KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: A Failure To Govern; Democrats ‘Moved The Goal Posts’ In Va. Deal On Medicaid Panel; Hospitals ‘Squeeze’ The Uninsured

The Washington Post: Washington Fails To Govern, As Sequester Arrives
To govern is to choose. By missing Friday's deadline for averting $85 billion worth of across-the-board spending cuts to defense and domestic programs, Congress and President Obama have chosen not to govern. Instead, each side has concluded that its interest lies in letting the "sequester" proceed as scheduled — and then trying to win the political blame game (2/28).

The New York Times’ Opinionator: Breaking Down The Budget Mess
[T]he spending reductions mandated by the sequester legislation are confined to a group of programs representing less than half of the budget, as shown in chart 1. Even within this select group, all programs are not alike. Medicare is slated to be trimmed by only 2 percent, while a 7.9 percent reduction will be imposed on the military. Nondefense discretionary spending – everything from education aid to research grants – will be reduced by 5.3 percent (Steven Rattner, 2/28).

Los Angeles Times: The All-Pain, No-Gain 'Sequester'
Republicans like to say Washington has a spending problem, but they confuse the current recession-driven budget gap with the long-term, structural issues. The titanic deficits of Obama's first term are already shrinking, and the gap will continue to narrow as the economy regains strength. But even vigorous economic growth won't solve the longer-term fiscal problems caused by the ever-increasing cost of healthcare entitlements such as Medicare and by an aging population that will require fewer workers to support more retirees. That's why Washington needs to adopt a plan that phases in solutions to the long-term problems as the economy grows stronger. That's not what the sequester will do (2/28). 

USA Today: Cut Federal Spending In A Smart Way: Our View
Virtually all the sequester's cuts are concentrated in the one-third of the budget that funds core government services. The cuts are front-loaded, with the biggest impact coming in the early years. And they give federal departments little flexibility on how to impose them. This will be a drag on the economy and bring significant headaches in select areas — such as air traffic control, food inspection and immigration enforcement — where government is already stretched thin. And the surging cost of entitlements, such as Medicare and Social Security, guarantees the sequester won't do that much to reduce the deficit (2/28). 

USA Today: Sequestration Will Restore Balance: Opposing View
Government overspending is the greatest threat to economic prosperity we face today. After four years of unprecedented trillion dollar deficits, Washington politicians are complaining that the sequester cuts are going to slow the growth of the federal budget by a mere two cents on the dollar. … These modest cuts are an important step forward for economic growth. While perhaps painful at first, they will restore some balance to our fiscal system, allowing government to prioritize properly and function in line with the American people (Tim Phillips, 2/28). 

The Wall Street Journal: Obamageddon
If you're reading this after midnight on Friday, March 1, the dreaded Beltway hour of doom known as the "sequester" has arrived and the news is that the world has not ended. You can pinch yourself to make sure. This does not mean there won't be more political histrionics, but the beginning of applying reason to Washington is understanding that it is possible to cut at least some federal spending (2/28).

Bloomberg: Why Democrats Must Get Smart On Entitlements
In a season of depressing budget news, the worst may have been that a majority of U.S. House Democrats signed a letter urging President Barack Obama to oppose any benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlements. That's the last thing we need. To hold the line on harmful cuts to discretionary spending, Obama and the Democrats must educate the public about the necessity of entitlement reform. Otherwise, the poor and needy -- largely spared by the automatic reductions under sequestration -- will get hit much harder down the road (Jonathan Alter, 2/28). 

Boston Globe: Baby Boomers Are The Economy's 'Oh, No!'
Over the longer term, which (Alan) Blinder defines as the 2020s, 2030s, and beyond, the picture gets considerably grimmer. Mind you, that’s not because of new spending by President Obama. Rather, it's largely due to the increasing number of baby boomers who will be tapping Medicare or Medicaid, and to the growing interest payments on our burgeoning national debt. There are some lessons here for both sides of the political aisle (Scot Lehigh, 3/1).

San Francisco Chronicle: Time For Long View On Federal Deficit
Many Americans no doubt wonder how a 2.4 percent cut in a $3.6 trillion budget can create so much havoc. The answer shows the cost of avoidance and denial. The so-called sequester exempted more than 60 percent of all federal spending -- most notably Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits. It also concentrated the cuts to the last seven months of the fiscal year, thanks in part to the kick-the-can deal to avoid the Jan. 1 "fiscal cliff" (2/28).

Roll Call: Durkin: 'Primary Prevention' Two Important Words For Policymakers
Just two words: primary prevention. They aren't heard much in the ongoing health care debate. They haven’t caught on as political buzz words on Capitol Hill. They didn't find their way among the utterances that grabbed our attention during the 112th Congress. But they are the very foundation on which a revitalized U.S. health care system must be built. Not to be confused with health screenings and early diagnosis — which do matter in the effective treatment of many illnesses — primary prevention encompasses healthy lifestyle practices that deter diseases before they start. This is where we save lives, improve quality of life and avoid preventable health care spending (Helen Durkin, 2/28).

The Wall Street Journal: Dominion State Disaster
Liberals don't become more reasonable in their demands for spending increases when Republicans give them more revenues. They become much less so. When Senate Democrats in Richmond realized that Mr. McDonnell would stop at nothing to get his "legacy" transportation tax increase enacted, and that he couldn't do it without their votes, they moved the goal posts. Democrats added a demand that Mr. McDonnell drop his opposition to the Medicaid expansion in Virginia under ObamaCare. Mr. McDonnell, who just two days earlier swore that he would not allow the expansion without substantial reforms, was so far out on the limb on taxes that he caved to the Democrats and agreed to kick the Medicaid issue to a commission, which almost certainly will approve the ObamaCare expansions. All this to get Democratic votes for a tax increase they long sought (Stephen Moore, 2/28).

The New York Times: Economix: Shocked, Shocked, Over Hospital Bills
Americans are shocked, just shocked. But what they should have known for years is that in most states, hospitals are free to squeeze uninsured middle- and upper-middle-class patients for every penny of savings or assets they and their families may have. That's despite the fact that the economic turf of these hospitals – for the most part so-called nonprofit hospitals – is often protected by state Certificate of Need laws that bestow on them monopolistic power by keeping new potential competitors at bay (Uwe E. Reinhardt, 3/1).

Health Policy Solutions (a Colo. news service): Arkansas Deal With HHS On Medicaid Expansion A Model For Colorado
New results from Arkansas suggest that Colorado officials who favor Medicaid expansion may be able to negotiate a better deal for both low-income people and state taxpayers. Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe has negotiated an alternative to the standard Medicaid expansion offered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under Obamacare. Health and Human Services has agreed that Arkansas can pay premiums for commercial insurance purchased through the state's health insurance exchange using the federal funding that would have gone to expand Medicaid. The program will extend commercial coverage to adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. New reports say Arkansas can opt out and return to regular Medicaid at any time (Linda Gorman, 2/28).

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