KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: VA’s Problems Begin With Congress; Costly Hepatitis Drug May Be A Good Buy

The Washington Post: The Real Problem With The VA? Congress. 
Politically, this critique of the VA is a no-brainer. After all, denying, delaying or incompetently delivering benefits to veterans who are entitled to them and have sacrificed so much for us is grotesque: the moral equivalent of kicking dogs and stealing food from children. But this political consensus and opportunity for reform will all be for naught unless it targets the main cause of the VA's problems: Congress. Attacks on the VA's derelictions are easy and justified, but here, as in so many areas of policy, the seeds of failure are planted on Capitol Hill (Peter H. Schuck, 5/29). 

The Wall Street Journal: How To Fix The Veterans Affairs Mess 
Veterans' benefits have clearly multiplied far beyond President Lincoln's post-Civil War promise to "care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan." It's time for a return to original principles. Those with disabilities incurred while in service—especially in combat or while training for combat—should never again have to wait in line for health care or benefits. It's time to modernize the VA's antiquated disability compensation system—to develop a new framework that promotes wellness and compensates those whose quality of life and economic well-being have been sacrificed for our sake. Today, the country actually compensates a significant number of veterans for the expected and ordinary effects of aging based on presumptions (Anthony J. Principi, 5/29). 

Bloomberg: How To Fix The VA
The best way forward is to combine the two approaches: Strengthen the VA's ability to do what it's good at and widen veterans' access to services that don't demand its expertise. To start, that means differentiating between primary and specialty care. The inspector general's report focused on wait times for primary care, suggesting that's where the most pressing shortage is. If so, the VA could address much of the problem by paying for primary-care visits with private doctors when timely appointments aren't available at its own facilities. Veterans would continue to rely mostly on VA doctors for specialty care. Congress should ensure those specialists are available by providing more funds where they're needed (5/29). 

The Wall Street Journal: Big Labor's VA Choke Hold
We know with certainty that there is at least one person the Department of Veterans Affairs is serving well. That would be the president of local lodge 1798 of the National Federation of Federal Employees. The Federal Labor Relations Authority, the agency that mediates federal labor disputes, earlier this month ruled in favor of this union president, in a dispute over whether she need bother to show up at her workplace—the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va. According to FLRA documents, this particular VA employee is 100% "official time"—D.C. parlance for federal employees who work every hour of every work day for their union, at the taxpayer's expense (Kimberley A. Strassel, 5/29). 

The Wall Street Journal: The VA Scandal Is A Crisis Of Leadership
The Veterans Administration scandal involves charges of manipulation and falsification of medical waiting lists and systemwide rigging to hide delayed or inadequate treatment, which may have caused the deaths of some of those waiting for care. There are whistle-blowers, allegations of local coverups, and the possibility of criminal charges. Also becoming clearer are two motives for those involved in what appears to have been a racket: their compensation and their career trajectories (Peggy Noonan, 5/29).

The Wall Street Journal: The VA's Bonus Culture
It must feel like Groundhog Day at the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General. On Wednesday it issued an interim report—its 19th since 2005—documenting excessive wait times at VA hospitals. Cue the choir in Congress demanding the heave-ho for Secretary Eric Shinseki. Yet primarily responsible for the VA scandal are politicians who continue to prop up this failing government health system (5/29). 

Los Angeles Times: VA Chief Eric Shinseki Should Resign
As calls for his ouster spread, it's become clear that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki has lost the confidence of congressional leaders, whose support he needs for the significant reforms required to improve the VA's healthcare system. He should resign in the interests of those veterans, to whom he is undeniably devoted (5/29).

The New York Times: A Lifeline For Veterans Waiting For Care
In the wake of revelations that patients have waited for months to see a primary care doctor at a veterans' medical center in Phoenix, the Obama administration announced in the past few days some reasonable steps to mitigate the problems. One important measure will move veterans who have been stuck too long up the waiting list. Another will offer those still facing waits of more than 30 days the option of using private hospitals and clinics (5/29). 

And on other health care issues -

Bloomberg: McConnell's Obamacare Gaffe Deserves Its Own Category
I don’t think McConnell’s gaffe really creates problems that he can't handle. The problem already existed. In part, it’s created by a Republican Party that demands absolute loyalty to an unpopular position of wanting a flat-out repeal of the ACA, without being able to come up with an acceptable replacement. The problem also is created by voters who, in Kentucky at least, love their new health plan but hate Obamacare. It's no wonder that politicians from both parties find that situation difficult to handle (Jonathan Bernstein, 5/29).

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: What’s Driving The GOP Health Plan
Conservative House Republicans are pushing for a vote on a GOP health-care plan, presumably to appeal to their base, to give GOP candidates health reform ideas to talk about on the campaign trail and to show that they have a policy position beyond repealing the Affordable Care Act. Polling shows they have a ways to go. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s May tracking poll found that just 13% of the public thinks that Republicans have an alternative to the health-care law, the same share as in March 2011. Sixty-one percent said that Republicans did not have an alternative health-reform plan. And, only 20% of Republicans say that the GOP has an alternative plan, with 53% saying they do not (Drew Altman, 5/30).

Los Angeles Times: Dog Care – Easier Than Obamacare
It tells you everything you need to know about the U.S. healthcare system that you can get more comprehensive coverage for a dog than you can for a human being. I found this out when I delved recently into the nearly $600-million pet insurance market to see about covering our dog, Teddy, a 2-year-old golden retriever/Rottweiler mix that we brought home a few months ago from the West Los Angeles Animal Shelter (David Lazarus, 5/29). 

The Washington Post: The Virginia GOP's Medicaid Plan: Just Say No
With Virginia lacking an enacted budget and facing the growing risk of a government shutdown in just over a month, the top Republicans in the House of Delegates, Speaker William J. Howell (Stafford) and Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox (Colonial Heights), requested an urgent meeting the other day with Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). Eager to surmount the impasse that may imperil Richmond's ability to provide public safety, health care and other basic services — to say nothing of the state's bond rating and reputation for good governance — surely the GOP bigwigs had constructive ideas, possibly even one that might sow the seeds of compromise. They didn't (5/29). 

The New York Times' Room For Debate: Can Therapists Prevent Violence?
Once again, senseless slaughter has raised questions not only about how mentally disturbed people can obtain guns, but why authorities can't intervene to prevent violence. Do the laws regarding mental health professionals' duty to warn the authorities of a threat need to be toughened to make them more effective? (5/29). 

The Washington Post: As Measles Cases Increase, A Sharp Call For Vaccinations
Even when there are significant gains against infectious diseases, there can be reversals. In 2000, measles was considered all but eliminated in the United States. For a while, there were only about 60 cases a year, mostly brought in from overseas. Now, the number of cases and outbreaks in the United States is rising again. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday that there have already been more cases this year, 288, than in any full year this century (5/29). 

The Wall Street Journal: The First Ladies' Calories
One reason American politics is so polarized is the White House tendency to blindslide critics with personal attacks that misrepresent their views. This week's school lunch drive-by is a classic of the genre, with first lady Michelle Obama and even the White House cook claiming Republicans are in favor of childhood obesity (5/29). 

Bloomberg: Would You Pay $84,000 For A New Liver?
Yet when I look at it, Sovaldi seems like a bargain. Here’s a drug that likely cost hundreds of millions to develop and bring to market. It has a 10-year patent life to recoup its costs and make some money for the developers. It’s better than earlier treatments and, ... it largely negates the need for liver transplants, which cost a few hundred thousand a pop. It also, of course, means longer and healthier lives for people infected with hepatitis C. Why does this make us so angry? (Megan McArdle, 5/29).

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