KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

full issue

Viewpoints: Medicare Advantage And The Bigger Issue Of Entitlements; Little Sisters Of The Poor At The Supreme Court

A selection of opinions from around the country.

Chicago Tribune: Medicare's Big Drug Test
Federal officials poked a medical hornet's nest recently with an ambitious attempt to do what many American taxpayers — and patients — demand: tame rising prescription drug costs in Medicare. Officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rolled out a proposal to test new ways of reimbursing doctors who administer drugs in their offices and in hospital outpatient departments. These drugs include cancer medications, antibiotics and certain eye care treatments — about $19 billion a year in Medicare spending. (3/18)

The Wall Street Journal: ObamaCare Vs. Little Sisters Of The Poor
On Wednesday the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell, a landmark case challenging the Department of Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate under the Affordable Care Act. In addition to the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns whose mission is to “offer the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they will be welcomed as Christ,” the objecting parties include the university I head, the Catholic University of America, the Archdiocese of Washington, and a host of other religious institutions. (John Garvey, 3/20)

The Washington Post: How The Little Sisters Of The Poor Case Puts Religious Liberty At Risk
Zubik v. Burwell is the Supreme Court’s name for the set of cases more often identified with the Little Sisters of the Poor, a religious order that is also a party to the case. I filed an amicus brief in Zubik on behalf of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. I had never before filed a brief in support of the government in a case about the free exercise of religion. (Douglas Laycock, 3/20)

The New York Times: Religion And Birth Control At The Supreme Court
If the harm that Senate Republicans are inflicting on the nation by refusing to consider filling the Supreme Court vacancy were not already self-evident, a case that the remaining eight justices are hearing on Wednesday drives the point home. The case, Zubik v. Burwell, is a consolidation of seven lawsuits involving women’s access to birth control under the Affordable Care Act. It is the fourth time in four years that the justices have taken up a challenge to the law. (3/21)

The New York Times: What Planned Parenthood Really Does
State budget cuts to Planned Parenthood, signed into law last month by Gov. John Kasich, won’t affect the organization’s ability to provide birth control to women like Ms. Thurman. But they could put a stop to a Planned Parenthood program that provides free testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. And the organization might have to stop offering sex education to teenagers in the juvenile justice system and foster care, and home visits to new moms to help prevent infant mortality. (Anna North, 3/18)

The Wall Street Journal: Valeant’s Unnatural Natural Death
A company with a diverse line of consumer products that are in strong demand nevertheless sees its stock price unravel by 90%. That’s the story of Valeant, the standout corporate drama of the past six months. Most accounts trace the drug company’s problems to an October report by a short seller questioning its accounting for sales through a drug distributor called Philidor, but the stock had already lost more than $100 off its peak $262 share price in the two months before these allegations surfaced. (Holman W. Jenkins Jr., 3/18)

The Washington Post: The Next Step For Fixing Flint
The HouseOversight and Government Reform Committee met last week to witness one of the most common of Washington exercises: buck-passing. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) testified that “career bureaucrats” were responsible for the disastrous lead poisoning in Flint’s tap water, and he placed another heap of blame on the federal Environmental Protection Agency for failing to act sooner. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy shot back that the state created the problem and dragged its feet when the EPA started to ask questions. (3/20)

The Washington Post: The Poisonous Conservative Thinking That Caused The Flint Crisis
In a hearing this week about the poisonous water in Flint, Mich., Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R-Ga.) tried to blame the lead-tainted water on the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy explained that, under the law Congress passed, states are in charge of enforcing drinking-water standards. (Dana Milbank, 3/18)

The Washington Post: Democrats Could Destroy The GOP — If Only They Would Welcome Antiabortion Liberals
The GOP was in serious trouble well before the great crackup of 2016. The Tea Party insurgency exposed serious fault lines on everything from immigration to military spending. The antiabortion wing continues to demand that the party defy its central emphasis on limited government by passing legislation that overrides the autonomy of the individual. Today, only 26 percent of Americans identify as Republicans, and with their inability to reach Latinos and Millennials, things don’t look good for the GOP’s future. If Democrats are paying attention, they could easily capitalize on the dissolution of longstanding coalitions to fatten their own. (Charles Camosy, 3/21)

Lincoln Journal Star: Nebraska Health Insurance Deductibles Going Up
What good is health insurance coverage if you can’t afford to actually use it? Unfortunately, that’s not a rhetorical question. It’s one facing thousands of Nebraskans who are required to purchase health insurance on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges. As if rising premiums — which increased by an average of 18 percent in Nebraska this year — weren’t already hard enough, skyrocketing deductibles have rendered many plans “all but useless,” according to a recent report in The New York Times. (Nathan Nascimento, 3/21)

Lincoln Journal Star: A New Option For Health Care
An intriguing and potentially significant piece of health care reform legislation appears to have a clear trajectory to enactment. That’s a credit to its merits and the groundwork done by Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston, a former hospital and health care manager. The bill clears the way for a new health care model in Nebraska under which patients could contract directly with a physician to pay a monthly retainer fee in exchange for unlimited office visits and an annual physical. (3/19)

The Chicago Sun-Times: Drug Companies Should Help Dispose Of Unneeded Medicines
Drugs that collect in medicine cabinets are damaging public health and tainting our environment. We need a better way to dispose of them. A proposal before the Cook County Board to require pharmaceutical companies to play a bigger role in the proper disposal of their products would be a significant step forward. On Thursday, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District went on record in favor of the concept, which is patterned after similar programs set up by counties in California and Washington state. The County Board should follow that recommendation and enact the ordinance when it comes up for a vote next week. (3/20)

The Washington Post: Doctors Should Pause Before Dismissing The ‘12 Steps’ Approach To Addiction
Addiction has long been medicine’s unwanted stepchild. Doctors didn’t understand it, didn’t know how to treat it and felt helpless in the face of the wreckage it brought to their patients’ lives. As a result, while providers addressed the consequences of addiction — endocarditis, liver failure, seizures, overdose — they rarely treated the disease itself. That mysterious task has been left to others: counselors, peers in recovery and 12-step programs. (Jessica Gregg, 3/18)

The Courier-Journal: Doctors Need Every Tool To Aid Patients
Health care providers fight on numerous fronts every single day. Disease and illness, infections and accidents, short-term care and long-term treatment are all demands on the time and skill of physicians fighting for their patients. Then there are larger battles – the fight for greater patient access, better treatments and the ongoing effort to reduce health disparities for minority populations in America. Fighting on all these fronts takes time, energy and creativity. We believe they are all fights worth fighting. In the United States today, black males are expected to live, on average, nearly 10 years less than white females. This is because of a number of causes. According to U.S. News and World Report, “Health inequality is part of American life, so deeply entangled with other social problems — disparities in income, education, housing, race, gender and even geography — that analysts have trouble saying which factors are cause and which are effect.” (Sean L. Francis, 3/17)

The Columbus Dispatch: Pediatric Research: Funding For Child Health Studies Must Be Increased
I attended a meeting last week in Savannah, Geogia, along with about 100 pediatrics leaders in North America. The annual conference of the Association of Medical School Pediatric Department Chairs was attended by experts with each accredited medical school in the United States and Canada. The meetings are fascinating, and the agenda usually focuses on the latest developments in pediatric medicine and research. The plight of national funding for child health research is a perennial topic of dinner conversation. (Dr. John Barnard, 3/20)

The Tennessean: Going To Extremes: Disorder Addresses Obsession To Eat Clean
Everyone knows that eating healthy foods and limiting unhealthy ones is best for optimum health, but what if you cross the line and it becomes an obsession? If someone’s desire to eat clean gets to the point that they develop an actual fear of unhealthy foods it can lead to an eating disorder known as orthorexia. According to the Eating Recovery Center, the national health care system dedicated to the treatment of serious eating disorders, there are more than 30 million people in the Unites States struggling with controlled eating habits including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and orthorexia. (Hollie Deese, 3/14)

USA Today: Public Health 'Monster Spray' Won't Stop Zika
The explosive spread of the Zika virus has captured our attention and dominated headlines. Of particular concern is the possible link between Zika virus infection and microcephaly. Meanwhile, worries about Ebola have diminished, with the World Health Organization declaring an end to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The frenzy that the Ebola virus generated in the United States during the fall of 2014 has become a distant memory. What lessons can we learn from our reaction to the Ebola threat, and how can we apply these lessons to Zika and future epidemics? (Puneet Opal and Ameet R. Kini, 3/20)

The New York Times: The World’s Modern-Day Lepers: Women With Fistulas
One of the worst things that can happen to a woman or girl around the world is a fistula, an internal injury caused by childbirth (or occasionally by rape) that leaves her incontinent, humiliated and sometimes stinking. Victims are the lepers of the 21st century, and although the condition is almost entirely preventable, it is suffered by hundreds of thousands of women worldwide. (Nicholas Kristof, 3/19)

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