KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: CVS Decision On Tobacco Is ‘Welcome Sign;’ For Smokers, It’s An Insult; Entitlement Debate Turns On Understanding Financial State Of Elderly

USA Today: CVS Not Just Blowing Smoke: Our View
The simplistic way to look at CVS' announcement Wednesday that it will quit selling cigarettes later this year is that it's the right thing for a major retailer to do -- one more welcome sign that a product that sickens and kills people when used as intended has become even more socially unacceptable (2/5).

USA Today: CVS Insults Its Own Customers: Opposing View 
Many of us have been smokers for years. We have lived through losing out on jobs, paying higher taxes, being cast out of establishments we once went to for fun, and watching places we once loved close down after smoking was banned. Society has acted as if one-fifth of its people don't exist, simply because they choose to smoke. We believe smoking is a choice, of using a legal product (Jan Johnson and David W. Kuneman, 2/5). 

Los Angeles Times: CVS Stubs Out Tobacco Sales, A Step Other Companies Should Take
It's long struck me as odd that drugstores, the places where most of us get our prescriptions filled for all manner of illnesses, also are go-to spots for cigarettes. With the latter, drugstores worsen the nation's health; with the former, they profit from it. ... Wait, maybe there is a method to that madness. Regardless, the CVS chain, owned by CVS Caremark, is doing the nation a service by ending the sale of tobacco products at its more than 7,600 retail outlets. And the chain is doing it for the right reasons: Tobacco kills and costs the nation a ton of money in health care costs (Scott Martelle, 2/5).

JAMA: Ending Sales Of Tobacco Products In Pharmacies
CVS Caremark believes that now is the time for retailers, perhaps spurred by policy makers, to eliminate sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products by institutions that also have pharmacies. ... This action may not lead many people to stop smoking; smokers will probably simply go elsewhere to buy cigarettes. But if other retailers follow this lead, tobacco products will become much more difficult to obtain. Moreover, if people understand that retail outlets that plan to promote health, provide pharmacy services, and house retail clinics are no longer going to sell tobacco products, the social unacceptability of tobacco use will be substantially reinforced -- indeed, the continued sale would appear to sanction the most unhealthy habit a person can maintain. If pharmacies do not make this effort voluntarily, federal or state regulatory action would be appropriate (Dr. Troyen A. Brennan and Dr. Steven A. Schroeder, 2/5).

The Washington Post: The True State Of The Elderly
How well-off are the elderly? The answer is crucial to public debate about Social Security, Medicare and other programs to help older Americans. If most live on the edge, then cuts are hard to justify. On the other hand, if many elderly are financially comfortable, then their government benefits and taxes should be open to change -- just like other Americans' (Robert J. Samuelson, 2/5).

The Wall Street Journal: I Gave Away A Kidney. Would You Sell One?
Seven weeks ago, at 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 19, I was admitted for surgery at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. I swapped my street clothes for a hospital gown, and an hour later I was sucking down oxygen from a mask that drowsed me as no breath of air ever has. By the time I came to at 5 p.m., my right kidney was halfway across the country, being implanted in a middle-aged woman an algorithm selected for me. There are more than 77,000 Americans currently on waiting lists for a kidney and, unlike the woman that got mine, many won't get one. In 2012 fewer than 17,000 of those waitlisted received a transplant, and 4,903 would-be recipients died while waiting (Dimitri Linde, 2/5).

The New York Times: At 90, This Doctor Is Still Calling
Dr. [Catherine] Hamlin gave the crowd a pep talk about the need for a big push to improve the world's maternal care. "We have to eradicate Ethiopia of this awful thing that's happening to women: suffering, untold suffering, in the countryside," she said. "I leave this with you to do in the future, to carry on." Ethiopia this month nominated Dr. Hamlin for the Nobel Peace Prize, and she deserves it. I hope she gets it along with other extraordinary leaders in women’s health such as Dr. Denis Mukwege of Congo, Dr. Hawa Abdi of Somalia, and Edna Adan of Somaliland (Nicholas Kristof, 2/5).

The New England Journal of Medicine: Death in Pregnancy -- An American Tragedy
Marlise Muñoz was 33 years old and the mother of a 15-month-old when she collapsed on November 26, 2013, from what was later determined to be a massive pulmonary embolism. ... In most circumstances, this tragic case would have ended there, but Marlise was 14 weeks pregnant and lived in Fort Worth, Texas. ... Practically speaking, what is a clinician to do when what a hospital's attorney says must be done seems different from what should be done? As Martin Luther King, Jr., famously wrote, "One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws." ... Using a dead woman's body as an incubator against her wishes (as interpreted by her family) should be of grave concern to everyone who cares for and about both women and our nation's moral health (Dr. Jeffrey L. Ecker, 2/5).

The New England Journal of Medicine: Accepting Brain Death
Two cases in which patients have been determined to be dead according to neurologic criteria ("brain death") have recently garnered national headlines. ... The current U.S. approach to determining death was developed in response to the emergence of technologies that made the traditional standard of cardiopulmonary death problematic. ... Sound public policy requires bright lines backed up by agreed-on criteria, protocols, and tests when the issue is the determination of death. The law and ethics have long recognized that deferring to medical expertise regarding the diagnosis of brain death is the most reasonable way to manage the process of dying (David C. Magnus, Dr. Benjamin S. Wilfond and Arthur L. Caplan, 2/5).

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