KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Obama’s Brain Initiative Is ‘Modest But Welcome Start;’ Disability Insurance Facing ‘Immediate Crisis’

The New York Times: On The Frontiers Of Brain Research
President Obama officially announced his new brain research initiative on Tuesday, with a pledge to put $100 million in his 2014 budget to support work at three federal agencies. It is a modest but welcome start for an effort that could transform our understanding of how the brain works and help researchers find new ways to treat and prevent brain disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer's (4/2). 

Los Angeles Times: Does Congress Have The Heart To Avert Disability Crisis?
Disability insurance, or DI, is the least-known and least-understood program within Social Security. It's also the worst-funded and facing an immediate crisis. You may have seen the forecast that Social Security's trust fund will be exhausted in the 2030s, at which point benefits would have to be cut or taxes raised. That's still a conjecture. But there's almost no doubt that the disability program's trust fund will run out in 2016, three years from now. At that point, absent congressional action, disability payments will have to be cut by about 20% (Michael Hiltzik, 4/2). 

Los Angeles Times: Is Disability The New Welfare?
Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute and the Harvard School of Public Health notes in his recent book "A Nation of Takers: America's Entitlement Epidemic" that 29% of the 8.6 million Americans who received Social Security disability benefits at the end of 2011 cited injuries involving the "musculoskeletal system and the connective tissue." Fifteen percent claimed "mood disorders." It's almost impossible, Eberstadt writes, "for a medical professional to disprove a patient's claim that he or she is suffering from sad feelings or back pain." And that's assuming a doctor wants to disprove the claim (Jonah Goldberg, 4/2).

Time: Obamacare Incompetence
Let me try to understand this: The key incentive for small businesses to support Obamacare was that they would be able to shop for the best deals in health care super-stores—called exchanges. The Administration has had 3 years to set up these exchanges. It has failed to do so. This is a really bad sign (Joe Klein, 4/2).

The Wall Street Journal: Comparative Dis-Advantage
The political options under ObamaCare usually come down to change for the worse or change for the much worse, so be thankful for small mercies. On Monday the Health and Human Services Department reversed some of the cuts it planned to impose on Medicare Advantage, even if HHS's vendetta against the program endures (4/2). 

The Wall Street Journal's Political Diary: Is There A Doctor In The House?
According to a recently released survey of 613 doctors—taken by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions—57% believe the future of the medical profession is "in jeopardy" as it "loses clinical autonomy" and income. It's part of what Deloitte calls a "new normal" in the wake of ObamaCare changes that put downward pressure on doctors' compensation and make it harder for them to run their own practices. Half of all respondents and 68% of solo physicians say they "expect their incomes to fall dramatically in the next one to three years" (Alexander Kazam, 4/2). 

New Orleans Times Picayune: More Reasons For Louisiana To Expand Medicaid
After claiming for months that expanding Medicaid would be a bad financial move for Louisiana, the Jindal administration's new analysis shows its own dire predictions to be untrue. Even now, the state Department of Health and Hospitals is downplaying the benefits of the expansion, complaining about Medicaid's cumbersome regulations and fretting about uncertainties. But the numbers in the state report are compelling (4/3).

Politico: Safe Solution For Rx Supply Chain
Three times in the past year including just last month, the Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings that counterfeit cancer drugs originating overseas infiltrated the U.S. pharmaceutical supply chain, putting patients at risk. While the U.S. is fortunate to have one of the safest and strongest pharmaceutical supply chains in the world, incidents like these remind us of the vulnerability of the supply chain and the need to remain vigilant to safeguard the lifesaving and life-enhancing pharmaceuticals that benefit every American (John Castellani, John Gray and Ralph Neas, 4/2).

Bloomberg: Be Rich, Be Smart, Live Longer
Better-educated Americans increasingly live longer than everyone else, and children from higher-income families in the U.S. are getting more education than other people. These are two of the most disturbing trends in the U.S., and it’s entirely plausible that they are related. Economists have recognized many possible connections between health and education, but so far they have done little to link the trends toward greater inequality in each area. ... On the other hand, something such as better access to cutting-edge medical treatments could increase life expectancy disproportionately for children from high-income families. And that, in turn, may make them more likely to complete college (Peter Orszag, 4/2).

Boston Globe: The BC Condom Clash
It's so easy to get sidetracked by the condoms. That's what put Boston College in the spotlight last week: A crackdown on a student group that was passing out condoms on campus, promoting public health while violating a basic Catholic rule. It’s a go-to watercooler story about theology and politics and culture and morality and "the things kids do these days." But what's most fascinating is what this story says about the state of campus activism and sex — the way students are stepping up, on their own, to fill a widespread gap in real-life education (Joanna Weiss, 4/3).

Reuters: New Bird Flu Strain Creates Fear And Surveillance
An emerging bird flu that is mysterious and deadly is haunting China. With four fresh H7N9 cases reported in Jiangsu Province and no indication as to how three Chinese adults caught the little-noted avian flu virus that killed two of them in March, the global medical community is hoping the new flu will calm down until China’s health system can determine how it spread (Peter Christian Hall, 4/2).

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