KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Obama ‘Wise’ To Add Mental Health Focus To Gun Initiative; Calif. Considers Giving Localities Responsibility For Expanded Medicaid

The Washington Post: A Big Agenda On Gun Violence
President Obama's sweeping proposals to combat gun violence represent a sound response to the mass shootings that have horrified the country. In his legislative proposals and executive actions announced Wednesday, the president and Vice President Biden showed a willingness to confront a difficult problem head-on -- a problem that is not only about laws but also about culture and mental-health care (1/16).

The Wall Street Journal: Obama At The Gun Rack
After Newtown, the most important policy goal ought to be keeping firearms away from the mentally unstable and other people who pose a danger to society. There Mr. Obama moved the needle by appealing for better mental health care, even if it seemed like something of an afterthought. The gun-control lobby believes mass shootings and the broader matter of U.S. gun violence (which are not the same problem) can be solved by regulating firearms alone. Mr. Obama's raft of suggestions was wise to focus on mentally troubled young people (1/16).

Los Angeles Times: A Crucial Time For Medi-Cal
Gov. Jerry Brown has thrown his support behind expanding Medi-Cal, the health insurance program for impoverished Californians, to the full extent authorized by the 2010 federal health care reform law. It was the right choice, and Brown deserves credit for recognizing that the benefits to public health and the economy outweigh the potential costs. But his budget proposal left state lawmakers to decide whether to keep responsibility for the expanded program in Sacramento or hand it off to the counties. And while it's worth reevaluating how to pay for the medically indigent, it would be a disaster to transfer so much of Medi-Cal's duties to ill-prepared local authorities (1/17).

The New England Journal of Medicine: U.S. Governors And The Medicaid Expansion -- No Quick Resolution In Sight 
[S]ince the Supreme Court ruling on the ACA, states have been grappling with the option the Court presented -- whether to participate in the expansion of Medicaid eligibility to all adults with family incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. ... Though Medicaid was initially enacted in 1965, nine states did not participate until 1970 or later, and it took nearly 20 years before the last holdout joined. One can only speculate about whether that history is about to be repeated, with insurance coverage for millions and the fate of the ACA hanging in the balance (Drs. Benjamin D. Sommers and Arnold M. Epstein, 1/16).

Los Angeles Times: $1,079.28 Worth Of Reasons To Celebrate Obamacare
In December, I found myself suddenly doubled over with abdominal pain. My physician couldn’t see me right away, and since I’d never experienced anything so drastic and debilitating, I went to the emergency room -- one that was in-network. Now that I've gotten my bill, I really wish I hadn't. ... The hospital billed the insurance company $8,086.72, although my actual pre-inflation charges were $3,396.47. BCBS agreed to cover $2,317.19. So I owe the hospital $1,079.28. Gee, thanks. What's the point in paying so much for health insurance if I’m going to get stuck with a bill like that? (Alexandra Le Tellier, 1/16).

Health Policy Solutions (a Colo. news service): Rural Colorado To Benefit From Health Care Policy Changes
Coloradans living in rural communities face greater challenges in accessing health care compared to their urban counterparts. We at the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved consider good access to health care to include: having health insurance coverage, having a place to go to receive health care and having a primary health care provider (Joe Sammen, 1/16).

The Washington Post: In Health, We're Not No. 1
It turns out that being American is bad for your health, relatively speaking. Anyone interested in health care ought to digest the findings of a massive new report from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, which compared Americans' health with that of people in other advanced countries. After spending 18 months examining statistics and studies, the panel reached a damning conclusion: The United States ranks below most advanced countries (Robert J. Samuelson, 1/16).

The New York Times: A Hospital Network With A Vision
As the United States struggles to find new business models for health care, some innovators are looking to other industries, ones that provide high-quality services for low prices. In a recent article in The New Yorker, for example, Atul Gawande suggests that the Cheesecake Factory restaurant chain -- with its size, central control and accountability for the customer experience -- could be a model of sorts for health care. That's not as outlandish as it seems. The world's largest provider of eye care has found success by directly adapting the management practices of another big-box food brand, one that is not often associated with good health: McDonald's (Tina Rosenberg, 1/16). 

Baltimore Sun: The Sniffing And Coughing Season
Flu season is upon us again, but authorities say it won't exhibit as mild a form this year as in seasons past. On Friday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially declared flu an epidemic in Maryland and 46 other states, meaning the number of new cases significantly exceeds what would be expected during a normal year. Health officials are stockpiling vaccine and making it available at hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and doctors' offices, but members of the public have to do their part as well by doing everything possible to get vaccinated before they get sick (1/16).

Oregonian: Oregon May Need Mandatory Flu Shots For Health Care Workers
OHSU, stand back. The lower-profile Samaritan Albany General Hospital beat the mighty Oregon Health & Science University in Portland on an indicator of patient quality: flu shots for health care workers. Nearly 90 percent of the 1,000-plus Samaritan staff got flu shots last winter to protect elderly and medically fragile patients from the life-threatening influenza virus, according to state data. At OHSU, the reported rate was only 45 percent, with the immunization status of a high number of the institution's 14,000 employees classified as "unknown." Rates for other Oregon hospitals ranged from the low 50s to the low 90s, for reasons that can't be explained by size, geography or specialty (1/16). 

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