KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: ‘Class War’ Over Medicare Funding; GOP Needs Courage To Cut Entitlements In Debt Fight

CNN: Fiscal Cliff Deal Bad For Future Generations 
Failure to curb our deficits and reform unsustainable entitlement spending means passing greater debt burdens on to future generations. Democrats and Republicans have the opportunity to reverse this trend and claim credit. ... Sadly, the deal struck this week in Congress maintains the trend of $1 trillion deficits for at least another year while continuing to ensure that federal health care spending a generation from now will be untenable (Alex Brill, 1/4).

The New York Times: Battles Of The Budget
For the reality is that our two major political parties are engaged in a fierce struggle over the future shape of American society. Democrats want to preserve the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — and add to them what every other advanced country has: a more or less universal guarantee of essential health care. Republicans want to roll all of that back, making room for drastically lower taxes on the wealthy. Yes, it's essentially a class war (Paul Krugman, 1/3). 

Fortune Magazine: 2013: The Year We Became The Health Care Nation
Medicare and Medicaid are the biggest element of our most serious national problem: crushing federal debt. ... Without changes, health care alone will consume more of the federal budget than all discretionary spending does now -- defense, law enforcement, courts, and all regulatory agencies. Every time we have to reconcile taxes and spending or approve a federal budget or raise the debt limit, we'll face the inescapable need to cut Medicare's and Medicaid's growth. And every time an elected official whispers such a thing, large groups of citizens will scream (Geoff Colvin, 1/4).

Los Angeles Times: More Cliffs To Come 
Obama insists he won't negotiate over the debt ceiling this time around, and Democrats seem to believe that they can extract more tax hikes in return for agreeing to curb spending on entitlements. This week's deal, however, appears to have drained their leverage. ... The compromise that McConnell worked out with Biden wasn't a complete washout. ... It avoided a steep cut in fees that could have driven many doctors out of the Medicare program while continuing a tax break that improves the work incentives for low-income families (1/3).

The Washington Post: Making Future Cliffs Count 
[I]f the president and Republicans want to restrain entitlement growth, but neither wants to offer specifics, let them come together around a new aggregate annual cap on entitlement spending. If Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are together slated to grow by 6.7 percent a year for the next decade, enact a law saying they can only grow by, say, 5 percent ... And an entitlement cap embraced by both sides could put fresh energy into bipartisan efforts to make the health-care system more efficient (Matt Miller, 1/3).

The Wall Street Journal: The Debt-Ceiling Fight Will Be Dirty
Throughout the fiscal-cliff negotiations, the Republicans kept thinking Mr. Obama would sign on to entitlement reform, giving both parties political cover. In this vain hope, the GOP shrunk from laying out its specific demands on Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid. ... The GOP must know by now that the president's only goal is to water down any reform proposals. So their only chance of making a dent in the debt is to begin bold. Do House Republicans have the courage to lay out big demands (say, premium support for Medicare or block grants for Medicaid), send a bill to the Senate, and sell entitlement reform to the public? (Kimberley A. Strassel, 1/3).

The Wall Street Journal: Boehner's Second Chance 
During the Reagan years when the GOP held the Senate, John Dingell used the Energy and Commerce Committee to highlight executive branch sins (real and imagined), while Henry Waxman used every lever of power to expand entitlement benefits. Republicans should do a reverse Waxman, reforming the likes of Medicaid quietly and at the margin until they can do it wholesale (1/3).


Des Moines Register: Congress Again Just Delayed Its Day Of Reckoning 
[T]he cost of federal entitlements — namely Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — will rise dramatically in future years. So, we will still need that "grand bargain" on higher tax revenues and entitlement spending cuts that Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, came close to reaching last year (1/3).

The New York Times' Opinionator: Better, If Not Cheaper, Care 
While end-of-life care has improved considerably over the last 30 years, many Americans still die in hospitals when they would rather die at home. Nearly 20 percent of deaths occur in an intensive care unit or immediately after discharge, and too many patients experience symptoms like pain that are controllable with appropriate palliative care (Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, 1/3). 

The New York Times' Economix: The Complexities Of Comparing Medicare Choices
A fundamental question that has engaged health-policy researchers and commentators for some time is whether coverage of Medicare’s standard benefit package under Medicare Advantage plans is cheaper or more expensive than it is under traditional fee-for-service Medicare. The answer is yes (Uwe E. Reinhardt, 1/4). 

The Medicare NewsGroup: Can Medicare Fraud Be Curbed?
As Congress batted around higher eligibility ages and reduced Medicare spending last year, two topics that have not garnered much public discussion are fraud and overbilling. If Medicare is to clean up its fiscal act, it will need to be much more aggressive in these areas (John Wasik, 1/3).

WBUR: Beating Obesity By Any Means Necessary 
Obesity remains a serious and costly epidemic. If the country is ever going to get its health care costs under control, these are the people government has to reach. We ban unsafe cribs and scrutinize toys for safety. Why not help children and their parents make better choices about food? (Ed Fouhy, 1/3).

Minneapolis Star Tribune: We've Lost Our Balance On Mental Illness
I once knew someone, many years ago, who was sent to a "rest home" by her aggravated husband. Today, you and I would call that "involuntary commitment,"  ... It was a time when horrific places like Pennhurst were still operating, and anyone who grew up in the Philadelphia area knows what I'm talking about. Dante himself couldn't have conjured up something as infernal as this "hospital" where the patients were chained to their beds and starved for days on end (Christine Flowers, 1/4).

The Washington Post: Virginia's Phony Concern
Twenty clinics in Virginia performed slightly more than 25,000 first-trimester abortions in 2011. In carrying out that legal, safe and relatively simple procedure, there were very few reports of mishaps or complications. ... Nonetheless, in that same year Republicans in Richmond enacted legislation requiring stringent and unnecessary rules that would reclassify abortion clinics as the regulatory equivalent of hospitals (1/3).

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