KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Learning From Enrollment Numbers; Health Costs Soaring; Value Of Vaccinations

Bloomberg: Latest Obamacare Numbers Highlight The Rough Spots
Admit it: After seven months of full-blown hysteria, you're finding it hard to stay interested in how many people sign up for Obamacare. We've known for some time that whatever existential threats the Affordable Care Act faces, low enrollment is no longer one of them. Still, it's worth digging through the latest batch of enrollment figures from the Department of Health and Human Services. They show where some of the law's weak points are and offer a guide to what the Barack Obama administration will need to focus on between now and the next open enrollment period (Christopher Flavelle, 5/1).

The Washington Post's The Plum Line: Politics Of Obamacare Get Scrambled Once Again
Here's another unexpected way the politics of Obamacare are going to get scrambled in the days ahead – and not necessarily in the GOP's favor — as the reality of mounting sign-ups sinks in. It turns out that several of the states with some of the hardest fought races of the cycle are also boasting some of the highest Obamacare sign-up numbers in the country (Greg Sargent, 5/1). 

Bloomberg: Watch Obamacare Make Health-Care Costs Soar
Spending grew 9.9 percent in the first quarter, the highest rate in decades. That follows a 5.6 percent increase at the end of last year. The big increase was driven by the Affordable Care Act's coverage expansion. Expect to see robust growth again next quarter, as the March surge in enrollment translates into an April-through-June surge in health-care consumption. Of course, it's not necessarily bad that we're spending more on health care. ... On the other hand, spending wasn't projected to grow this much. And last quarter’s figures weren't about coverage expansion, because that hadn't kicked in yet. Last quarter's figures were about good, old-fashioned increases in spending per beneficiary (Megan McArdle, 5/1).

Bloomberg: The Least Promising Anti-Obamacare Campaign
A conservative group is trying a new tactic to gum up the works on Obamacare: publicly shaming insurance companies into refusing federal money that's designed to keep premiums affordable. If this is what the law's opponents have been reduced to, the Affordable Care Act is going to be just fine (Christopher Flavelle, 5/1).

The Baltimore Sun:  Getting Serious About A Single Payer System
A single payer system — where the government pays for health costs — is now recognized by many in the U.S. as the best solution for our health care problems. It was taken "off the table" in 2009 by Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat who reportedly received more money from the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries than any other Congressman. But now the flood of single payer advocacy cannot be turned off by vested business interests. It is time to progress from the stereotype of single payer to having a serious discussion about it (James F. Burdick, 5/1).

On other health issues -

The Washington Post: The Enduring Benefits Of Vaccination
Recently I wrote about a type of scientific denialism — often practiced by religious people — that cheats children out of the wonders of modern cosmology and encourages unnecessary religious doubt. But there is another sort of scientific skepticism — often displayed by affluent and educated parents — that withholds routine childhood vaccinations and encourages unnecessary disease. These should be kept in proportion. The belief that human beings walked with dinosaurs is wrong. The belief that vaccinations cause autism or brain damage is wrong and dangerous (Michael Gerson, 5/1).

The Washington Post: Why Are Southerners Less Healthy?
The South has long been the Land of Unhealthful Habits, a region with states that often lead the nation in some of the least desirable categories, such as obesity and smoking. But we rarely get to see this presented as starkly as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put it Thursday. According to my colleague Niraj Chokshi at GovBeat, who posted on a new CDC report, the Southeastern states "are collectively home to the highest number of preventable deaths for each of the five leading causes" of mortality (Lenny Bernstein, 5/1).

USA Today: Pfizer Vs. Corporate Tax Code: Our View
You know something is wrong when major U.S. companies are fleeing to Europe to pay less in taxes. That is not supposed to happen. America has long maintained an advantage by dint of its low taxes, light regulation and entrepreneurial culture. But it is losing those advantages for a variety of reasons, among them a wildly inefficient health care system that eats up 18 cents of every dollar in the economy, and a punitive and convoluted corporate tax system. The impact of the latter can be seen in drug giant Pfizer's recent announcement that it would redouble its effort to buy AstraZeneca and reincorporate in the United Kingdom (5/1).

USA Today: Cutting Tax Rates Not The Answer: Opposing View
The U.S. corporate tax system gives corporations an incentive to generate and keep profits offshore. U.S. taxes are deferred on profits earned abroad until the money is brought home, and profits reinvested overseas are never taxed by the U.S. Eliminating deferral would end the tax incentive to invest overseas. U.S. firms would make investment decisions based on economic considerations rather than taxes. With many corporations paying much less than the rate that's on the books — Pfizer paid 0.9% in 2013 — corporate taxation should be reformed (Joshua Smith and Thomas L. Hungerford, 5/1).

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