KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: President Obama’s Charlotte Challenge; The Aetna Arms Race

The Washington Post: President Obama's Challenge In Charlotte
Mr. Obama needs to explain how his actions eased the economic crisis and took on long-standing challenges such as extending health-care coverage to millions of uninsured Americans. ... Specifically, what would Mr. Obama do to restrain health care costs and entitlement spending? (9/3).

The New York Times: President Obama Takes Action On Vets' Mental Health
Today President Obama signed an executive order to improve mental-health care for service members and veterans, who are killing themselves at alarming and baffling rates. ... But there is little doubt about the need to do something to halt the frightening suicide trend. Mr. Obama's order would expand by 50 percent the capacity of the V.A.’s crisis line, to make sure that any veteran in crisis gets professional help within 24 hours. It’s encouraging to see that he wants to add 800 peer-to-peer counselors and improve the V.A.’s partnerships with community-based organizations -- one barrier to care has been veterans' apprehensions about going near (and getting lost in) the V.A. bureaucracy (Lawrence Downes, 8/31).

The Washington Post: Aetna, Coventry And The Arms Race In Health Care
But a deal that is a boon to Coventry and Aetna shareholders is bad news for the rest of us, reducing the potential for greater competition in the health care sector at the very time that the country is looking to competition to improve the quality of care and bring runaway costs under control. Aetna isn't the only health insurance giant that has shelled out billions of dollars to buy even more market share (Steven Pearlstein, 9/1).

The New York Times: Only The Good Get Rich
Leaving Tampa, we knew no more about the big Medicare issue than when we arrived. The biggest Republican talking point is that the Obama health care reform will, in the words of Mitt Romney, "hurt today's seniors." That’s all about the $716 billion in projected long-term savings, except that Ryan had the same cut in his budget plans and what the heck are we supposed to make of that? Fortunately, Fortune magazine asked the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, that question during the convention, and Cantor was able to clear it all up thusly: "The assumption was that, um, the, the, ah, again -- I probably can’t speak to that in an exact way, so I better just not" (Gail Collins, 8/31).

The Wall Street Journal: American Character Is At Stake
Since 1960, entitlement programs have come to dominate the federal budget. ... In current political discourse, it is common to think of the Democrats as the party of entitlements, but long-term trends seem to tell a somewhat different tale. From a purely statistical standpoint, the growth of entitlement spending over the past half-century has been distinctly greater under Republican administrations than Democratic ones (Nicholas Eberstadt, 8/31).

The Washington Post: Your Turn, Mr. President
In his speech (Mitt Romney) made a specific pledge: 12 million new jobs. This sounds ambitious and bold until you do the math. To reach that goal in the 48 months of a presidency would mean an average of 250,000 new jobs each month -- a healthy but not outlandish number. In essence, Romney is simply betting that the anemic economic recovery now under way will become a healthy one. How will he accomplish that transformation? Beats me. Romney is vague when it comes to specifics. But I can safely say that if you believe repealing the Affordable Care Act -- and keeping 31 million uninsured Americans from getting health-care coverage -- will do the trick, Romney's your guy (Eugene Robinson, 9/3).

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Health Care: A Prairie Vision
Nationally, even experts come up short when it comes to finding savings in Medicaid, the critically important federal-state program covering care for the poor and disabled. But in Minnesota, officials from 12 southwest counties boldly believe they've found one solution for reining in the program's soaring costs without compromising care. Their plan: joining up with local providers to run the program themselves, at least in that corner of the state (Jill Burcum, 9/2).

The New York Times: Health Care Where You Work
In the scramble to find ways to slow rising health care costs, experts are finding good ideas from organizations that are virtually unknown beyond their hometowns. Consider Bellin Health, a not-for-profit health care system based in Green Bay, Wis. It has managed to rein in costs while improving the availability and quality of care -- in large part by making it easier for patients to see nurses and primary care doctors (9/2).

The Washington Post: Another Round Of Retiree Benefits Litigation On The Horizon
Many public and private employers are struggling to fund retiree benefit obligations that continue to increase as health care costs rise and life expectancies grow longer. Health care reform made employers reevaluate their health care benefit programs, so many also took a closer look at their retiree medical obligations. Health care reform may be a catalyst to employers reducing or terminating their retiree medical benefit coverage. Some employers are motivated to eliminate coverage because their retirees will be able to obtain coverage -- i.e., a so-called "soft landing" -- through the state-sponsored health insurance exchanges that health care reform requires by 2014 (James R. Napoli and Kara L. Lincoln, 9/2).

Houston Chronicle: Texas' Organ-Donor Registry Puts Life Just A Few Clicks Away
The registry exceeded 2.7 million this month, a tenfold increase in less than three years. Why the change? The process of signing up has been streamlined, both online and for people applying for or renewing a driver's license. … About 11,000 are waiting right now for an organ match. Life for them may be just a few clicks away (9/3).

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.