KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: ‘Grim’ Backlog At VA; Feds Should Stay Away From Reforming Medical Malpractice

The New York Times: The Grim Backlog At Veterans Affairs
A new report based on previously unreleased data from the Department of Veterans Affairs paints a distressing portrait of an agency buried helplessly in paperwork -- with a claims backlog that has gotten far worse in the past four years. The average wait to begin receiving disability compensation and other benefits is 273 days, and up to 327 days for veterans making claims for the first time. Those in big cities wait far longer -- up to 642 days in New York. The total number of veterans with backlogged claims, about 900,000, is expected to pass a million by the end of this month and keep growing through the year (3/11).

Bloomberg: Feds Shouldn't Meddle With Medical Malpractice
At the end of a long cover story for Time magazine on high U.S. health-care costs, Steven Brill suggested that doctors who follow the best practices in the field should be shielded from liability. Peter Orszag, writing for Bloomberg View, argued that this policy could do a lot to reduce costs. One of the few health-care ideas that almost all congressional Republicans have agreed on, meanwhile, is caps on medical-malpractice awards. ... I don't deny that medical-malpractice law needs reform. Every doctor I know has a horror story. But lawsuits over medical care have traditionally been governed by state law -- and they should continue to be. (Ramesh Ponnuru, 3/11).

Los Angeles Times: Obamacare's Other Benefit
If it is done right, the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) may well promise uninsured Americans a lot more than cheap, reliable medical care. It can also open the door to the democratic empowerment of millions of poor people, who are often alienated from much of the nation's civic life, by strengthening the organizations that give them a voice (Nelson Lichtenstein, 3/12). 

WBUR: CommonHealth: When Health Care Costs Help Threaten Teachers We Need
For many of us, there comes a moment when the high cost of health care suddenly turns from an abstract public issue into a deeply personal one. Often, it’s an astronomical out-of-pocket medical bill. Or a family calculation that the price of health insurance means no new car, or no summer trip. For me, that moment came last week at a PTO meeting held at my children's Brookline public school. At issue: plans to eliminate the "Enrichment and Challenge Support" program (Carey Goldberg, 3/11).

Kansas City Star: Big Holes In The Medical Safety Net
Paul Chan is a heart specialist at St. Luke's Hospital and part of a group of superstar researchers there who have been mining national data on heart patients and coming up with findings that have major implications about poverty, race and health care. Chan's previous work has found that uninsured patients are more likely to delay going to the hospital when they have urgent heart attack symptoms such as chest pains, and that people in cardiac arrest are less likely to get CPR from a bystander in neighborhoods that are predominantly poor or black (Alan Bavley, 3/12).

Des Moines Register: State Needs More Consistency In Inspections
A few decades ago, thousands of Iowans with mental and physical disabilities lived in large, government-run institutions. A national movement away from this model of care didn't eliminate the need to help these people. Instead, it gave rise to smaller, "community-based" facilities. The change was not accompanied by changes in laws to require adequate government oversight of these facilities, however (3/12).

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