KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Health Law’s ‘Sticker Shock;’ Changing Medicare Eligibility Age Is Not A Simple Solution

The Wall Street Journal: Obama's Health Spending 'Problem'
President Obama said a fair bit during the fiscal-cliff negotiations—speaking for 45 minutes in one 50-minute meeting, for example—but today let's zero in on the claim he kept repeating: "We don't have a spending problem. We have a health-care problem." For our money—and yours—those are two of the most remarkable sentences our Orator in Chief has ever strung together (1/13).

The Wall Street Journal: ObamaCare's Health Insurance Sticker Shock
Health-insurance premiums have been rising—and consumers will experience another series of price shocks later this year when some see their premiums skyrocket thanks to the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare (Merrill Matthews and Mark E. Litow, 1/13).

Bloomberg: Medicare Must Change, Even If Its Eligibility Age Doesn't
One tempting idea for saving money on Medicare, a program that vacuums up some 15 percent of federal spending, is to raise the age at which Americans become eligible for it. We ourselves have succumbed to this temptation, on more than one occasion. Raising the eligibility age a couple of years, to 67, remains an attractive idea; it would save the program a lot of money. It's just that there are a lot of other things Washington should try first. Before we get to those, allow us to explain our newfound hesitation: Raising the eligibility age is neither as simple nor as effective as many of its proponents claim (1/10).

The Fiscal Times: The Real Reason Medicare Costs Will Explode
Medicare costs continue to be under the microscope as Congress and President Obama gear up for a fight over spending cuts, but a couple of reports released in recent days offer seemingly encouraging news in the decades-long fight to keep health care costs in check. In both cases, though, the positive signals come with plenty of questions (Yuval Rosenberg, 1/13).

Forbes: Insurers To Obama: Make The Individual Mandate Stronger
If you're going to double the cost of health insurance for young people, and thereby increase premiums by thousands of dollars, many people will be better off going without insurance and paying the mandate's fine. Insurers have always understood this problem. … Now that President Obama has been reelected, and Obamacare’s imposition is assured, people are starting to pay attention to this problem (Avik Roy, 1/14).

Los Angeles Times: Wealthy, But Not So Healthy
For all of our sophisticated medical care, Americans can expect shorter lives and more health troubles than the people of other well-off nations, according to a new report. And that's not just true of infants and poor people, the groups usually pinpointed as particularly vulnerable to health issues; it is also the case for the affluent, teenagers and middle-aged people (1/12).

Los Angeles Times: Finding An Economic Model For High-Tech, Efficient Healthcare
A nagging issue for healthcare reformers is the disincentive for many providers to adopt innovative approaches to care that improve health and cut costs. If you're paid a fee for each service you provide in your office, why would you invest in technologies and procedures that led to fewer billable services? One reason is to achieve better results, and that's good enough for some providers. But the Medicare program is supplying another rationale. It started cracking down last year on hospitals that readmit too many patients soon after discharging them (Jon Healey, 1/12). 

The Wall Street Journal: The Tragedy Of Mental-Health Law
After Newtown, there is widespread concern that laws regarding mental-health services need reform. Two places to start are the laws governing involuntary hospitalization, and the restrictions placed on communication with a patient's family. Across the U.S. today, federal and state laws give people with mental illness the right to decide when, where, how, and if they will receive care. Yet some serious mental illnesses (such as schizophrenia or mania) can make it difficult for those affected to assess the reality of their own experiences or their need for treatment (Lloyd I. Sederer, 1/11).

The Boston Globe: Mass. Should Give Registry Data For Mental-Health Gun Checks
Massachusetts can be justly proud of its strong gun laws, but that attitude shouldn't lead to self-congratulation or, worse, complacency. As many states consider tighter gun-control regulations after the Newtown, Conn., massacre last month, Massachusetts has work to do, too (1/13).

The Washington Post: A Bad Flu Season
CDC data out Friday show that the flu struck early this season, shooting up in December when it usually peaks in January or February, and it struck hard. Doctor visits for influenza-like illness, a primary measure of infection, are classified as high for half the country. The last time flu activity was this severe so early was during the particularly deadly 2003-04 season. Add an influenza cliff, too, to the possible drags on the economy; normal flu seasons cost the country more than $10 billion. This year, more Americans cashing in sick days might push that toll up (1/13).

The Wall Street Journal: Making Opioid Drugs Less Alluring
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 15,000 Americans die annually from opioids, either in suicides or accidental overdoses by addicts and non-addicts. Given that opioids used in prescription drugs are a mainstay of treatment for millions of Americans with moderate-to-severe pain, how can the drugs be made safer (Lynn Webster, 1/13)? 

The Associated Press: Familiar Debate Revived In Obesity Crisis
Americans have always been conflicted on what role government should have in their private lives. The scale tilts wildly depending on the issue and the era. Each day, people, courts and lawmakers wrestle with this constant tension: Where does government's duty to protect its people end and an individual's right to choose begin? And when someone's choice impacts society, how far is too far? These questions are at the core of the national conversation over America's obesity epidemic, a private issue that's become more public as rates rise and stress our healthcare system (Liz Sidoti, 1/14).

San Jose Mercury News: Pancreatic Cancer Finally Gets Federal Attention
Pancreatic cancer is a devastating and unforgiving disease. My husband, Patrick Swayze, was diagnosed with this terrible cancer in January of 2008. ... Of the top five cancer killers, pancreatic cancer is the only one with a five-year survival rate in the single digits -- just 6 percent. Patrick fought valiantly before passing away almost 22 months later. While pancreatic cancer may have taken him in the end, it never beat him. And for me, just because he's gone doesn't mean this fight is over. Due in part to the lack of federal resources, scientific advances against this disease, whose statistics are shocking, have been minimal at best. No early-detection tools exist, and few effective treatment options are available. Further, despite its being one of the most deadly cancers, there has been no national plan to address pancreatic cancer (Lisa Niemi Swayze, 1/11).

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