KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Obama Prescription For Medicare Is ‘Modest;’ GOP Doubts Entitlement Plan Is Serious

The Washington Post: In State Of The Union Address, Obama Lays Out His Second-Term Agenda
Somewhat more substantively, he called for a larger deficit-reduction deal built around loophole-closing tax reform and what he called "modest" reforms to Medicare and entitlements. In an apparent effort to rally Democrats to this cause, he called on "those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare" to "embrace" reform. Yet in promising the same amount of Medicare savings as the Simpson-Bowles commission proposed, Mr. Obama did not mention that this would be a mere $341 billion over 10 years (2/12).

Los Angeles Times: Obama's Less-Is-More Agenda
He exhorted Republicans (for the umpteenth time) to adopt his solution to the impending crisis over automatic spending cuts: closing tax loopholes that benefit "the well-off and well-connected." In return, he offered to support modest reforms in Medicare, an offer he has also made before. And, significantly, he contended that a modest amount of deficit reduction is all we need (Doyle McManus, 2/13).

The Wall Street Journal: The President's Plans 
He also spoke of "entitlement reform," but his only two concrete ideas were price controls on drug companies and more means-testing for affluent seniors. These won't come close to solving the health-care entitlement problem that even he admits is unsustainable, which is why Republicans don't think he's serious (2/13). 

The New York Times: Rubio's Rebuttal
In his speech, Mr. Rubio followed the Republican rebranding strategy by rephrasing the party’s grand old policies without offering any new ideas. ... Mr. Rubio declared that he was particularly concerned about seniors who depend on Medicare, like his mother, and that "anyone who is in favor of leaving Medicare exactly the way it is right now, is in favor of bankrupting it." Funny Mr. Rubio should say that, because on Tuesday night, Mr. Obama argued that we can't leave Medicare as is: "Those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms." ... Mr. Rubio didn’t actually mention how he would fix Medicare. But we all know that he supported Paul Ryan's plan to turn it into a voucher system (Andrew Rosenthal, 2/12).

Bloomberg: The Medicare Change Obama Was Talking About
President Barack Obama promised to save as much money on Medicare in the next decade as was proposed by the Bowles-Simpson commission. That would include, he said, lowering tax subsidies for drug companies and asking more affluent beneficiaries to pay more. And he said it would also include making a fundamental change in the way the government pays for care -- by basing bills not on fee-for-service but on "the quality of care our seniors receive." This explains why John Kitzhaber, the governor of Oregon, was watching the State of the Union address from first lady Michelle Obama's box. Kitzhaber has made his state's Medicaid program a laboratory that will test a promising model for making that change (Mary Duenwald, 2/13).

The Washington Post: Obama's Message: 'We Can Fix This'
Obama even made the country's intractable fiscal mess sound soluble. He didn't offer new proposals, but he made clearer than in any speech I can recall that he's willing to make real changes in Medicare and other entitlement programs to begin to get the deficit under control. He said he was willing to offer savings on Medicare that would equivalent to those proposed by the Simpson-Bowles commission. Now he should show the way by proposing those cuts, rather than throwing this rhetorical pledge into the miasma of congressional budget politics (David Ignatius, 2/12).

Los Angeles Times: Obama's New Vision: Doable?
Yes, there are problems left over from his first four years: high unemployment and slow economic growth. He rightly called on Congress to close the nation's long-term budget gap by reforming entitlements and simplifying the tax code, rather than making across-the-board reductions that only chip away at the deficit. But it wasn't clear how he'd get his ideas, many of them recycled from his first term, through a polarized Congress (2/13). 

And a few opinions on topics other than the State of the Union address --

The New York Times: Calorie Detective
Diet programs revolve around a proven principle: if you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. The calorie is the defining metric. And so, in the interest of public health, the Food and Drug Administration requires most packaged foods to list their calories, among other data, on labels. To help combat obesity in New York City, the Department of Health requires most chain restaurants to post calorie content on their menus and fines those who don't comply. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, a national program will soon follow (Casey Neistat, 2/12).

Los Angeles Times: Susan Love, Doctor/Patient
And now, she is the patient. For decades, as a surgeon, researcher, professor and medical celebrity of sorts, Susan Love has led the charge against breast cancer and for women's health. She served on President Clinton's cancer advisory board. She set up a research foundation. Her book on breast cancer is on the short shelf for clinicians and counselors. And last June, when, like so many women, she was feeling and doing fine, the diagnosis came. Except it wasn't breast cancer but leukemia (Patt Morrison, 2/13).

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Walker Finds The Medicaid Middle Ground
Gov. Scott Walker has decided to decline federal funds that would have allowed the state to expand Medicaid coverage, sources in his administration say. Walker is right to do this. Last week, legislative Democrats urged the governor to participate in the Medicaid expansion program created under the Affordable Care Act, arguing that it would allow Wisconsin access to "free" federal money. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Wisconsin would be eligible for $4.38 billion in federal aid until 2020 under the plan, with the state picking up an increasing share as the program moves forward (Christian Schneider, 2/12).

Health Policy Solutions (a Colo. news service): Health Care Cost Increases Under Scrutiny In San Luis Valley
In 2012, (the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), a grant-making foundation focusing on improving health, conducted focus groups in four American cities to gauge consumer attitudes on health care costs.  The focus groups revealed that although most Americans are unclear as to why health care costs are increasing, many if not most know down to the penny how those increases are affecting their wallets. This should be expected in a time when workers covered through their employers pay 97 percent more for their family insurance premiums than they did in 2002, while wages increased just 33 percent over the same period (Gena Akers, 2/12).

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