KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Longer Looks: Best Health Policy Picks From Thought-Provoking Publications

Every Thursday, KHN's Jessica Marcy compiles this selection of interesting perspectives, from a variety of publications, on health care in America.

O, The Oprah Magazine: The Battle Against Dementia: The Dark Descent Of An Unlikely Victim
Lynn is in the early stages of Lewy body dementia, a degenerative brain disease that shares traits with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. … I'm astonished when Lynn starts to describe for me, in detail and with a copy editor's precision, what it's like to lose your mind. … Unlike many American families, the Forbishes had discussed long-term-care insurance before they found themselves in crisis, but Lynn had rejected [her son] Larry's advice to buy it, even though she had a family history of dementia. She planned to buy the insurance after she retired, not by the often recommended age of 59. (A 2006 AARP survey confirmed widespread misperceptions about long-term care, reporting that 52 percent of people 45 and older wrongly think Medicare will pay for assisted living; another 18 percent weren't sure.) These are probably not the facts Lynn had in mind when she asked me to write her story, but after learning that her facility costs $3,900 a month, they are foremost in mine (Beth Macy, 2/24).

National Journal: Senior Moment: Will Republicans' Plans For Medicare Threaten Their Gains Among The Elderly?
For decades after the New Deal, Democrats considered seniors a centerpiece of their coalition. But in the past several elections, older voters - particularly whites - have moved toward the Republican Party. Now, the GOP may be on the verge of making a hugely consequential bet on the durability of that growing support. From potential presidential candidates such as Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Republicans are increasingly signaling that they may soon impose the largest changes ever on Medicare, the giant federal program that provides health care to nearly 40 million seniors. Their idea would end Medicare as it exists (Alex Roarty, 2/24).

Miller-McCune: GOP Examines Ways to Block Health Care Reform
Congressional Republicans would like to repeal "Obamacare" entirely - poof, be gone. ... Failing to uproot it, they may instead try to cut off big pieces. Targets could include the individual mandate that requires most people to have insurance (and which public opinion polls have found to be unpopular); the penalties for large employers that don't offer affordable insurance to workers; or the assorted boards and centers aimed at devising better ways of providing care and smarter ways of paying for it, particularly for the elderly, disabled or poor in Medicare and Medicaid (Joanne Kenen, 3/1).

The Atlantic: Wisconsin's Real Doctors And Their Fake Sick Notes For Protesters
Fears over becoming hostage to soaring health insurance premiums has Wisconsin's teachers and other public employees protesting in downtown Madison for the second week running. … No doubt many members of the University of Wisconsin's Department of Family Medicine share the teachers' concerns. ... Family doctors work the front lines advocating for our interests amidst a disintegrating health care system, summoning the will to keep battling with insurers and administrators all while trying to hold on to their belief that they can change human behavior. Family doctors feel your pain and have the battle scars to prove it.  … But last week some of these weary warriors carried their patient advocacy too far. In videos breathlessly presented throughout the conservative mediasphere this weekend, doctor after doctor is videotaped writing patently fraudulent sick notes so that the protesting teachers (whose contracts specify that missing work without an excuse can result in dismissal) can keep marching on against the state's union-busting Republican government (Ford Vox, 2/21).

Time: An Argument For Making Birth-Control Pills Available Over The Counter
American women spend about five years either pregnant, trying to get pregnant or postpartum; contrast that with the three decades they spend trying to consciously avoid having a baby. ... [T]he U.S. might want to take a hard look at how women in this country can best protect themselves from unintended pregnancies. The caveat: should the Pill be available without a prescription, women need to make sure they're choosing the most appropriate pill for their particular needs. Taking advantage of a "natural experiment" along the U.S.–Mexico border, [University of Texas] researchers found that U.S. women who crossed into Mexico to buy OTC birth control pills are more likely to stay on the Pill longer than women who get pills by prescription at U.S. clinics (Bonnie Rochman, 3/1).

Mother Jones: Revealed: The Group Behind The Bills That Could Legalize Killing Abortion Providers
First, it was South Dakota. Then Nebraska and Iowa. The similarly worded bills, which have quietly cropped up recently in state legislatures, share a common purpose: To expand justifiable homicide statutes to cover killings committed in the defense of an unborn child. Critics of the bills, including law enforcement officials, warn that these measures could invite violence against abortion providers and possibly provide legal cover to the perpetrators of such crimes. That these measures have emerged simultaneously in a handful of states is no coincidence. It's part of a campaign orchestrated by a Washington-based anti-abortion group, which has lobbied state lawmakers to introduce legislation that it calls the "Pregnant Woman's Protection Act" (Nick Baumann and Daniel Schulman, 2/28).

American Medical News: Doctor-Lawyer Advocacy: When Medicine Isn't Enough
A 2-year-old boy had all the symptoms of severe eczema when his mother brought him to JoseAlberto Betances, MD. ... After a few questions, Dr. Betances discovered that more than allergies were ailing the child. The family had been battling their landlord over a roach infestation in their public housing apartment. The boy was known to be allergic to the bugs, which lurked in the floors, refrigerator and sinks. That's when Dr. Betances picked up the phone and called a specialist. Only this time, it was not another doctor. It was a lawyer. ... By teaming physicians and lawyers, the partnerships aim to address what often turn out to be unmet legal and social needs that prevent low-income populations from getting the health care they need (Amy Lynn Sorrel, 2/24).

Hospitals & Health Networks Weekly: Drug Shortage May Be Worst In 30 Years
Hospitals have trouble getting common, critical medications for surgery, cancer care [and] other areas. ... Reported drug shortages are at the highest level in more than a decade, says Erin Fox, manager of the Drug Information Service at the University of Utah ... The service recorded 211 new drug shortages in 2010, up from 70 shortages in 2006 and 166 in 2009. In addition, there were at least 30 unresolved shortages that occurred prior to 2010. Other observers believe current shortages are virtually unprecedented. … Evidence is mounting that the shortages are affecting patient safety and care standards (Howard Larkin, February 2011).

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