KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Sen. Alexander Sees Reflections Of Oliver North In Sebelius’ Quest To Raise Funds; Vaccine Scare’s Legacy

The Wall Street Journal: Kathleen Sebelius, Meet Oliver North
Major news outlets in recent days have reported that U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is raising money from the private sector -- including from health care executives -- for use by a private entity that is helping to implement ObamaCare. ... Is Ms. Sebelius raising funds for a private entity and then coordinating with that entity to do something Congress has refused to authorize, or for which it has refused to appropriate funds? And is she raising money from organizations she regulates, in violation of ethics laws? (Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., 5/22). 

The New York Times: Aftermath Of An Unfounded Vaccine Scare
Britain is experiencing serious outbreaks of measles that look to be a delayed consequence of a failure to vaccinate infants and young children more than a decade ago. A prime cause of that failure was ill-founded fears among parents that a widely used vaccine to combat measles, mumps and rubella might cause autism. Because they shunned the vaccine, their children, now in their teens, are suffering the consequences (5/22). 

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Mandatory Vaccinations Deserve Vigorous Debate
The debate over the mandatory influenza vaccinations of employees is worthy of a vigorous public airing. Controversy has been growing nationwide over the plight of employees, particularly health care workers, being dismissed from jobs due to their refusal to accept this unwanted intrusion into their personal health care decisions. I fully recognize this argument pits two groups advocating against each other over a position based on rights. Employers demand flu vaccinations of employees, with extremely limited exceptions, as a fundamental right of an employer. Those who object stand on individual liberties to make their own personal health care decisions without the threat of dismissal (Jeremy Thiesfeldt, 5/22). 

The New York Times: Kill Bill
According to statistics United Republic assembled, the prescription drug industry spent $116 million lobbying for legislation to prevent Medicare from bargaining down drug prices — legislation that enabled drug companies to make an additional $90 billion annually. That amounts to an extraordinary 77,500 percent return on investment. Oil companies, in turn, had a return on investment of 5,900 percent, and multinational companies, 22,000 percent (Thomas B. Edsall, 5/22). 

The New England Journal of Medicine: The Gross Domestic Product And Health Care Spending
An examination of data from the past 60 years for the economy as a whole and for health care expenditures indicates that there has been a robust relationship between the two. ... Some observers place great emphasis on the particularly slow growth of national health care expenditures in 2010 and 2011. How useful is the experience of growth over a period of 2 years in predicting the growth rate over the next 20 years? The answer seems to be not at all. ... [T]he rate of growth of national health care expenditures in the past appears to have been substantially related to the growth of the GDP. There has been some slowing of the growth of health care spending relative to the GDP, but it began not just a few years ago, but in the 1990s (Victor R. Fuchs, 5/22).

Columbus Dispatch: Obamacare May Lead To 'Skinny' Policies
Would you like to have a "skinny" health-insurance policy? Probably not. But if you're employed by a large company, you may get one, thanks to Obamacare. That’s the conclusion of Wall Street Journal reporters Christopher Weaver and Anna Wilde Mathews. They report that insurance brokers are pitching and selling "low-benefit" policies across the country. You might be wondering what a "skinny" or "low-benefit" insurance plan is. The terms may vary, but the basic idea is that policies would cover preventive care, a limited number of doctor visits and perhaps generic drugs. They wouldn't cover things such as surgery, hospital stays or prenatal care (Michael Barrone, 5/23).

JAMA: Public Health Regulation As A Public Process
Media coverage of new public health regulations often seems to follow a template: The [regulatory agency]'s plan to implement [public health regulation] is causing controversy among [businesses affected] and [individuals who object]. … But there's another way to think about how policy is developed to improve health: as a dynamic process open to a range of policy alternatives (Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, 5/22).

JAMA: Encouraging Smokers to Talk With Their Physicians About Quitting
Over the next few months, physicians may see an increase in patients asking for help in quitting smoking. Why? The Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently launched the second stage of its national media campaign, Tips from Former Smokers (Tips). Some of the ads include a new call to action with the message, "You can quit. Talk with your doctor for help." This "talk with your doctor" initiative provides physicians with a golden opportunity to help more patients quit smoking (Dr. Tim McAfee, 5/22).

The Lund Report: Physician, First Do No Harm -- To Yourself
Studies confirm most doctors are overworked, exhausted, or depressed. The tragedy: few seek help. I ask the group, "How many physicians have lost a colleague to suicide?" All hands are raised. "How many have considered suicide?" Except for one woman, all hands remain up -- including mine. "Physicians have the highest suicide rate of any profession," I explain. "In the United States we lose over 400 physicians per year to suicide. That's the equivalent of an entire medical school. Even that's an underestimate because many physician suicides are incorrectly identified as accidents" (Dr. Pamela Wible, 5/21).

MinnPost: Failed Virginia Bill On Miscarriages Reveals Ignorance About Women's Health
As I've written here before, the medical ignorance of some politicians -- particularly in regard to women's reproductive health -- is a continual source of astonishment. ... While searching through the legislative history of Virginia state Sen. Mark Obenshain, now running on the Republican ticket for his state's attorney general position, reporters found that he had authored a bill in 2009 that would have required all women in Virginia to report miscarriages to police or risk legal penalties, including as much as a year in jail (Susan Perry, 5/22).

Bloomberg: Better Death Records Can Lead To Longer Life
Here's a morbid thought atop a morbid thought: Two in three deaths worldwide -- some 35 million a year -- go unregistered. And in many cases when deaths are recorded, reliable information on what caused them is lacking. Why does this matter? Without such records, public-health authorities can't tell enough about what's killing people to minimize the dangers they face (5/22).

Oregonian: Portland And Its Aversion To Fluoride Reflects Oregon's Unusual Politics
In 2011, the board of the Santa Clara Valley Water District voted to begin fluoridating water for about 850,000 customers in and around San Jose. Anti-fluoride activists grumbled but realized they didn't have the resources to take their fight to the public. That's sure not what happened in Portland, which once again showed that this far northwest corner of the country is willing to go where other parts of the country rarely tread (Jeff Mapes, 5/22). 

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