KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: 5 Lies About Entitlements; Obama’s Plans For Medicare Still Not Clear; Generic Drug Makers Need To Be Accountable

Los Angeles Times: The Five Biggest Lies About Entitlement Programs
So here's a list with a bit more gravitas: The five biggest lies you're being told about entitlement programs. Never mind that the very word "entitlement" is a lie. Social Security and Medicare got that name because workers became "entitled" to those benefits by paying into the system. In recent years, however, the term has become distorted to signify benefits people are entitled to without earning them. Leaving that whopper aside, here are the top five (Michael Hiltzik, 3/8).

Forbes: Did You Really Pay For Your Medicare Benefits?
Time after time during Election Year 2012, seniors and near-seniors reacted to the slightest mention of Medicare reform with indignation and the emphatic insistence, "Don't you dare touch Medicare; I've paid for it!" There is only one problem with that statement: In a mathematical sense, it isn't true (Mark Hendrickson, 3/7).

The Washington Post: Payments To Elders Are Harming Our Future
Foolish, indiscriminate and badly timed cuts in the federal budget have begun. The primary reason is that Republicans have refused to budge any further on taxes. Still, Democrats must share some of the blame. By failing to propose more specific cuts to entitlement spending, they have forfeited the high ground and allowed a small but critical set of programs to absorb all of the pain (Harry J. Holzer and Isabel Sawhill, 3/8).

The Washington Post: Budget Ideas That Democrats And Republicans Might Agree On
Arizona's John McCain, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte -- have dared to say that they would, gasp!, consider raising revenue. The senators attach two caveats: Revenue must come through fundamental tax reform (getting rid of loopholes, not raising rates) and be accompanied by reined in entitlement spending. In theory, both sides agree on these approaches (Ruth Marcus, 3/8).

The Washington Post: A Grand Bargain On The Menu?
Mr. Obama's Republican dinner partners could and should respond favorably to his publicly announced proposal to raise $580 billion over the next decade by closing tax loopholes and limiting tax deductions to 28 percent of income for top earners. They can't and won't do that, however, without a bigger and more detailed commitment on entitlement reform than Mr. Obama has given publicly so far. Specifically, his offer of $400 billion in health program savings over ten years strikes us as both too small and insufficiently fleshed out, though it's a start (3/9).

The Washington Post: The High Costs Of Medicare's Low Prices
Steven Brill's recent Time magazine cover story, "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us," is an extraordinarily well-reported look at medical pricing, demonstrating that high health-care prices have little relationship to underlying cost. For many commentators, the much lower prices paid by Medicare suggests an obvious solution to our health-care problems -- "Medicare for all." There's only one problem with this "obvious" solution: Medicare has been a primary driver of the explosion of health-care costs in the United States despite -- and perhaps because of -- the low prices it pays (David Goldhill, 3/10).

Boston Globe: Reducing Health Costs: A Bitter Pill, Chewable For Doctors
When I read Steven Brill's epic takedown of health care costs in Time magazine, my first reactions were sticker shock and outrage. This was followed by unease: Did I really need to use that second square of gauze (priced at $77 a box, according to Brill) after placing that central venous catheter the other week? As he dissects a series of medical bills and follows each line item to its source, Brill points the finger both at marked-up prices by manufacturers and hospital administrators stemming from our lack of price controls and at the quantity of line items (i.e. the overuse of resources). Setting aside the critical need for payment reform and true price competition, doctors have a significant role to play in mitigating that second offense. To this end, we're now meant to learn about medical costs as part of our medical training, though institutional norms and perverse incentives have made this challenging (Ishani Ganguli, 3/11).

Roll Call: Fiscal Cliff Health Care Policy Fix Is Good For Rural Patients And Taxpayers
Rarely do federal lawmakers come upon a policy that can expand access to critical health care services and simultaneously save taxpayers money. But according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office, a tweak in the way Medicare pays for certain kidney disease drugs could do just that -- preserving the availability of crucial treatments to rural patients and saving the program billions. At issue is Medicare’s handling of a few "oral-only" dialysis medications designed for end-stage renal disease, the most severe version of chronic kidney disease (Grace Boatright, 3/8).

San Jose Mercury News: Sequester And Health: Blind Cuts In Medical Research Will Cost Lives And Hurt The Economy
As of March 1, sequestration has become a reality. Arbitrary, across-the-board cuts to most federal programs are being implemented to address our nation's budget crisis. As a physician, the CEO of a company that focuses on therapies to tackle some of the world's deadliest cancers and, most important, the father of a cancer survivor, the impact of this approach is very real to me. Put simply, sequestration threatens to stifle the biomedical breakthroughs that have distinguished us as global leaders and given hope to millions of patients and families grappling with life-threatening diseases (Anthony Coles, 3/8).

The Wall Street Journal: A New Obama?
Meantime, the real measure of Mr. Obama's seriousness isn't whether he's willing to spar over dinner but what kind of specific policy compromises he's willing to make. ... Will he put more than token entitlement reforms on the table? ... the President's Medicare proposals don't begin to solve the health-care spending problem. Short of Paul Ryan's premium-support plan, the only chance for reform worth the name is "comprehensive cost-sharing" that forces individuals to confront at least some of the costs of their own care. Count us as skeptical that Mr. Obama is willing to do any of this (3/10). 

National Review: Escape From Obamacare
In the next nine months, young Americans -- particularly those who believed in President Obama's promise of health-care "reform" -- are about to get the biggest sticker shock of their lives. ... The respected economic consulting firm Oliver Wyman estimates that 80 percent of adults 21 to 29 years of age who make more than $16,000 a year will pay more for coverage, even after accounting for Obamacare's subsidies. Fortunately, there appears to be a partial escape hatch for young workers and others hit by Obamacare's premium increases, even if they don't work for big companies. Small firms and the specialized insurers that serve them may have found the lifeboats (to borrow Texas governor Rick Perry's comparison of Obamacare to the Titanic) to sail away from many of Obamacare's mandates (John Berlau, 3/11). 

Politico: GOP Folds On Obamacare
The winter of conservative discontent continues. On Wednesday, the House Republican majority led by Speaker John Boehner used the cover of a fake "snowstorm" to pass a continuing resolution that funds Obamacare for the rest of the 2013 fiscal year and they could lose their majority as a result of the decision (L. Brent Bozell, 3/8).

The New York Times: Dwindling Deficit Disorder
Right now, a sustainable deficit would be around $460 billion. The actual deficit is bigger than that. But according to new estimates by the budget office, half of our current deficit reflects the effects of a still-depressed economy. The "cyclically adjusted" deficit -- what the deficit would be if we were near full employment -- is only about $423 billion, which puts it in the sustainable range; next year the budget office expects that number to fall to just $172 billion. … So we do not, repeat do not, face any kind of deficit crisis either now or for years to come. There are, of course, longer-term fiscal issues: rising health costs and an aging population will put the budget under growing pressure over the course of the 2020s. But I have yet to see any coherent explanation of why these longer-run concerns should determine budget policy right now. And as I said, given the needs of the economy, the deficit is currently too small (Paul Krugman, 3/10).

The New York Times: Hold Generic Drug Makers Accountable
A New Hampshire woman who was severely injured by a generic drug in 2004 is still struggling to hold the manufacturer liable. Her case will be argued this month before the Supreme Court, which has already severely limited the ability of consumers to sue generic manufacturers and may well limit it further. If so, some way must be found to compensate this plaintiff, Karen Bartlett, and others who have been hurt by generic drugs, which account for 80 percent of all prescriptions in this country (3/10).

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