KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Medicare News: Health Spending On Seniors Grew Faster In U.S. Than Canada

A new study finds that U.S. spending grew nearly three times faster since 1980 than Canada's spending on a similar population group.

Medpage Today: U.S. Bill For Senior Care Higher Than Canada's
Medicare spending in the U.S. has grown nearly three times faster since 1980 than spending on a similar population group in Canada, a study has found. Spending per Medicare enrollee rose in the U.S. from $1,215 in 1980 to $9,446 in 2009. In Canada, per capita spending on elderly patients in the country's national health care system grew from $2,141 to $9,292, David Himmelstein, MD, and Steffie Woolhandler, MD, at the School of Urban Public Health at City University of New York, reported online in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Adjusted for inflation, those figures translate to a 198.7 percent growth rate in the U.S. compared with 73 percent in Canada (Pittman, 10/30).

Another new study takes a look at how hard it is to find savings in programs for those who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid --

The Hill: Kaiser: Savings Hard To Find In Programs For Dual-Eligibles
Everyone agrees that people who receive both Medicare and Medicaid generate significant expenses for the federal government -- but controlling those costs might be harder than it seems. A new paper from the Kaiser Family Foundation says efforts to better coordinate care for "dual eligible" seniors have produced only modest savings. Dual-eligibles make up a relatively small share of all Medicare and Medicaid recipients, but they make up an outsized portion of spending within both programs. Dual-eligibles are among the oldest, sickest and poorest patients in the country — which makes their care some of the costliest. There is broad support in Washington for reducing spending through better care coordination between the two programs, but the Kaiser Family Foundation review says big savings will be hard to find (Baker, 10/30). (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.)

Another study sees some successful strategies in Medicare programs --

CQ HealthBeat: Payoff Seen From Obesity Measures, Medicare Advantage Pay-For-Performance System
So often the strategies that policy wonks prescribe to get better value for the health care dollar prove disappointing. But health plan quality measures and pay-for-performance systems might be a different story. A study released Tuesday by the leading national group that evaluates health plans draws two main conclusions: that Medicare's program for making higher payments to health plans based on performance is reaping dividends, and that, prodded by quality measures, doctors are stepping up efforts to identify and counsel obese patients (Reichard, 10/30).

Health News Florida: Medicare Sends Warning To Seniors In Low-Rated Plans
In a week or two, seniors enrolled in certain Medicare health plans and drug plans will get a letter from the federal government. It is not good news. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) letter will say their plan is, frankly, substandard, "rated 'poor' or 'below average' for at least the last three years." It continues: "We encourage you to compare this plan to other options in your area and decide if it is still the right choice for you." Hint, hint (Gentry, 10/30).

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