KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: $4,000 A Night For A ‘Cozy’ Hospital Room; Texas Effort To Provide Women’s Health Care Falls Short

Los Angeles Times: First The Cat, Now The Health System Puts The Bit On Me
Call it the $55,000 cat bite. That's the rough total in medical costs (so far) for a cat bite on my hand that turned into an infection that turned into surgery that turned into a week in the hospital. ... But the bill has finally arrived, and I'm a good deal less impressed with the money side of our medical system. Put simply, it's nuts. Case in point: My cozy hospital room at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica was priced at $4,000 a night. Four thousand. You can book a 1,400-square-foot Premier Suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel for less than that. Another case in point: Sixteen bucks for a Tylenol. Actually, not even a proper Tylenol. That's for the generic equivalent. "It's totally crazy," admitted Dr. David Feinberg, who isn't just some innocent bystander when it comes to UCLA's medical pricing. He's the president of UCLA Health System. He runs the place (David Lazarus, 1/15).

The Washington Post: Shining A Light On Medicare Payments
Now costing more than $500 billion per year, Medicare is central to the United States' fiscal predicament. For this complicated problem, there are many complicated proposed solutions. But what if we try something simple, like journalism? ... the press and the public cannot examine the treatments individual physicians billed to Medicare or — most important — how much Medicare paid for them. Yet this is a matter of obvious public concern, given that Medicare made $28.8 billion in improper payments in 2011, according to a Government Accountability Office report last February. Media coverage could be a powerful weapon against waste, fraud and abuse, Dow Jones argues — plausibly, given the Journal's recent work (Charles Lane, 1/14).

The Washington Post: The Rush To Digitize Patient Records Has Not Cut Costs
There is good news on the health-care spending front. According to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the nation's health-care bill grew only 3.9 percent in 2011, the third straight year at that pace — which is about half the average annual rate between 2003 and 2007. Consequently, health care is no longer consuming a rising share of the overall economy; it's held steady at 17.9 percent of gross domestic product since 2009. ... It’s easier to identify factors that did not contribute to the downward bending of the cost curve. Health information technology is a case in point (1/14).

The Dallas Morning News: Texas' Problem With Women's Health Care
Texas lawmakers determined in 2011 that taxpayers should not fund anything even tangentially related to abortion services, so they passed legislation designed to deny funds to the national reproductive health-services provider Planned Parenthood. As a result, the state said goodbye to federal funding that paid tens of millions of dollars for low-income women's reproductive health services — none of which were abortion-related to begin with. ... the result has been a waste of public money, enormous cuts in health care funding and creation of an informational black hole for low-income women seeking health services (1/14).

Kansas City Star: Brownback's Shell Game On Mental Health Funds
For Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a wakeup call. He has announced a renewed focus on serving people who are mentally ill and resistant to treatment. It's a good idea, and one that families of mentally ill Kansans have been requesting for years. Both Kansas and Missouri desperately need crisis stabilization clinics — a middle ground between outpatient treatment and hospitalization. But the governor's plan is deficient in two respects (1/14).

The New York Times: Getting Through The Flu Season
The vaccines available for the strains of flu this year are deemed moderately effective; they can prevent flu cases severe enough to require a doctor’s visit about 62 percent of the time, roughly the same as in previous years. The vaccines provide no protection against other viruses that are circulating simultaneously, such as a new form of norovirus and a severe outbreak of whooping cough. Some shortages of vaccine have been reported around the country, but diligent searchers may be able to find some because the number of people seeking vaccines may be smaller than the remaining supplies. The lesson for future years is to get your shot early (1/14).

The New York Times: Colorado's Marijuana Muddle
Colorado is going to pot. It’s just having a tough time figuring out how. Although an Election Day referendum legalized marijuana for recreational use, it left questions unanswered. Like: how high can you be behind the wheel of a car? Lawmakers are debating a specific blood level, as with alcohol, above which a motorist is deemed an uneasy rider. In a restaurant or private club, might the dessert choices someday include an upscale riff on the pot brownie and a double entendre of a pot de crème? (Frank Bruni, 1/14).

Medpage Today: Is Freedom Of Choice Incompatible With Good Health?
What are the three greatest threats to the health of the American public over which individuals would appear to have control? We can't include those giant health threats like nuclear war and global warming over which only governments and corporations have control. In my view, the three greatest are tobacco smoking, obesity, and diabetes. So, I looked at the data on all 50 states regarding tobacco smoking, obesity, and diabetes rates. I then categorized the states by red or blue by the 2012 presidential election. Of course there are many blue votes in red states and many red votes in blue states. I tallied the highest and lowest 11 or 12 states by tobacco smoking, obesity, and diabetes rates: 24 states were red; 26 were blue (Dr. George Lundberg, 1/14).

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