KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: A ‘Fail Safe’ And A ‘Time Bomb’ In Health Law; Reason For ‘Optimism’ About Health Costs?

Los Angeles Times: Healthcare Reform's Fail-Safe
Although Republicans are eager to repeal the entire 2010 healthcare reform law, they started the new session of Congress last week by taking aim at one provision in particular: the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a yet-to-be-named group of 15 presidential appointees from various healthcare disciplines that could play a key role in limiting the growth of Medicare spending. Critics argue that it's a bad idea and even un-American to put so much power in the hands of unelected bureaucrats. But with lawmakers seemingly unable to resist the pressure from the healthcare industry to spend freely on Medicare, enlisting the help of independent experts may be the only way to hold down costs (1/20).

The Washington Post: The Time Bomb In Obamacare?
A willow, not an oak. So said conservatives of Chief Justice John Roberts when he rescued the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — a.k.a. Obamacare — from being found unconstitutional. But the manner in which he did this may have made the ACA unworkable, thereby putting it on a path to ultimate extinction (George F. Will, 1/18).

The Washington Post: N. Virginia Campaign Volunteers Urge Obama To Be Bold In 2nd Term
Volunteer campaign workers who played a crucial role in reelecting President Obama have some advice for him on the eve of his Monday inauguration: Be bolder than in your first term, Mr. President. Worry less about offending conservatives. ... Lock in the benefits of Obamacare before Republicans can find new ways to undermine it. Compromise in a big way with the GOP only to reach a deal to curb the federal budget deficit. Do so even if it requires some cuts to entitlement programs like Medicare — providing the Republicans accept more tax increases and shrinkage at the Pentagon (Robert McCartney, 1/19).

The Washington Post: The Case For Deficit Optimism
You might have heard about a recent spat in which House Speaker John Boehner told the Wall Street Journal that President Obama told him, "we don't have a spending problem." Cue the shock and horror from right! In fact, what Obama said is that we have "a health-care problem," not a spending problem. This is, in general, a fairly uncontroversial point on the right, at least when it's not being made by Obama. Turns out, it’s also true. ... So here’s the good news: The growth of health-care costs has slowed in recent years. Big time. From 2009 to 2011, which is the most recent data available, health-care costs have grown by less than four percentage points. That’s compared to typical growth of six or seven percentage points through most of the Aughts. And Medicare is following suit: Spending in 2012 grew by only 3.2 percent (Ezra Klein, 1/20).

Baltimore Sun: End The 'Doc Fix' Charade, Once And For All
Doctors are breathing a collective sigh of relief because we again escaped a cut in Medicare payments. But this whole recurrent charade underscores, once again, the unresolved issue of how to pay doctors. ... It may be that we physicians are paid enough, or at least nearly so. But there is no objective way to calculate reasonable compensation for physicians. After all, what doctors do — preserving health and saving lives — is, in a sense, priceless (James Burdick, 1/22).

Bloomberg: How Whole Foods Market Innovates In Employee Health Care
Companies can make a big difference for their employees — providing good health insurance and promoting good health — all while keeping costs down. I call companies who operate this way "conscious businesses" because they understand that health care should not be only about containing costs — it should be about helping people lead healthy, vibrant, fulfilling lives. I have tried to build my own company on these principles. For example, Whole Foods Market is combating rising health-care costs through a range of innovative health-care and wellness plans (John Mackey, 1/21).

The New York Times' Opinionator: You Are Going To Die
I hadn't realized, until I was forcibly divested of it, that I'd been harboring the idea that someday, when this whole crazy adventure was over, I would at some point be nine again, sitting around the dinner table with Mom and Dad and my sister. And beneath it all, even at age 45, there is the irrational, little-kid fear: Who's going to take care of me? I remember my mother telling me that when her own mother died, when Mom was in her 40s, her first thought was: I'm an orphan (Tim Kreider, 1/20)

The New York Times: When The Patient Knows Best
In oncology, my field, any serious diagnosis almost inevitably leads to the recommendation to treat, treat, treat. As clinicians, this satisfies our need to help, to do something about this hard disease. The financial incentives in modern medicine also encourage aggressive treatment. And then there's the fact that no one wants to die. All those forces keep doctors much quieter on the subject of risks than benefits. But what a disservice that silence does to our patients, each of whom, like Amy, is an individual and wants to receive care on her own terms (Theresa Brown, 1/19). 

The Wall Street Journal: Healthier Births And Babies—With Midwives
Something has gone wrong with the way that we handle birth in this county. After nearly a century of progress, deliveries are now getting more dangerous rather than less so. The number of women who go into shock during childbirth has more than doubled in the past decade, and those who suffer kidney failure rose 97%. Globally, we are tied with Belarus in maternal mortality. As we look for solutions, we'd be well served to examine a remarkable 1920s success story that has almost been forgotten. The key was taking a more personal approach, with a focus on prenatal care, in the style of British midwives (Nathanael Johnson, 1/18).

Boston Globe: Antibullying Idea Clicks
A couple of weeks ago, Amanda Palmer, the musician who became famous as one-half of the Dresden Dolls, logged on to her computer and did something we all do but are loath to admit: She typed her name into the search engine. She calls it ego surfing. The first listing was a link to a blog item that bitterly criticized her. The critic called her a fake communist. Whatever that is. Intrigued, Palmer then typed in “Hate A...” but before she could type Amanda Palmer the auto-fill completed the name: Amanda Todd. Palmer had never heard of her, and assumed it was some sort of celebrity who would typically draw the ire of Internet trolls. But she Googled the name and found out that Amanda Todd was a 15-year-old girl from British Columbia who killed herself last fall after being relentlessly bullied (Kevin Cullen, 1/22).

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