KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: The Lesson From Florida’s Special Election; Hospital Deaths; Costs Of Treating Hep C

Los Angeles Times: Are The Democrats Doomed?
But in recent months, the political landscape has grown bleaker [for Democrats] .... The question, of course, is why so many Republicans turned out [in the Florida special election last week] and why so few Democrats did. The answer among strategists on both sides was: Obamacare. But not in the sense that the healthcare law is so unpopular that Democrats are doomed; in fact, as more people sign up for health coverage, polls suggest that Obamacare is a little less toxic now than it was last fall. Instead, the problem is that a high-decibel debate over Obamacare has the effect of prompting conservatives to come out and vote, but not liberals (Doyle McManus, 3/16).

Reuters: Democrats: Beware The Ides Of March
For Democrats, the Ides of March came early this year. On March 11, to be precise, in a special election in a swing congressional district in Florida. A mostly unknown Republican knocked off a much better known Democrat, just like Roman conspirators knocked off Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. Caesar’s killers used a knife. The Republicans’ deadly weapon? Obamacare. Three-quarters of Republican TV spots mentioned Obamacare. Democrats need to practice saying, "Just wait until next time." Because while 2014 is looking worse and worse for Democrats, 2016 is looking better and better (Bill Schneider, 3/14).

The Wall Street Journal: The 'Doc Fix' Follies
The Greek tragedy of bipartisan Medicare reform is entering its third strophe, or the part where everything really bad happens. We'll play the chorus and try to explain the mix of politics that is about to kill a bill that would permanently repeal a Medicare price-control ploy that disguises federal health-care spending (3/14).

Los Angeles Times: Will Delaying Obamacare's Individual Mandate Break The Doc Fix?
House Republicans have teed up a bill that would make a crucial change in Medicare, preventing a deep cut in doctors' fees scheduled to go into effect April 1. But it would pay for it by postponing Obamacare's requirement that all adult Americans buy health insurance until 2019 -- a move that, perversely, could drive up premiums in the individual market and leave even more people without coverage (Jon Healey, 3/14).

The Washington Post: The GOP Plays Chicken With Virginians' Health
Virginia Republicans who are blocking expanded health coverage for the poor and disabled aren't just at war with Obamacare. They're also engaged in a crusade against hospitals, hospital executives and the ability of the state's medical establishment to provide sustainable health care (3/15).

The New York Times: That Old-Time Whistle
We are told, for example, that conservatives are against big government and high spending. Yet even as Republican governors and state legislatures block the expansion of Medicaid, the G.O.P. angrily denounces modest cost-saving measures for Medicare. How can this contradiction be explained? Well, what do many Medicaid recipients look like — and I’m talking about the color of their skin, not the content of their character — and how does that compare with the typical Medicare beneficiary? Mystery solved (Paul Krugman, 3/16). 

The New York Times’ The Strip: Goes Viral 
(Brian McFadden, 3/16).

And on other health issues -

Los Angeles Times: When Medical Errors Kill
American hospitals have a big problem with unnecessary deaths from medical errors. Estimates of the numbers vary widely, but extrapolating from the best studies, a conservative estimate would be that well over 100,000 people a year die unnecessarily because of errors made by their healthcare teams. And the numbers have remained high despite concerted efforts to bring them down. Why? Because we've embraced a so-called solution that doesn't address the problem (Philip Levitt, 3/15).

The New York Times: How Much Should Hepatitis C Treatment Cost?
A new pill to treat hepatitis C raises difficult questions about fair pricing, not only in the United States and other affluent nations but in developing countries around the world. Hepatitis C, which afflicts some 150 million people globally, often without symptoms for years, can cause fatigue and fever, cirrhosis or liver cancer. The pill, known as Sovaldi, or generically as sofosbuvir, costs $84,000 for a standard 12-week course of treatment. That breaks down to $1,000 for each pill, taken daily (3/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Alzheimer's And Its Uncounted Victims
It's well known that President Ronald Reagan died in 2004 after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. Yet his death certificate listed pneumonia as the official cause of death. Attributing Alzheimer deaths to other diseases is all too common—and highlights the complicated nature of Alzheimer's contribution to deaths in the U.S. each year. It also suggests that Alzheimer's might be a bigger problem than previously thought (George Vradenburg and Stanley Prusiner, 3/16). 

WBUR: Lesson Of The $446 Ear Rinse: Medical Bills That Make You Say 'What?!'
Get your attention, all those upper-case, bold-face letters? They certainly got mine, when they came in the mail recently. It was a virginity-losing moment: My first debt-collection letter in more than a half century of financial clean living. And of course, it was a medical bill that did it — just as it's medical care that causes more American personal bankruptcies than any other bills (Carey Goldberg, 3/14).

The Journal of the American Medical Association: Integrating Care At The End of Life: Should Medicare Advantage Include Hospice?
Since its creation in 1983, the Medicare hospice benefit has been "carved out" of Medicare's managed care program, commonly known as Medicare Advantage. When a Medicare Advantage enrollee elects hospice, payments for both hospice and other services unrelated to the individual’s terminal condition revert to fee-for-service Medicare, and health plans remain liable only for the Part D or supplemental benefits they provide. ... Integrating hospice into the Medicare Advantage program has a number of potential advantages and tradeoffs .... Moreover, should such a change move forward, important safeguards must be in place to ensure optimal end-of-life care for Medicare beneficiaries (David G. Stevenson and Haiden A. Huskamp, 3/14).

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