KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Slowing Health Costs; What Causes Genetic Testing To Be So Expensive; Iowa Governor Offers Medicaid Supports A ‘Glimmer Of Hope’

Modern Healthcare: Cost Sustainability
We have done it. We have decreased the increase in the cost of healthcare. ... Is this decline the desperately needed bend in the healthcare cost curve or just the impact of the depressed economy? ... A slower growth of healthcare cost would mean less burden on the individual family, freeing that family to invest in and live a higher quality of life. ... The good news is that it can be done. And the blueprint for eliminating waste, lowering the cost and maximizing the value is actively being considered by voices that rise above partisan bickering (Drs. Manoj Jain and Bill Frist, 5/18). 

The New York Times: The Outrageous Cost Of A Gene Test
Angelina Jolie's revelation that she had had a preventive double mastectomy was eloquent and brave. She had learned that she inherited a faulty copy of a gene, BRCA1, that put her at high risk for invasive breast cancer as well as ovarian cancer. Now women everywhere are asking: Should I get the same test? What will it cost? ... Unlike routine tests for diabetes or high cholesterol, however, the BRCA gene evaluation — performed by only one company in the United States, Myriad Genetics — is phenomenally expensive, with a "list price" close to $4,000 when a related genomic-rearrangement test is included in the analysis, which oncologists typically recommend. The question is why? Today, molecular scientists like me can sequence all of an individual’s genes — at least 20,000 of them — for about $1,000. About five cents per gene (David B. Agus, 5/20). 

The Wall Street Journal: Gene Patents Drive Medical Innovation
The biotech industry began in 1978 when the University of California applied for a patent on the gene for the human growth hormone. Since that filing nearly 20% of the 20,000-plus genes in our DNA have been patented. The current Supreme Court case challenging the patent on the breast cancer gene (Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics) could invalidate thousands of these patents, affecting hundreds of diagnostic and therapeutic products. The biotech industry saves tens of thousands of lives and creates as many jobs. However, a ruling against the patent will deep-six future life-saving technologies as investor support for such discoveries disappears (Kevin Kimberlin, 5/20). 

The New York Times: New Efforts To Undercut Health Reforms
Congressional Republicans are trying to exploit two controversies bedeviling the Obama administration to undermine the health care reform law. They are using an uproar over misguided tactics by Internal Revenue Service employees to target conservative political groups seeking tax-exempt status as an excuse to prohibit the agency from playing a pivotal role in carrying out the Affordable Care Act. And they want to use a controversy over efforts by the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, to encourage private donations to help enroll people in new health care exchanges as a cudgel to disrupt such efforts (5/20).

Des Moines Register: Medicaid Debate Has A Glimmer Of Hope
So it's hard to know whether a glimmer of potential compromise on health care, based on Gov. Terry Branstad’s comments Monday, is genuine. It looks promising, however. Branstad hinted Monday that he might be willing to use federal Medicaid expansion dollars for a new low-income health care program in Iowa, under certain conditions (Kathie Obradovich, 5/20).

New Orleans Times Picayune: House Should Approve Medicaid Money
Lawmakers have another chance to do the right thing Tuesday (May 21) when the House of Representatives considers a bill that would allow tens of thousands of uninsured residents to use Medicaid money to buy private insurance. House Bill 233 is a response to Gov. Bobby Jindal's refusal to accept the expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. The bill takes a similar approach to legislation approved in Arkansas that Gov. Mike Beebe is hopeful will get federal approval (5/21).

Kansas City Star: By Not Acting On Medicaid, Missouri Legislature Failed To Help Patients
The Missouri legislature ended its session Friday after failing to act on a rare opportunity to transform Medicaid. However, for the good of Missouri, this critically needed transformation must proceed. Missourians cannot afford a lengthy delay — 300,000 of our neighbors remain uninsured, including more than 13,000 veterans and 4,000 spouses of veterans who live below or near the federal poverty level. Unfortunately, Missourians' tax dollars now will be spent by other states on their versions of Medicaid reform as Missouri businesses and individuals pay more (Herb Kuhn, 5/19).

Lund Report: Cost Of Coverage – The Real Measure Of Health Reform Impact
Prior to actual plan pricing being available, everyone, including me, tried to predict how much the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would increase premiums. Estimates generally ranged from 25 percent to 38 percent, and I was on the high end. So we all knew premiums were most likely going to increase, we just weren’t sure how much. All these efforts to predict were generally done on a false assumption that similar plans to the new Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze plans were available already, and all we had to do was predict the added cost of the new 2014 ACA requirements (John Gridley, 5/20).

Bloomberg: Wildly Varying Hospital Prices Keep Health Care Expensive
If further proof were needed that price competition doesn’t exist in the expensive U.S. health-care market, it arrived this month. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services published 2011 charges for medical treatments set by more than 3,000 American hospitals. … The wide -- and wild -- variation exposes a critical weakness in the national effort to control costs (5/20).

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Bill To Ban Mandated Flu Vaccinations An Unwise Idea
The flu season is winding down around the country, but this year — as in past years — thousands of people required a visit to the hospital after contracting the disease. That's why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that most people get an annual flu shot. And that's why health care workers often are required by their employers to be vaccinated. But that requirement would be illegal under legislation now being drafted by a Republican legislator from Fond du Lac. State Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt told The Associated Press that he began drafting the bill after health care workers complained they had been fired for refusing to be vaccinated (5/20). 

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