KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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Viewpoints: Obamacare As An Election Issue; The Health Industry As Job Creator?

A selection of opinions from around the country.

Bloomberg: Obamacare Is On The Back Burner In Election
No issue has aroused more partisan passion over the past six years than the Affordable Care Act. Yet the law is playing only a secondary role in the U.S. elections. Sure, Republican presidential candidates cater to their base by vowing to repeal and replace Obamacare, and on the Democratic side, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont promises to replace it with a government-run universal coverage system. (Albert R. Hunt, 3/27)

Louisville Courier Journal: Dems See Obamacare As Issue To Run On
In a strange but little-reported turn of events, Democrats in the General Assembly appear to have concluded that they can run on Obamacare – or against Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s attempts to change it. President Obama has been so bad for the Kentucky Democratic Party that it lost the governor’s office last fall and is close to losing its 95-year hold on the state House. (Al Cross, 3/25)

The Fiscal Times: 7 Ways Obamacare Failed Americans And Shortchanged The Country
Back in 2009, when the law was proposed, and in 2010, when it was signed, the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) proponents were giddy with optimism. Proponents proclaimed the many promises of Obamacare. Millions of people would be enrolled by 2016. The number of uninsured would decline dramatically. Health-care costs and premiums would drop. Everyone would have coverage. The federal deficit would decrease. Of course, as President Obama promised, people would be able to keep their plans and their doctors. (Diana Furchtgott-Roth, 3/25)

Modern Healthcare: A Sputtering Jobs Machine
Each time the general economy went into a tailspin, the great healthcare job machine kept puttering along. In the parlance of the dismal science, the sector served as an economic stabilizer. During the worst of the last recession in 2008 and 2009, the U.S. economy lost 8.8 million jobs. But the economic dislocation was actually far worse. If you leave out healthcare, more than 14 million Americans lost their jobs. It was only a gain of 5.5 million jobs in the healthcare sector that prevented the Great Recession from becoming a second Great Depression. (Merrill Goozner, 3/26)

The Washington Post: A Cheaper Rx
If you had to reduce economic science to a single phrase, it might be this one: Incentives influence behavior. Now the federal government is about to test that proposition in an effort to curb Medicare spending on prescription drugs dispensed by physicians, which grew from $9.5 billion in 2005 to $22 billion in 2015. (3/27)

The Wall Street Journal: Ending The Prescribe-Don’t-Tell Charade For Off-Label Drugs
Earlier this month the Food and Drug Administration reached a settlement with Amarin, a small pharmaceutical firm, allowing it to promote its drug Vascepa for treatments that the agency had not specifically approved. The company had sued the FDA, claiming a First Amendment right to “engage in truthful and non-misleading speech.” The agency maintained that the settlement was “specific to this particular case and situation.” In reality, it is a watershed that could fundamentally change the way drug companies market their products. (Joseph V. Gulfo, 3/27)

The Cleveland Plaindealer: Step Therapy Requirements Jeopardize Patient Safety
When you're injured or sick, who do you think should decide which prescription medication will help you feel better, your doctor or your health insurance company? I'm betting just about everyone reading this said the doctor. Well, I am a doctor and I can tell you that all too often, the choice is made by the insurance company, no matter what you or your doctor wants. And it's not a question of what medication is best for your situation, it's a question of what's cheapest for the insurer. (Dr. Michael Bourn, 3/27)

The Huffington Post: The Supreme Court’s Conservatives Don’t Seem To Know What Obamacare Actually Does
The Supreme Court has taken four big whacks at the Affordable Care Act in as many years. But the conservative justices still don’t seem to understand how it works. During oral arguments this week in Zubik v. Burwell — a set of seven challenges to Obamacare’s contraceptive-coverage mandate on behalf of religious nonprofits — Chief Justice John Roberts and his colleagues on the court’s conservative wing gave the impression that they don’t really grasp what the ACA’s health insurance exchanges do, or indeed how the market for health insurance itself even functions. (Jeffrey Young and Cristian Farias, 3/24)

The New York Times: Protecting Employees’ Health Data
Does your back hurt? Do you have diabetes? Are you taking birth control pills? You and your doctor know the answers to these questions, and now others may too: businesses that are contracting with employers to collect and analyze employee health data. But federal privacy law does not provide safeguards for how this information is used. (3/26)

The New York Times: The State Assault On Planned Parenthood
Last summer, after deceptively edited videos were used to accuse Planned Parenthood of selling fetal tissue, congressional Republicans voted to block all federal financing for the organization, and threatened to shut down the entire federal government if they didn’t get their way. The charges against Planned Parenthood were completely bogus — investigations in 12 states found no wrongdoing, and one, in Texas, resulted in the indictment in January of the video makers. By then, however, the damage was done. (3/28)

The Daily Commerical: Medicaid For Kids Is Insufficient
Knowledge is power. And the knowledge to be gained through a privately funded survey of Florida pediatricians could help generate the power to change the state’s woeful record on health care for its neediest children. As part of the 17-question survey, more than 5,000 pediatricians and pediatric specialists have been asked whether they participate in Florida’s Medicaid managed-care program, what the wait times are for Medicaid patients, and whether the managed-care companies create barriers to health care for young patients. (3/25)

USA Today: Indiana Abortion Law Won't Help The Disabled: Column
I was driving across Wisconsin, headed for an Easter weekend in Minnesota, when I heard that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence had signed a bill imposing a wide swath of restrictions on access to abortions. My son, a 9-year-old with Down syndrome, was listening to Bon Jovi on his iPad, mostly quietly enjoying the music in his headphones. Every so often, though, he’d call out “Mommy! Daddy!” Then he’d pump his fist and shout, “Rock and roll!” The new law, HB 1337, “prohibits a person from performing an abortion if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because of: (1) the race, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex of the fetus; or (2) a diagnosis or potential diagnosis of the fetus having Down syndrome or any other disability.” (David M. Perry, 3/26)

The Des Moines Register: Grassley Protects Rights Of People And The Unborn
President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Antonin Scalia brings into sharp focus the role the next justice will play in shaping our nation for a generation or more. Just as the court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade — which Justice Scalia called an “absurdity” — ushered in abortion on demand up to the point of birth, Scalia’s replacement will be a key vote in deciding cases that will either cement Roe as the law of the land, or crumble it. (Jenifer Bowen and Marjorie Dannenfelser, 3/24)

The Washington Post: Block Grants: The ‘Poisoned Chalice’ Of Social Policy
If you pay attention to the fiscal philosophy of many of today’s conservatives, you will quickly discover that they love block grants. What’s a block grant? It’s a fixed amount of money sent from the federal government to the states to administer a program. Sounds innocuous, I know. But consider programs such as food stamps (now called SNAP) and Medicaid that aren’t administered as block grants (though states pay a portion of Medicaid costs). The funds from the federal government are, importantly, flexible (not fixed) in these cases. They ebb and flow to meet the needs of people eligible for the programs as, for example, they ramp up in recessions and down in expansions. (Jared Bernstein, 3/28)

Los Angeles Times: Block Grants Are Just Budget Cuts In Disguise — And The Targets Are Antipoverty Programs
The most popular panacea offered by conservatives for the supposed burden of federal funding that comes with strings attached is the "block grant." The idea is that states and localities know best how to serve their citizens — especially their disadvantaged citizens — so the feds should just give them bundles of money for social programs and let them decide how to spend it. Much better than the government trying to manage these programs from far-off Washington, D.C. (Michael Hiltzik, 3/25)

Detroit Free Press: Three Things Snyder Is Still Getting Wrong In Flint
Residents in Flint were exposed to lead-contaminated water for months after the city switched its water supply, under the oversight of a succession of Snyder-appointed emergency managers. The local plant wasn't ready to operate full time, or to handle corrosive Flint River water — and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality botched its responsibility to ensure that the water was treated to make it safe for human consumption. Because it didn't require the appropriate treatment, the river water leached lead from Flint's aging lead service lines. When evidence mounted that there was a problem in Flint, Snyder's administration worked to discredit the folks whose objections should have been heard. And even after Snyder acknowledged the problem in October, the state's response didn't reflect the severity of the crisis. (3/26)

The Des Moines Register: Iowa Fails To Protect Seniors From Sex Predators
Does the state have an obligation to protect the residents of a nursing home when a sex offender is placed there by order of the court? Not necessarily, the Iowa Court of Appeals says. In upholding the partial dismissal of a lawsuit filed by the estate of a woman who was sexually assaulted in an Iowa nursing home, the court said last week that state officials don't always have a “duty of care” to protect the public from sex offenders. (3/27)

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