KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Former Sen. Gramm Criticizes Obama On Budget Cuts; Debate On Revamping Medicare Needs Less Heat, More Deliberation

The Wall Street Journal: Obama And The Sequester Scare
While history shows that a divided government can enact significant spending cuts as an alternative to sequesters, that doesn't appear to be the path Mr. Obama intends to follow. Instead of protecting civilian defense workers, the president will continue to force the Pentagon to buy biofuels at $27 per gallon to promote his green agenda. Instead of protecting children from cuts in nutrition programs, the president will continue to allow $2.7 billion of fraud and mismanagement he has identified in the food-stamp program. Instead of protecting Medicare from a 2% cut, the president will ignore $62 billion in annual waste that his administration has identified in Medicare and Medicaid (Phil Gramm, 2/26).

The Washington Post: A Political DUI
We have a political system that is the equivalent of a drunk driver. The primary culprits are the House Republicans. They are so intoxicated with their own ideology that they are ready to drive the nation's car off the road. ... In my analogy, (President Obama) should take the steering wheel firmly in hand and drive the car toward the destination where most maps show we need to be heading: namely, a balanced program of cuts in Social Security and Medicare and modest increases in revenue (David Ignatius, 2/26).

Politico: Entitlement Reform Key To U.S. Future
As the sequester blame game hits fever pitch this week, Republicans' stance on taxes is simply indefensible, falling hundreds of billions short of even their own prior positions. But as Democrats, we also share a large portion of responsibility for the coming cuts to domestic discretionary spending, as the party has decided in both action and rhetoric that meaningful fixes to the major entitlement programs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are off-limits (Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler, 2/26).

The New York Times: Economic Scene: Medicare Needs Fixing, But Not Right Now
What's the rush? For all the white-knuckled wrangling over spending cuts set to start on Friday, the fundamental partisan argument over how to fix the government's finances is not about the immediate future. It is about the much longer term: how will the nation pay for the care of older Americans as the vast baby boom generation retires? Will the government keep Medicare spending in check by asking older Americans to shoulder more costs? Should we raise taxes instead? It might not be a good idea to try to resolve these questions quite so urgently (Eduardo Porter, 2/26).

Los Angeles Times: Deficit Hawks' 'Generational Theft' Argument Is A Sham
The core idea the term expresses is that we're spending so much more on our seniors than our children that future generations are being cheated. An important corollary is that the government debt we incur today will come slamming down upon the shoulders of our children and grandchildren. … So here's the truth about the "generational theft" theme: It's wrong on the numbers and wrong on the implications (Michael Hiltzik, 2/27).

The New York Times: Economix: In Massachusetts We Trust
From a labor-market perspective, the Affordable Care Act has little in common with the 2006 health reform law implemented in Massachusetts. Some employers are complaining about the $2,000 per-employee-per-year penalty they will pay beginning next year when the main provisions of the Affordable Care Act go into effect. The Congressional Budget Office also warned about the astonishing increase in marginal tax rates that middle-income Americans will experience, because the additional income earned by a family will be considered by the Internal Revenue Service as available for additional health insurance payments (Casey Mulligan, 2/27). 

Los Angeles Times: In Medicine, One Dose Doesn't Fit All
For several reasons, older patients are far more likely to experience adverse drug reactions. For one thing, on average they take a larger number of drugs than younger people, which increases the likelihood that two or more will interact in a harmful way. Also, clearance by the kidneys and liver — the two most important routes for the elimination of drugs — is reduced. As people age, these organs get less blood flow, and there is diminished activity of the hepatic enzymes that metabolize drugs (Dr. Henry I. Miller, 2/27). 

The Medicare NewsGroup: Patient Engagement: A New Frontier In Health Reform
While patient-centered care is still in its infancy and represents what would be a culture shock to the fee-for-service system if introduced too quickly, it has great potential for improving the overall quality of care. … Much more research must be done on patient engagement, but it may very well become an essential element in the tandem goal of improving health care while lowering cost (John Wasik, 2/26).

Georgia Health News: Georgia's Unhealthy Regions Are Whole State's Responsibility
The recent closing of Calhoun Memorial Hospital in tiny Arlington, Ga., comes not just as another body blow to health and health care in impoverished areas of rural Georgia — but as a dagger to the heart of hopes for any kind of economic development or improvement. It also adds more weight to an anchor that already holds down the entire state's economy. As it happens, news of the Calhoun Memorial closing came as the Partner Up! for Public Health campaign was finalizing research and analysis on health and economic disparities in Georgia — research that had documented that Calhoun County was part of a cluster of counties in southwest Georgia that constitutes the least healthy region of the state (Charles Hayslett, 2/26). 

San Francisco Chronicle: Health Insurance Rate Increases Threaten Seniors
Something isn't working in the long-term-care insurance industry. The California Public Employees' Retirement System, which runs the country's second-largest long-term-care plan, just announced a remarkable 85 percent rate increase for most of its policyholders starting in 2015. John Hancock Life Insurance Co. increased rates on some California policies by 40 percent late last year. CNA Financial Corp. is seeking a 45 percent increase on some of its California policyholders right now. California is no anomaly, either -- most of the 8 million Americans who hold long-term-care policies have seen staggering rate increases in recent years (2/25).

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