KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Coburn On His Dropout; Malpractice Reform And States

The Washington Post: Why Is The Senate Stalling On The Debt Debate?
For the past several months I have been meeting with a small group of senators from both parties, informally known as the Gang of Six, that was designed to force the idle - not gridlocked - Senate, and then the House and the president, to enact a long-term deficit-reduction package. Our talks reached an impasse this week when, in my view, it became clear we would not be able to produce a balanced, specific and comprehensive deal (Sen. Tom Coburn, 5/18).

USA Today: 'Gang Of Six,' Minus One
Coburn says he dropped out because Democrats repeatedly refused to cut enough from big entitlement programs. The Democrats' spin is that Coburn re-opened settled issues, such as the size of Medicare cuts, to give himself a plausible excuse to leave the group. Whatever's really going on, the inability of this small, well-meaning gang to reach an agreement is a terrible harbinger, one that raises the stakes for separate budget talks being led by Vice President Biden (5/18). 

Related from KHN: Coburn Exit Has Some Questioning Role Of Gang Of Six (Carey and Pianin, 5/18)

The Wall Street Journal: Schumer Loves Gingrich
GOP Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich responded to our Tuesday editorial headline-"Gingrich to House GOP: Drop Dead"-by calling it "just plain baloney" on Bill Bennett's radio show the same day. But look who's already using the former House Speaker's words to trash House Republicans. None other than Chuck Schumer, the chief Democratic proponent of using Medicare as a political club. The New York Senator told reporters on a conference call Wednesday that "Newt and I are considered political opposites, but I couldn't agree more with what he said Sunday about the plan to end Medicare"  (5/19).

The Washington Post: The Symbolic Battle Over The Debt Ceiling
Symbolism doesn't pay off debts or cover the costs of Social Security and Medicare. This has not stopped politicians in the nation's capital from engaging in an extended and entirely symbolic fight over how to raise the debt ceiling. It's time to stop the charade (E.J. Dionne Jr., 5/18). 

Roll Call: Medical Malpractice Is An Issue For The States
After the House voted to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, House leadership promised they would work to pass their own health care reform alternative. As the weeks and months have gone by, their one and only answer? Eliminating the legal rights of patients injured by medical negligence, nursing home abuse and dangerous drugs and devices … Not only will H.R. 5 make health care more dangerous for patients, but it is already raising eyebrows on both sides of the aisle as a massive federal government takeover (Gibson Vance, 5/19).

Kaiser Health News: What Medicaid Cuts Will Mean For Seniors And Others With Disabilities (Guest Opinion)
While Medicaid was created mostly to provide medical care to low-income moms and their kids, two out of every three Medicaid dollars is spent on the elderly and disabled. .. Many lawmakers who would cut Medicaid would also repeal the CLASS Act that would create a national, voluntary long-term care insurance system. If they oppose direct government spending for personal care, and oppose a transition to an insurance-based system, I wonder how they propose to assist those elderly and disabled who do not have the means to care for themselves (Howard Gleckman, 5/18). 

New England Journal of Medicine: The $640 Billion Question - Why Does Cost-Effective Care Diffuse So Slowly?
One escape route is tax-supported universal coverage, the finance method that works best in most other high-income countries. Another is disciplined managed competition among health insurers, enhanced by national harmonization of the way in which commercial insurers, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and other payers compare providers on value and of the weight they place on value when tiering network providers and paying them. Both solutions require payment reform. Neither solution is politically feasible without robust physician support (Victor R. Fuchs and Dr. Arnold Milstein, 5/19).

New England Journal of Medicine: The Palliative Care Information Act in Real Life
Professional societies of many medical specialties, not just oncology and palliative care, need to recognize that skills for communicating about end-of-life care are as important as learning about the latest surgical technique or the newest pharmaceutical agent  (Drs. Alan B. Astrow and Beth Popp, 5/19).

The Arizona Republic: Social Security, Medicare Are Part Of Debt Problem
Many on the left are claiming that Social Security and Medicare are not contributing to current federal deficits and so shouldn't be included in the current discussion about how to get them under control. The recent trustee reports on the two programs offer a useful opportunity to quantify just how duplicitous this claim is. Here's the argument the left is making. Social Security and Medicare are supported by trust funds that hold lots of special treasury securities -- $2.6 trillion in the case of Social Security and $340 billion in the case of Medicare. At present, payroll taxes coming into the trust funds are insufficient to pay benefits. However, the interest owed on the special treasury securities more than make up the shortfall. Therefore, neither program is contributing to the current federal deficit (Robert Robb, 5/18). 

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Mental Health Investments Are Targeted Too
The reforms included adopting a model benefit set (that is, treatments and services that work) under all Minnesota health care programs -- Medical Assistance, MinnesotaCare and General Assistance Medical Care -- adding about $5 million per year to the mental health system. It also included roughly $18 million per year in infrastructure investments -- money to decrease mental health disparities and to develop services that could help everyone, such as school-linked mental health services, crisis teams and supportive housing (Sue Abderholden, 5/18). 

Seattle Times: All Medical Providers Should Have Training In Issues Related To Military Deployment
Even as a federal Court of Appeals ruled recently that Veterans Affairs care for veterans is inadequate, a possibly greater gap in care for service members has gone completely unrecognized. In the past decade, approximately 2 million American military and civilian personnel have deployed to combat areas. Those individuals, plus their family members, face unique physical, emotional and economic challenges that can have lasting, potentially lethal, impacts (Brian Baird, 5/18). 

Health Policy Solutions (Colorado news service): Health Care Exchange Key Bipartisan Legislative Victory Of 2011
America's health care system is good in many ways, but affordable and easy to navigate it is not, especially for Coloradans in the individual and small-group health insurance markets. That's why Republican Rep. Amy Stephens and I set aside political differences this session to pass Senate Bill 200 creating the Colorado Health Benefits Exchange. (State Sen. Betty Boyd, 5/18). 

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