KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Sebelius’ Questionable Arithmetic; Rand Finds 9.3 Million Gained Insurance; New Numbers On Your Doctor

The New York Times' Economix: The Power Of Sebelius
In setting the 2015 calendar parameters for health plans and employers, Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, quietly did some creative but questionable arithmetic that forced taxpayers to give still more help to businesses and people who buy health insurance (Casey B. Mulligan, 4/9). 

Los Angeles Times: Rand’s Obamacare Stats: 9.3 Million New Insureds, And Counting
The long-awaited Rand Corp. study of Obamacare's effect on health insurance coverage was released Tuesday and confirmed the numbers that had been telegraphed for more than a week: At least 9.3 million more Americans have health insurance now than in September 2013, virtually all of them as a result of the law. That's a net figure, accommodating all those who lost their individual health insurance because of cancellations. The Rand study confirms other surveys that placed the number of people who lost their old insurance and did not or could not replace it -- the focus of an enormous volume of anti-Obamacare rhetoric -- at less than 1 million. The Rand experts call this a "very small" number, less than 1% of the U.S. population age 18 to 64 (Michael Hiltzik, 4/8).

WBUR: Obama Seeks To Turn The Political Tide On Health Care
Mission accomplished … or mission impossible? This question may be on the minds of skittish congressional Democrats up for re-election after the White House doubled down on making the Affordable Care Act the centerpiece of its mid-term strategy during its press-conference-cum-pep-rally last week in the Rose Garden. A schism may have opened between the White House and some of those incumbent Democrats when the cheering subsided because they know the ACA remains profoundly unpopular and is unlikely to recover by November (John Sivolella, 4/9).

The Sacramento Bee: What Needs To Be Fixed With Health Care Reform
It seems that all we hear about health reform these days is hatred or hype. As usual, the truth is more complicated. We've laid a solid foundation for a much-needed national reform, but the challenges to date run deeper than the issues with the website. Successfully creating a functional, universal health care system for our country will require being entirely clear-eyed about what has worked and what needs to be fixed with the Affordable Care Act (Micah Weinberg, 4/9).

The Richmond Times-Dispatch: Little-Known Panel A Big Obstacle In Health Fight
MIRC — it rhymes with "jerk" — is the acronym for the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission. It is a little-known [state] legislative panel that may be the biggest obstacle to a health care fix financed over four years with nearly $7 billion from Washington. The commission, a creation of the Republican-dominated House of Delegates, is intended as a trap from which anything resembling Obamacare and bankrolled with Medicaid dollars has no hope of escape. It's worked like a charm for about a year (Jeff E. Schapiro, 4/9).

The Dallas Morning News: Why Business Leaders Should Reject Medicaid Expansion
The argument goes like this: Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation. Medicaid expansion will lower the number of uninsured and alleviate the taxes and high insurance premiums Texans pay to cover the cost of treating the uninsured in hospital emergency rooms (what's called uncompensated care). In addition, the influx of billions in federal Medicaid dollars will be an economic windfall for Texas, creating thousands of taxpayer-funded jobs. The latest group to buy into this rhetoric is the Dallas Citizens Council, an organization that has called on Texas' business leaders to support Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. But the group's reasons for supporting expansion don't stand up to close scrutiny (John Davidson, 4/8).

On other health care issues -

Los Angeles Times: Coming Soon: More Ways To Get To Know Your Doctor
This week, the federal government is planning to release a massive database capable of providing patients with much more information about their doctors. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the government agency that runs Medicare, plans to post on its website detailed information about how many visits and procedures individual health professionals billed the program for in 2012, and how much they were paid. ... It's important to remember, though, that data can sometimes be misleading. There's a big difference between, say, a hospice doctor giving almost every patient a narcotic and a podiatrist doing the same thing. ... These new tools all have limits. They won't tell you whether one doctor's patients are sicker than another's and need different therapies. They won't tell you about a doctor's bedside manner or willingness to return a phone call at 3 a.m. They won't tell you about a doctor's surgical skill (Charles Ornstein, 4/8). 

Bloomberg: Health Care By the Numbers, Finally
[Consumers], news organizations, insurance companies and others will have access to data on how much doctors charge for procedures, how often they perform them and how their practices stack up against those of their peers. ... Providers who overcharge, or who bill Medicare for more procedures than they can reasonably accomplish, will face the prying eyes not only of patients, but also of competitors with intimate knowledge of the field. The government projects that the program will lead to higher quality and lower costs in addition to less fraud. Medicare money is public money, and it must be vigorously safeguarded. For too long, criminals have been able to find both opportunity and anonymity within the system's labyrinth. Transparency, much of it driven by the Affordable Care Act, is now changing the health-care industry in profound ways. It will transform crime fighting, too (4/8).

Bloomberg: Your Diet Coke Won't Kill You 
Why is total consumption declining, and is drinking diet soda harmful to health? Although the data do suggest a change in attitudes toward diet sodas, one potentially underappreciated factor in the consumption data is the role of demographics. Consumption of diet soda is twice as high among non-Hispanic whites as among Hispanics .... Demographic shifts don't entirely explain the shift in soda drinking, however. Concern about health effects appears to be rising, too -- which is not surprising, given how much media attention has been trained on reports of harm (Peter Orszag, 4/8).

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