KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Rep. McMorris Rodgers’ Constituents Seeking Health Law Coverage; How Did Sen. Coburn Lose His Cancer Doctor?; Labor Unions Object To ACA Provisions

The New York Times: When Biography Trumps Substance
[Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.] has been a leading strategist in the unrelenting Republican attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act. And yet, in her district, people are flocking to Obamacare — well beyond the national average. Though she has been screening town hall meetings to highlight only critics of the new law, her constituents are doing something entirely different in making their personal health decisions. ... Ignoring what her own neighbors are doing, McMorris Rodgers said [in the official Republic response to the State of the Union] on Tuesday that new health care law "is not working." But if that’s the case, why have nearly one in 12 people in her home county signed up for expanded Medicaid coverage or new private health insurance?  (Timothy Egan, 1/30). 

The New York Times' Taking Note: What Republicans Say Versus What Republicans Mean
Now that the State-of-the-Union cameras are off, House Republicans are eager to discard their frozen smiles and return to their jobs of undermining virtually every goal President Obama set out in his speech on Tuesday night. They made that clear in a letter that the top four House officials sent to the president today, which purports to seek agreement on four points in the speech. It actually does quite the opposite. Republicans slashed important research in the sequester — the National Institutes of Health has been cut by $4.2 billion since 2011 — and the president urged that the money should be restored. The letter points to a House bill passed last month that would give $126 million to the N.I.H. over ten years for pediatric research. But it would get that money by eliminating public funding for political conventions. The House is free to stop cutting research and put all the money it wants into the N.I.H. The bill's real intention is to force the political parties to rely on corporations to pay for their conventions, giving businesses far more leverage (David Firestone, 1/30).

Los Angeles Times: Did Sen. Coburn Really Lose His Cancer Doctor Because Of Obamacare?
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who will be leaving the Senate prematurely next year for health reasons, can't resist taking a couple of underhanded swipes at the Affordable Care Act on his way out. To begin with, he's co-sponsoring a GOP proposal to "repeal and replace Obamacare" -- though it doesn't repeal all of the act and to the extent it replaces the ACA does so with a manifestly inferior patient-unfriendly measure. We'll get to that in a moment. Coburn's other swipe was an offhand remark he delivered to Joe Scarborough of MSNBC this week. Speaking of the health insurance plan he purchased through the federal insurance exchange, he said, "my new coverage won't cover my specialist." He was referring to the doctor who's been treating him for cancer (Michael Hiltzik, 1/30). 

Los Angeles Times: Another Bogus Obamacare Story: The GOP's 'Bette'
Bette was an otherwise unidentified Washington state resident featured in the official GOP response to the Obama speech delivered by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.). According to Rodgers, Bette had written her a letter stating that she had "hoped the president’s healthcare law would save her money – but found out instead that her premiums were going up nearly $700 a month." The lesson, according to Rodgers: "This law is not working." Bette has now been tracked down by her hometown Spokane Spokesman-Review. She's Bette Grenier, who owns a small business with her husband. Unsurprisingly, her story is much different from the sketchy description provided by Rodgers. That description perplexed experts, including Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, who couldn't understand how a state resident "would have no choice but to pay $700 per month more for a policy that meets the Affordable Care Act's coverage requirements," the newspaper reported (Michael Hiltzik, 1/30).

The Wall Street Journal's Political Diary: About That Medicaid Expansion
Two Republican governors who supported ObamaCare because they thought it would help their re-election chances this year are nevertheless struggling in the latest polls. A new Quinnipiac University survey shows that former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, an ex-Republican now running for his old job as a Democrat, leads GOP Gov. Rick Scott, 46 percent to 38 percent, "and tops the incumbent on almost every measure, including handling the economy and jobs." A poll in November showed Mr. Crist with a similar lead. "The incumbent gets a negative 41-49 percent job approval rating, his lowest score in almost a year, and voters say 54-38 percent he does not deserve to be reelected," write the pollsters in a press release (Jason L. Riley, 1/30).

The Wall Street Journal's Notable & Quotable: Unions Turn On Obamacare
From a Jan. 27 letter to Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi from Terry O'Sullivan, general president of the Laborers' International Union of North America, and D. Taylor, general president of the Unite Here labor union: Once we realized the [Affordable Care Act] would not let us keep the health care we had, we spent three years presenting the Administration with reasonable fixes to the ACA's problems. All of them were rejected and the proposed regulations [regarding multi-employer health and welfare trust fund and other self-funded plans] offer virtually no assistance toward any of these solutions (1/30). 

Fox News: President Ignores Obamacare Horror Stories As Human, Financial Costs Pile Up
As predicted, the Obama administration and many in the Democratic Party are trying to peddle the story that ObamaCare is now working because the website is functioning better. But despite the questionable claims of easier access and more people enrolling in the ObamaCare exchanges, the ugly truth is the horror stories are piling up and, sooner or later, ObamaCare’s cheerleaders will have to confront the overwhelming evidence indicting them for repeatedly lying to the American people. As expected, President Obama used his State of the Union speech Tuesday to extol the virtues of ObamaCare, and also as expected, retold the story of one person positively affected by the program. But for each success there are countless failures (L. Brent Bozell III, 1/30).

And on other issues -

The New York Times' Well: When Doctors Give Patients Money
A physician recently wrote in JAMA about giving a patient $30 to help pay for a medication after a two-hour phone battle with the insurance company came to naught. He was cited by his institution for unprofessional behavior, but was also deluged with letters from doctors and nurses who have been in the same position and done the same thing. We hear daily about "health care costs," a lumbering behemoth that dominates the news and the economy. But it is the smaller amounts, literally the pocket money, that often has the most profound and palpable effect on the concrete currency of health (Dr. Danielle Ofri, 1/30). 

The New York Times: We Are Giving Ourselves Cancer
Despite great strides in prevention and treatment, cancer rates remain stubbornly high and may soon surpass heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States. Increasingly, we and many other experts believe that an important culprit may be our own medical practices: We are silently irradiating ourselves to death. The use of medical imaging with high-dose radiation — CT scans in particular — has soared in the last 20 years (Drs. Rita F. Redberg and Rebecca Smith-Bindman, 1/30). 

The Washington Post: How To Debunk The 'War On Women'
In any case, why go wandering into the psychology of female sexuality in the first place? It's ridiculous. This is politics. Stick to policy. And there's a good policy question to be asked about the contraceptive mandate (even apart from its challenge to religious freedom). It's about priorities. By what moral logic does the state provide one woman with co-pay-free contraceptives while denying the same subvention to another woman when she urgently needs antibiotics for her sick child? (Charles Krauthammer, 1/30). 

Los Angeles Times: Sick Leave Bill A Welcome Remedy For Low-Wage Workers
We've all been there at some point, sitting in a restaurant ordering dinner when the waiter sneezes and mumbles an apologetic, "Sorry, I'm fighting a cold." Why is he at work? Especially at a job that brings him close to other people? Maybe it is because he can't afford to miss the shift, something that a recently introduced Assembly bill could help remedy (1/30). 

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