KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Bowles And Simpson Urge Obama To Seek Medicare Savings; Health Care Industry Helps Stabilize The Economy

Politico: Memo To Congress, White House: Get Serious On Debt
The president deserves credit for putting forward Medicare savings in his budget and offering further entitlement savings in the negotiations, but he and his fellow Democrats must be willing to do more to reform our entitlement programs. ... For health savings, we'll have to look at everything from increasing premiums for well-off beneficiaries to reducing reimbursements to providers and drug companies to modernizing cost-sharing rules to tort reform. We will also need to reorient incentives to change the delivery of care and make adjustments to reflect the aging of society. In short, it will require taking on favored and well-entrenched constituencies across the health care system (Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, 2/14).

The New York Times: Health Care's Good News
Most of the recent talk about health care spending has been pretty bleak. Just take a look at the Rate Review Tool on and you'll know why. Major insurers are proposing painful, double-digit premium increases in 2013. In California, Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California and Aetna all announced rate increases of 20 percent or higher for some of their customers. Many are taking this as a sign that, despite its intentions, the health care reform law is failing and costs are going up as a result. But there is something bigger going on here, though commentators may not be shouting about it. Health care spending is still going up, but the rate at which it grows year to year has actually been declining for about a decade now (Ezekiel J. Emanuel, 2/14).

The New York Times Economix blog: Health Care As An Economic Stabilizer
From a macroeconomic perspective, the health care sector has functioned for some time as the main economic locomotive pulling the economy along. In the last two decades, it has created more jobs on a net basis than any other sector. Oddly, not much is made of the job-creating ability of the health care sector in political debate over health policy, in contrast to discussions of military spending, where employment always ranks high among the arguments against cuts (Uwe E. Reinhardt, 2/15). 

The New England Journal of Medicine: The Oregon ACO Experiment — Bold Design, Challenging Execution
(Accountable Care Organizations) are expected to contain costs through improvements in health care delivery and realignment of financial incentives, but their effectiveness remains unproved, and there are reasons for concern that they may fail. Oregon has embarked on an ambitious program centered on the ACO model, which aims to change Medicaid financing and health care delivery. The Oregon experiment highlights both the bold vision of ACO-based health care reform and the potential challenges to executing that vision. Failure of the Oregon experiment would not only jeopardize health care for vulnerable Oregonians but also call into question the viability of central tenets of the ACA (Dr. Eric C. Stecker, 2/13).

The Wall Street Journal: Why The NHS Keeps Failing Britain
In February 2003 Gordon Brown, then Britain's chancellor, declared that "in health care, we know that the consumer is not sovereign." A decade later, the final report of the public inquiry into the failings of the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust between 2005 and 2009 has revealed the consequences—what happens when the patient is not sovereign but subject. The Mid-Staffs story, according to inquiry chairman Robert Francis, is one of "appalling and unnecessary suffering of hundreds of people" (Rupert Darwall, 2/14).

The New York Times: Suicide Made Easier
The current gun control debate is focused, not surprisingly, on the carnage from rapid-firing assault weapons, like the one used in the Connecticut school massacre. But beneath the surface lies a disturbing reality: nearly two-thirds of the 30,000 gun deaths each year are not the work of deranged mass shooters but the suicides of troubled individuals with easy access to firearms, often in quiet family homes (2/14).

Boston Globe: Linsky Starts A Conversation On Guns And Public Health
A new bill from state Representative David Linsky, a Democrat from Natick, is a good way to launch a serious debate, because it takes many cues from the public health field. Rather than simply attempt to ban certain weapons, it tries to influence the behavior of gun owners. For instance, Linsky’s bill would require gun owners to purchase liability insurance, with rates that could vary depending on the type of weapon and storage situation. Gun owners fear that the state could use such a mandate as a stealth way to outlaw guns, by making insurance too costly to obtain. Indeed, the premiums should be based only on a rational accounting of the risks presented by gun ownership (2/15).

Health Policy Solutions (a Colo. news service): Broader Approach Necessary For Achieving African American Health Equity
It is clear from the data that African Americans face increased obstacles to a healthy life; to achieve a healthier Colorado, we must raise the collective awareness in our state of the challenges individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups face, and tackle them with the same fervor and leadership we have other health issues (Aubrey Hill, 2/13).

Medpage Today: Population Health Management – Not Just a Concept
A host of new patient care models aimed at making healthcare more team-based are emerging. Reimbursement tied to outcomes will demand a greater level of patient management and engagement in the care process. Often, though, an (electronic health records system) alone cannot provide the functionality necessary to manage a specific population of patients. There are many reasons a practice may need to identify and proactively work with a defined group of patients. Primarily, it's to insure they are receiving care according to the evidenced-based standards agreed upon by the practice (Rosemarie Nelson, 2/14).

Boston Globe: A Doctor Takes On Militias
If there is any hope for healing in the war-ravaged eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, it lies in activists like Dr. Denis Mukwege. A world-renowned gynecological surgeon, Mukwege founded a hospital that has treated tens of thousands of survivors of sexual violence, many of whom were raped during the armed conflict that has raged, off and on, for the past 16 years. In addition to being a skilled doctor in a country with few medical supplies, he is also a relentless advocate for women. He has traveled the world speaking out against the use of rape as a weapon in war, and outlining steps that must be taken to end it (2/15).

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