KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Ignagni On Prices Of New Drugs; Sen. Johnson On The Difficulty Of Suing A President

The Wall Street Journal: Paying For The Thousand-Dollar Pill 
Lately, there has been considerable debate about the soaring prices of specialty drugs, which are aimed at difficult-to-treat diseases. The good news is that more of these breakthrough drugs are now coming onto the market, giving people new hope and a chance to live longer, healthier lives. But along with the drugs have come prices so high—some more than six figures for a course of treatment—that they threaten the sustainability of the health-care system. This isn't a debate about medical advancement, but rather a larger systemic question of whether the prices being charged for some new drugs are rational and allow people access to the innovation we all want. Do the prices reflect the cost of investment, or are we entering a new phase where monopolies approved under patent law are producing prices entirely untethered to the cost of developing drugs? (Karen Ignagni, 8/3). 

The New York Times' The Upshot: $1,000 Hepatitis Pill Shows Why Fixing Health Costs Is So Hard
A new drug for the liver disease hepatitis C is scaring people. Not because the drug is dangerous — it's generally heralded as a genuine medical breakthrough — but because it costs $1,000 a pill and about $84,000 for a typical person's total treatment. A Washington advocacy effort has sprung up overnight, largely devoted to objecting to the cost of this one medication, Sovaldi. ... But maybe we are looking at the costs of Sovaldi in the wrong way. One reason it is causing such angst among insurers and state Medicaid officials is that treatment costs are coming all at once (Sanger-Katz, 8/2).

The New York Times: Adventures In Prior Authorization
"Dear Doctor,” the letter from the insurance company began. "We are writing to inform you that a prior authorization is required for the medication you prescribed." That’s usually where I stop reading. Thousands of these letters arrive daily in doctors’ offices across the country. They are attempts by insurance companies to prod doctors away from more expensive treatments and toward less expensive alternatives. To use the pricier option, you need to provide a compelling clinical reason (Danielle Ofri, 8/3).

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Why I Took President Barack Obama To Court
During the week of July 4, as we celebrated our country's independence from the rule of kings and renewed our commitment to the rule of law, President Barack Obama explained his own unique conception of the separation of powers: If Congress wants to prevent unlawful administrative action, it should either pass a bill he likes ... or, "sue me." Well, I tried to sue him and discovered why the president was confident he could offer such an arrogant challenge to a supposedly co-equal branch of government (Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., 8/2).

The Washington Post's Post Partisan: The Insiders: The Boehner Lawsuit And Our Bored Icon President
Rather than responding to the House's lawsuit by showing leadership, it appears this is just one more instance in which President Obama can't seem to rise to the occasion. If handled correctly, the former constitutional law professor could use this as a teachable moment. But that would require the president to talk about his view of the separation of powers and how he sees the stakes involved. Instead, the bored icon currently stuck in the presidency chooses to be flippant. He says snarky things to partisan crowds and gets attaboys from the sycophants around him (Ed Rogers, 7/31). 

The Washington Post: Five Myths About Impeachment
Some 40 years after Richard Nixon resigned to avoid his likely impeachment by the House of Representatives, Washington is again talking impeachment. ... House Republicans on Wednesday voted to sue Obama for exceeding his constitutional authority when implementing the Affordable Care Act. ... House Speaker John Boehner has done everything short of hiring blimps to say that there will be no impeachment. Obama is as likely to be impeached as he is to be installed as the next pontiff. And I say that as someone who has testified in Congress that this president has violated federal laws (Joanthan Turley, 8/1).

Los Angeles Times: What Happens When A State Tries To Make Obamacare Work -- Or Not Work
There were signs almost from the start that the great unknown about the Affordable Care Act was how effectively individual states would implement the law. ... Some of [Kentucky's] poorest counties, including the infamous Harlan County, went from recording the highest levels of uninsured residents to the lowest. ... So that's how the ACA works when state officials fulfill their responsibilities. On the other side of the coin is Mississippi, which apparently wishes to turn itself into a laboratory for making its residents miserable (Michael Hiltzik, 8/1).

The Tennessean: Wake Up, Tennessee: Your Health Care Is In Jeopardy
No matter where you live in Tennessee, your health care is in jeopardy. The jeopardy begins with TennCare. Designed to ensure access to health care for the poorest and most vulnerable among us — children, pregnant mothers, patients with cervical and breast cancer — it has faltered seriously. ...  Thousands of TennCare-eligible Tennesseans have been denied access to care. Some, including newborns, have waited more than six months and gone without treatment. On June 27, in a serious rebuke to state officials, the federal Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services cited TennCare for failure to comply with six out of seven benchmarks. No other state falls so short of the law. ... It is time to raise our voices for the health of us all (Nancy F. O'Hara and Sharon H. Cox, 8/2).

The Washington Post: On Obamacare, Opinion Is Locked In For A Long, Long Time
The latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll is out, and among other things it shows an uptick in the number of Americans who say they disapprove of the Affordable Care Act, from 45 percent in June to 53 percent in July. This is a curious finding, given all the good news we've had in recent months about the law's performance. At the same time, we've had a blizzard of anti-Obamacare ads around the country, nonstop Republican rhetoric against the law, and the lawsuit against the president over a part of it — all of which has probably helped stoke general disapproval of the ACA (Paul Waldman, 8/1). 

The New York Times: Censorship In Your Doctor's Office
According to a recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, everything a doctor says to a patient is "treatment," not speech, and the government has broad authority to prohibit doctors from asking questions on particular topics without any First Amendment scrutiny at all. The case, Wollschlaeger v. Governor of Florida, concerned the constitutionality of the Florida Firearm Owners Privacy Act. ... While some of our fellow Second Amendment advocates may be tempted to celebrate this ruling, it is, at most, a symbolic victory for gun rights. And it comes at the cost of a serious and dangerous defeat for the First Amendment (Aul Sherman and Robert McNamara, 8/1).

The Wall Street Journal: Scandal Pays Off For The VA
There's nothing like an imminent August recess to focus Congressional minds, usually in expensive directions. This summer's example is the $17 billion that purports to fix the Department of Veteran's Affairs, Congress's parting gift last week to that failed bureaucracy (8/3). 

USA Today: Social Security, Medicare Coffers Fine
The annual Social Security and Medicare trustees report was just released, and it will presumably inspire the predictable scaremongering about those programs by many in the media and in politics. We'll be told that those programs are running out of money, that they're going to go bankrupt, and that they'll be insolvent. But the programs won't really run out of money (Duncan Black, 8/1). 

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