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson has put fresh emphasis on a major and underlying aspect of our fiscal disputes: It's the yoots versus the coots. The young may not be aware of it, but they'll long bear the tax burden of the entitlement arrangements the old have instituted (Peggy Noonan, 12/6). 

The Washington Post: Health-Care Dominoes
Amid the entitlement mumbo jumbo, raising the eligibility age (for Medicare) is attractive to politicians casting about for savings because it is tangible. It is at the top of the Republican wish list. It was part of the never-consummated deal that House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama crafted last year — although House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has declared her opposition. Here’s the wrinkle: This no-brainer turns out to be exceedingly complicated. The savings aren’t as big as you might imagine (Ruth Marcus, 12/6).

The Washington Post: Pelosi: Dems Must Say No To Raising Medicre Eligibility Age
It’s a perennial fear among liberals: In the quest for a fiscal cliff deal, the White House and Democrats will ultimately acquiesce to GOP demands to raise the Medicare eligibility age. But one Democrat is drawing a line against this possibility: Nancy Pelosi. ... It’s unclear how much influence Pelosi will have over any final deal. ... But if tax hikes are in the compromise, there may be major Republican defections, meaning as many as 100 or more House Dems could be needed to pass it. Public statements like the above are meant to signal to the White House what her caucus can accept (Greg Sargent, 12/5).

National Review: Yes To State Exchanges
Already 18 states have decided to leave their exchanges to the federal government, choosing a slippery slope toward precisely what liberal Democrats want: a federally controlled health-care system that would be the first step toward European-style, single-payer health care. Conservatives have an obligation to keep this from happening. Setting up state-based exchanges is an important piece of defense (Douglas Holtz-Eakin, 12/6).

USA Today: Potential ObamaCare Privacy Nightmare
By mid-December, the federal government is planning to quietly enact what could be the largest consolidation of personal data in the history of the republic. ... ObamaCare's federal exchange, however, will be very different from these earlier efforts or emerging private exchanges such as In order to determine eligibilty for health insurance subsidies, the new exchange has to bring together information about you and your family from the Treasury Department and IRS, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, as well as your Social Security number -- all coordinated by the Department of Health and Human Services (Stephen T. Parente and Paul Howard, 12/6).

The New York Times: Two Important Steps For Women
The version of the National Defense Authorization Act approved this week by the Senate contains two important provisions promoting equitable treatment of women. ... The first provision would end an injustice to women who serve in America’s military. ... it would lift the statutory ban that denies female service members coverage for abortions in cases of rape and incest. Under current law, military health plans pay for abortions only when a pregnancy endangers a woman’s life. ... The other provision offers hope for the Afghan women (12/6).

Los Angeles Times: Appeals Court Puts 1st Amendment Over Public Health
The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act makes it illegal to sell a prescription drug for any purpose other than what's listed on the label. Nevertheless, a divided federal appeals court this week tossed out the conviction of a former drug sales rep who was recorded pitching a doctor on other uses of a medicine approved by regulators solely to treat the sleep disorder narcolepsy. And here's the kicker: The court ruled that the sales rep had a free-speech right to promote the drug's unapproved uses (David Lazarus, 12/6). 

Kansas City Star: Mammogram Doubts Are Health Care’s Third Rail 
For more than a decade, multiple studies have advanced the argument that routine screening for some forms of cancer doesn’t prevent premature death and may do more harm than good. ... Similar mixed messages have been sounded to men about screenings for prostate cancer. Studies have found that early detection and aggressive treatment of that disease may be unnecessary, ineffective and risky. ... Is it time to rethink the value of preventive screenings, and cut back on the costly diagnosis and treatment options that come with early detection? (Barbara Shelly, 12/6).

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Maternal Mortality Is Getting Worse. We Can Do Better
The U.S. ranks a dismal 50th in maternal mortality – dead last in the developed world and behind numerous other countries, from Turkey and Saudi Arabia. About 1,000 women across the country die each year from pregnancy-related complications, a rate of 14.5 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2007, the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Fischer and Begleiter, 12/7).

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