KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Controlling Entitilement Spending; Irrationality Of Bashing Health Overhaul; Need For Changes To State Workers’ Benefits; Va. Abortion Rules

The Seattle Times: Bring Entitlement Spending Under Control
Entitlement spending — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the rest — is the long-term problem. …  But Social Security is the easy case. Medicare and Medicaid have much bigger problems. The rise in their spending is fueled by the aging population and ever-more-expensive advances in medical care. Their problems cannot be solved with taxes unless American workers want government to take an ever-increasing share of their pay (9/16).

Kansas City Star: Ignore The Detractors: Continue Health Care Reform
Irrationality continues to infect health care discussions, even as the Affordable Care Act is showing positive results. Census figures show the percentage of people ages 18 to 24 without insurance dropped 2 percentage points since 2009. It was the only group to show a decrease in the rate of uninsured, and it benefits from a provision in the new law allowing adult children to remain on parents' insurance plans up to age 26. The growth in Medicare spending also is slowing as hospitals move toward efficiency and quality measures demanded in the law (9/17).

The Wall Street Journal: Voters Want State Government Reform
The top priorities for resolving current fiscal issues are to cut government spending (47%) and to ask for greater sacrifice from current public employees, by having them contribute more towards their benefits (31%). By almost two-to-one, they think that current public employees should have to contribute more toward their pension benefits because of budget problems. A majority (51%) say they would not be willing to cut "social service programs provided by your state" to maintain the compensation of public employees; and 60% say that "education and health care" should not be cut so that "the salaries and benefits of public employees could be paid at current levels" (Douglas E. Schoen, 9/18).

Houston Chronicle: Texas Has Top Medical Centers But Provides Poor Health Care: True Or False? 
We already spend about twice as much per person on medical care as any other country. But because medical care is only 10 percent of what contributes to life expectancy, pouring more money into medical care won't make a lot of difference. So what we really need to do is attack our terrible health care indices with health care solutions: provide access to medical care through health insurance (Medicaid or private), improve our eating and smoking habits and stop killing people with violence and cars (Dr. Arthur Garson Jr. and Carolyn Long Engelhard, 9/17).

Chicago Tribune: Ron Paul's Harsh Definition Of 'Freedom'
It would be nice if we could all turn to our friends and families to pay medical bills, as Paul suggests. But even when others try to help with the bills, they often fall way short. Somebody gets left holding the bag. High costs eventually get passed on somewhere, often to the rest of us in the form of higher insurance premiums and medical costs. As a result, we all pay sooner or later for the holes in the national safety net (Clarence Page, 9/18). 

Seattle Times: Life Or Death For An Uninsured Freeloader?
What was so provocative about the question is that the health-reform plan routinely denounced as socialist — so-called Obamacare — seeks to get the freeloading guy to pay his own way. He'd have to get insurance or be fined. He'd pay for it himself, unless he were very poor. The idea is then there'd be no need for the rest of us to pick up his huge charity-care bills. It's true that coercing people to buy insurance is not "freedom." But what's so aggravating about the health-care debate is that neither is what we have today (Danny Westneat, 9/17). 

The Baltimore Sun: Whistleblower In Maxim Case Is Role Model For Fraud Detection
Something didn't look right. Maxim Healthcare nurses were showing up at Richard West's house according to one schedule. But Maxim was billing the government according to another. West complained to the state: The company was charging for hundreds of hours of work it never did. … Maxim has signed a criminal and civil settlement related to allegations that it schemed to rip off $61 million from state and federal governments, law enforcement authorities said last week. ... If Washington is as serious about fighting medical fraud as it pretends to be, it will recruit an army of Richard Wests to burn off leeches like Maxim. Nobody is in a better position to see fraud than patients, who can check the care they receive against what's on the invoice (Jay Hancock, 9/17). 

USA Today: Bachmann Irresponsible To Spread Fear Of Vaccine
One of the most alarming public-health developments in recent years has been the emergence of a strident chorus of vaccine fear-mongers who have scared too many parents away from getting their children immunized (9/18). 

Mercury News: The Gift Of Vaccines -- Including Gardasil
The debate over vaccines during the Republican presidential debate last week illustrates an unfortunate American truism: Anything in politics that touches on sex is just a mess. Public health officials -- and most sensible people -- are flummoxed over how a vaccine that helps prevent cervical cancer has inspired fear that it encourages promiscuity. Even more perilous is the trend of parents opting out of vaccinating their children against infectious diseases in general, potentially erasing decades of public health improvements. … The danger is playing out in real time in California this year. Whooping cough outbreaks are spiking, and school districts in San Francisco and Sacramento have begun turning away unvaccinated children (9/17).

The Washington Post: Virginia's Abortion End Run
It's already hard to get an abortion in Virginia, and it's about to get much harder. The reason is a new set of regulations — absurdly onerous and utterly unnecessary — pushed by conservative ideologues in Richmond and adopted by the state Board of Health, which is dominated by appointees of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R). The regulations, which go into effect Jan. 1, are likely to result in the closure of many or most of Virginia's 23 abortion clinics, which accounted for all but a few hundred of the 26,000 procedures performed in the state last year (9/18).

The Arizona Republic: Behavioral-Health System Is Thriving During Economic Storm
It is true -- difficult times often cause us to focus on the negative. Some get stuck in that thinking when it comes to Arizona's behavioral-health system. We prefer to focus on what we have accomplished during Arizona's worst budget crisis in its history. Since 2001, behavioral-health funding through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program, has increased by more than 460 percent. Since the recession began, AHCCCS behavioral-health funding increased by 35 percent. There is more money in the behavioral-health system today than there was five years ago. Despite $2.5 billion in overall AHCCCS reductions, a modest change in the number of annual hours for respite care is the only benefit reduced for AHCCCS behavioral-health members (Will Humble and Tom Betlach, 9/18). 

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