KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Catholic Group Dismisses Compromise On Contraceptives; Funding Entitlements

USA Today: Catholic Health To Obama, HHS: No Contraception Compromise
President Obama's support for his signature health care act took a fresh hit Friday. The Catholic Health Association, the nation's largest private health care provider, has rebuffed the latest White House moves to make its contraception coverage mandate more acceptable to Catholics and conservative evangelicals, according to Religion News Service. The CHA was a critical voice in getting the Affordable Care Act passed in 2009. Sister Carol Keehan, head of CHA, drew standing ovations from progressive Catholics (Cathy Lynn Grossman, 6/15).

Modern Healthcare: Not Secular
Some commentators recently have advanced a novel perspective that because Roman Catholic healthcare institutions live in the secular world, they are not "churches" worthy of the constitutional protection of religion. They argue that all religious institutions serving in secular space should be treated as different from a house of worship or religious grammar school. ... Based on Catholic theology and my understanding of legal precedent gained from work I have done with the Chicago law firm of Unagretti & Harris, I would posit that this proposal runs counter to decades of legal precedent and centuries of Church teaching (Rev. Michael Place, 6/16).

Kaiser Health News: Different Takes: A Status Check On State-Based Exchanges
Kaiser Health News recently checked in with three states actively pursuing a state-based exchange. Commentaries follow from Rhode Island, Utah and Maryland. A common theme emerged: No matter how the court rules, change is not going to stop. Read commentaries from Christopher F. Koller, Rhode Island's health insurance commissioner; Patty Conner, Utah's exchange director; and Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown

The New York Times: Fiscal Cliff Notes
Controlling the rising costs of Medicare and Medicaid and ensuring the long-term viability of Social Security are essential to a healthy budget. Equally essential is for lawmakers to grasp that not all so-called entitlement spending is the same. Medicare and Medicaid do indeed present potentially explosive and crippling budget problems because of the aging population and the relentless rise in health care costs. Social Security costs, in contrast, are driven solely by the aging population. So its cost curve flattens out over time as the baby boom generation dies off (6/17).

Houston Chronicle: True Or False: Markets And Medicare Don't Mix?
The place where we can see if a market is possible is Medicare, the largest health care payer in the U.S. Recent national proposals have suggested that Medicare's current system of pay for everything (so-called "defined benefit") be replaced with a model where each Medicare enrollee would receive a subsidy to purchase private health insurance ("defined contribution"). ... This would make Medicare much more "market-like" because it would interject individual preferences and the ability to pay for a product, and, in our opinion, a perfectly fine first step. ... The market and Medicare can mix -- but only if the mixture contains important modifications known as regulations, a four-letter word in some places (Arthur Garson Jr. and Carolyn Long Engelhard, 6/15).

The Wall Street Journal: FDA Approvals Are A Matter Of Life And Death
In November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an innovative product called the Sapien Transcatheter Heart Valve, for the treatment of severe aortic valve stenosis. The Sapien valve can be implanted endoscopically, making it a boon for patients who are too sick to endure open-heart surgery. ... This would be a great story for American patients, but for one frustrating detail: The Sapien valve has been available in Europe since 2007, saving lives there but not here (Andrew Von Eschenbach and Ralph Hall, 6/17).

Des Moines Register: Democrats Must Fight Even Harder
Some of us were disappointed the law didn't go farther and include a public option. But partisan and big-money forces have unleashed efforts to maintain the status quo and block reforms these last four years, and will surely try to undo them if Romney wins. Obama needs to re-energize the people who put him in office, expand the base of voters and hope they can still see their own stakes through the fog of special-interest rhetoric (Rekha Basu, 6/16).

Des Moines Register: Parties Need A Moral Compass, Health Reform Emails Show
Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have released more documents showing how President Barack Obama's administration worked behind the scenes with the drug industry in 2009. Such collaboration in crafting the health reform law is no surprise. Also no surprise is the intention behind drawing attention to the emails: Embarrassing the president. And Obama deserves to be embarrassed on this one (6/17).

The New York Times: Michigan's Attack on Women's Rights
Even at a time when extreme attacks on women's reproductive rights and freedom are nothing unusual, a sweeping measure on a fast track in Michigan's Republican-led State Legislature stands out. ... One portion of the extreme legislation seeks to shrink access to abortion care by imposing costly and unnecessary space and other requirements on all clinics that provide six or more abortions a month. Under the bill's terms, clinics would need to be licensed as surgical centers even if they offer only medicine-based abortions that entail handing out pills and do not perform surgery (6/15).

The New York Times: Will The Reformers Come For Me, Too?
Last week, here in Illinois, the governor signed into law $1.6 billion worth of Medicaid "reform." The ax came down on disabled children and young adults who are M.F.T.D. — medically fragile, technology dependent — those who have tracheostomies, are ventilator-dependent or need central intravenous lines. New co-payments and income caps could mean that many of these young people will no longer be able to receive care at home and will have to be institutionalized. No more free lunch for them! (Mike Ervin, 6/17). 

Des Moines Register: Branstad Talk Of Leadership Has Its Irony
Gov. Terry Branstad is the former president of a medical school, and he has a lot of opinions on health care. During a meeting with Des Moines Register staff on Tuesday, we were reminded of some of them: "ObamaCare" should be repealed; Iowans can take more responsibility for staying well; and public employees must contribute to the cost of their health insurance. The governor talks a lot about making Iowa the healthiest state in the nation. But we wonder if he recognizes the importance of people actually having health insurance for the idea to become a reality (6/15).

Des Moines Register: U.S. Needs To Rework Rules On Patient Privacy
The time for corrective action has arrived. There is something wrong when medical professionals routinely cite federal privacy rules as the grounds for withholding information from a patient's family, but a university's hospital can provide the same information to a fundraiser. And the time for Congress to act is now (6/16).

Boston Globe: Mass. Has Too Many Hospitals For Its Own Good
Knowing that state-of-the-art medical help is always close at hand is probably a comforting feeling. But it shouldn't be. The presence of so many hospitals in Boston — along with high numbers of physicians, particularly specialists — contributes to the enormous amount of unnecessary medical care that gets delivered in the state. Unless Massachusetts finds a way to limit growth in the supply of both hospitals and specialists, the state's efforts to control health care spending are likely to be thwarted (Shannon Brownlee, 6/15).

McClatchy Newspapers: The Dollars And Sense Of Addressing Hearing Loss In The Workplace
Hearing loss doesn't win many headlines. Nor does it win much time in the doctor's office. But maybe it should. And perhaps America's employers should be the first to listen up. Consider this: Hearing loss is linked to a three-fold risk of falling among working-aged people (40 to 69) whose hearing loss is just mild. Falls and fall-related injuries cost billions in health care costs in the United States each year (Sergei Kochkin, 6/18).

Baltimore Sun: Stock Transaction Fee To Fund Dental Care
What’s this? Someone wants to make Wall Street traders put up billions of dollars for the millions of elderly and poor Americans and veterans who do not have sufficient insurance for dental care? Somebody wants to put a $2.50 fee on every $10,000 of Wall Street trading — on derivatives, credit default swaps, stocks and bonds — and put the money into a comprehensive dental program to improve the nation’s oral health? I just have one question: When do we start? (Dan Rodricks, 6/16).

Sacramento Bee: Is Nurses Union A Health Hazard?
The California Nurses Association can place its record of campaign wins against any of the other big-time players on the left. But watching its lobbyists work the Capitol halls, I'm left to wonder which side they're on. At a time when unions are on the decline, the California Nurses Association has had undeniable successes, doubling its size in a 10-year period to 86,000 members and doubling assets to $70 million in the past five years, its latest report to the U.S. Department of Labor shows. The growth came as the union made its name in politics by mau-mauing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, after he sided with hospitals and tried to roll back a law signed by Gov. Gray Davis that guaranteed nurse staffing levels (Dan Morain, 6/17). 

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