KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Tying ‘Social Safeguards’ To Work May Not Be Best Policy; GOP Missing An Opportunity By Not Offering Alternative To Health Law; Food Makers’ Health Claims ‘Hard To Swallow’

Los Angeles Times: Workers Facing The Thorny Problems of Healthcare And Retirement
In May, the head of [Trader Joe's] ... sent a confidential memo to employees notifying them of changes to their health coverage, retirement program and wages. ... He pledged to reduce workers' healthcare costs 10% for the remainder of the year while the company determines its response to changes under the Affordable Care Act. ... As Labor Day approaches, it's worth noting that the challenges faced by Trader Joe's are shared by most U.S. businesses, large and small. Meeting workers' present and future social-welfare needs has become a crucial and highly complex issue as healthcare costs continue to outpace inflation and secure retirements grow increasingly out of reach for many people. These issues highlight the vulnerabilities of a system in which people's social safeguards are tied to their employment (David Lazarus, 8/29).

The New York Times: Economix: The Central Challenge In U.S. Health Policy
"Health Care Costs Climb Moderately, Survey Says" read the headline in The New York Times last week. It appears that health insurance premiums for job-based family coverage rose "only" 4 percent between 2012 and 2013, although still twice as fast as did wages (Uwe E. Reinhardt, 8/30). 

The Washington Post: U.S. Congress Set For Two Major Fiscal Fights
In some ways, the impasse has worsened since Congress and President Obama cobbled together a temporary fix to the "fiscal cliff" drama nine months ago. A promising series of meetings between Mr. Obama and a group of compromise-minded Republican senators fizzled. Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and others on the GOP right launched a deeply mischievous campaign to "defund" Obamacare, the premise of which is that this is the last chance to stop the hated program and Republicans should reject any spending bill that contains money for it — even if that means shutting down the government. Never mind a Congressional Research Service paper that shows this would be futile, since Obamacare's implementation does not require new discretionary spending authority (8/29).

The Washington Post's Right Turn: Obamacare's Rotten Summer
Opponents of Obamacare should recognize how big a burden this will be for the Democrats in 2014 and 2016. But they must also take care to do nothing to muddy the waters. This is the president's baby and the Democrats' burden; let them defend it. Given how badly Obamacare has been roughed up, the temptation is great to say Republicans don't have to come up with their plan. That's bad politics and a missed opportunity. Voters want a few things (e.g. protection from rate hikes for preexisting illnesses) and will be hesitant to dump the whole thing without assurance these will remain in place (Jennifer Rubin, 8/29).

The Wall Street Journal: A Test Of GOP Resolve On ObamaCare
Republicans are busy debating what gives them the most "leverage" in their fight to get rid of Obamacare. One powerful tool, it happens, is an issue that few of them so far have wanted to talk about. The issue is the White House's recent Obamacare bailout for members of Congress and their staffs. The GOP has been largely mute on this blatant self-dealing. The party might use what's left of its summer recess to consider just how politically potent this handout is, and what—were they to show a bit of principle—might be earned from opposing it (Kimberley Strassel, 8/29). 

The New Republic: Another Story Of Obamacare Rate Shock That Isn't
Another ObamaScare article is making the rounds. This one, from National Journal, is about what people buying their own insurance will pay on the new Obamacare exchanges—and how those prices compare to what people pay when they get coverage from their employers. ... Ritger's analysis is based on a seemingly simple comparison. She looked at what people can expect to pay for insurance in the new Obamacare "exchanges," using figures from California’s new insurance marketplace, which seem pretty typical for the country as a whole. Then she looked at what people can expect to pay for employer coverage, using data on the "employee contribution" from the Kaiser Family Foundation. ... But the analysis has other, serious flaws. For one thing, the true cost of employer-sponsored insurance should include at least some portion of what the employer pays (Jonathan Cohn, 8/29).

Los Angeles Times: Medical Alerts In Sacramento
As their session draws to a close, California lawmakers are poised to approve at least two hotly disputed measures that could slow the growth of healthcare costs. One would allow nurses with advanced training to deliver more medical care, and another would open the door to less-expensive versions of pricey biologic drugs. Although the nursing bill was weakened in the face of opposition from doctors, it's still an important step in the right direction. The biologic drug measure, on the other hand, strays off course (8/30).

Los Angeles Times: Taking Physicians Out Of The Abortion Decision
AB 154, a bill in the California Legislature that would allow nurse practitioners, midwives and physician's assistants to perform some early abortions, won't be controversial with most supporters of legal abortion. But it severs a connection between abortion rights and the practice of medicine that played an important role in the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion (Michael McGough, 8/29).

Los Angeles Times: Food Makers Health Claims Are Hard To Swallow
A few years ago, Kellogg Co. embarked on an ad campaign to convince parents that eating Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal would make star students of their children, with higher levels of attention and memory. "Clinical studies" — a revered term — showed that a breakfast of the cereal improved children's attentiveness by "nearly 20%," the ads said. There are studies, and then there are studies (8/30).

Bloomberg: Cancer's Primeval Power And Murderous Purpose
We think of cancer as a modern scourge, but it was here long before people walked the Earth. Only very recently, in geological time, have creatures like us evolved who think there might be something they can do about it (George Johnson, 8/28).

Forbes: Medicare Ruling Would Hurt Alzheimer's Patients
CMS has issued a draft decision that, if it were to become effective, would deny payment for a new FDA-approved PET scan technology. ... The PET scan technology empowers doctors to more accurately diagnose patients that may be suffering from hard to diagnose forms of dementia. With this more accurate diagnostic tool, doctors are better able to design appropriate treatment plans for patients. Thanks to an earlier diagnosis, the PET scan empowers patients to plan for the disease more effectively and enroll in clinical trials should they choose this option (Wayne Winegarden, 8/29). 

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