KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Doctors, Nurses Not Reaping Same Health Care ‘Bonanzas’ As Other Providers; House GOP Spending Plan Doesn’t Solve Budget Problems

Reuters: Coming Up With "A Bitter Pill"
When I followed the money trail (in Time magazine's story "A Bitter Pill") behind the drugs, medical devices or CT scan equipment that the patients or their insurance companies were billed for, the profit margins for the hospitals that supplied them, as high as they were, were eclipsed by the margins of the manufacturers that sold them to the hospitals. In the case of the drug companies, their research and development costs, it turned out when their securities filings were examined, were not nearly high enough to justify prices. ... In other words, everyone along the supply chain – from hospital administrators (who enjoy multimillion-dollar salaries) to the salesmen, executives and shareholders of drug and equipment makers ? was reaping a bonanza. The only exceptions, I found, were those actually treating the patients ? the nurses and doctors (Steven Brill, 3/5).

Los Angeles Times: Fiscal Crisis? What Crisis?
Here's what is most maddening about the "Perils of Pauline" fiscal crises that President Obama and Congress have led us into during the last year: Both sides have known from the beginning what the final deals would look like, but neither side has been willing to budge before it had to. ... So why can't they stop dithering and do what needs to be done? Two reasons. First, any long-term solution requires each side to swallow something they find unpalatable. Democrats hate the idea of cutting government spending while the economy is still struggling. And they certainly don't relish cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Republicans, for their part, don't want to raise taxes if they can avoid it; that's the core principle that ties their fraying party together. And that leads to the second reason we don't have a deal: The two sides don't trust each other (Doyle McManus, 3/6).

Los Angeles Times: The House GOP's Spending Problem
This week the (House) leadership plans to bring up a bill to fund the federal government's operations for the final six months of fiscal 2013. The measure would update the spending priorities for the military and veterans but leave the rest of the government on autopilot, with the funding for individual programs left exactly where it was set in 2011. Those funding levels would then be reduced by the mindless across-the-board cuts of the "sequester" that went into effect March 1. As a result of the outdated allocations and meat-cleaver cuts, some valuable programs would receive too little funding while low-priority projects would receive too much (3/6).

USA Today: Health Care Pricing Transparency For All: Our View
Cars are one of the most expensive things most people ever buy, so today's auto-buyers have easy access to information on quality, reliability and price. Empowered consumers help keep the prices of cars down and the quality up. On the other hand, shopping for another one of the most expensive things most people ever buy — health care procedures such as colonoscopies or hip replacements — just doesn't work. Prices are shrouded in secrecy (3/5).

USA Today: Most Health Costs Data Of Little Use: Opposing View
The idea of turning passive patients into active consumers using cost and quality to choose doctors, hospitals and treatment options is a compelling but unrealistic solution to our serious health care affordability problems, In theory, price transparency is a powerful tool. In practice, price transparency makes little difference to most insured consumers because the structure of their health benefits does not reward the choice of lower-cost providers (Paul Ginsburg, 3/5). 

Des Moines Register: Many Health Insurance Questions Still Need Branstad's Answers
Iowa's Republican Gov. Terry Branstad is philosophically opposed to expanding Medicaid. He wants to implement a different program, instead, and that’s what the Healthy Iowa Plan is. However, the people who will judge whether a Healthy Iowa is a suitable replacement for an expansion of Medicaid need lots and lots of details that Branstad’s staff has not fleshed out yet. It’s too early to predict the outcome of this. But time is running out to present these details to Iowans, to the Legislature and to the federal government (3/5).

Boston Globe: This Board Knows Best
Allow me to congratulate the board of directors of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts for its part in continuing to support the public's mistrust of all things that emanate from the boardroom. Board members have voted to reinstate their own compensation. The move comes nearly two years after the state's largest health insurer suspended board compensation in response to Attorney General Martha Coakley's push for health care nonprofits to end pay for board members. But don’t worry — Blue Cross’s board did not make this move on a whim. According to spokesperson Jay McQuaide, the board did this only after undertaking a two-year process to strengthen its “governance practices to make sure they are in line with best practices.” I feel better now. That completely erases the fact that these are many of the same people that voted in 2010 to reward the insurer’s outgoing CEO an $11 million golden parachute after the company posted a $149 million loss (Mark Rogers, 3/6).

The Lund Report: The Hidden Truths Behind Health Reform
Outside of Medicaid, there are two groups of people in Oregon, those with insurance, and those without. The group with insurance, for the most part, has no clue that they will lose their existing coverage next year and will have to purchase one of the new plans. The only exception is those with grandfathered plans, of which there are very few in Oregon. The other group has been waiting for their free health care (we get calls weekly). What will these people do when they find out they still have to pay a premium and only 70 percent of their healthcare is covered? Add to that the 21-page draft application, that looks more like an IRS form than a health application, they will have to fill out to qualify for a subsidy (John Gridley, 3/5).

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