KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Support For Drug Benefit Merger; Health Reform Comes Too Slowly For Some Patients; Pinpointing Romney’s Views On Mandate

The New York Times: Costs, Benefits And Your Drug Plan
It seems counterintuitive, but the Federal Trade Commission has just decided that a $29 billion merger of two of the three largest companies that manage pharmaceutical benefits for employers and health plans — Express Scripts and Medco Health Solutions — would not substantially lessen competition. That judgment deserves credence because of the thoroughness of the F.T.C.'s eight-month inquiry and the willingness of the agency to oppose other mergers when the evidence warrants (4/4).

The New York Times: Down The Insurance Rabbit Hole
Were the Obama health care reforms already in place, my brother and sister-in-law's situation -- insurance-wise and financially -- would be far less dire. My brother's small employer -- he is the manager of a metal-fabrication shop -- does not offer health insurance, which was too expensive for them to buy on their own. Fortunately, my sister-in-law (who was paralyzed in a car accident) had enrolled in the Access for Infants and Mothers program, California's insurance plan for middle-income pregnant women. AIM coverage extends 60 days postpartum and paid for her stay in intensive care and early rehabilitation (Andrea Louise Campbell, 4/4). 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Law Vital To Health System
Last week's Supreme Court arguments over the Affordable Care Act obscured a key fact: People in Georgia and nationwide are already getting better care under the law. Millions more will benefit in years to come if it stands. If it doesn't, we'll be right back where we started, trying to figure out how to care for Georgians without insurance and how to rein in soaring medical costs. We'll all be poorer for that (Timothy Sweeney, 4/4).

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Ruin Disguised As Reform
Clearly, the Affordable Care Act is yet another Obama scheme to grow government at every level and raise taxes. It will cost Georgians more than money. Our freedom to manage our own affairs and purchase what we want with what we earn is at stake (Virginia Galloway, 4/4). 

Georgia Health News: It's Not The Law, It's The Rhetoric
Physicians are professionally bound by the Hippocratic Oath of "do no harm." To perpetuate a health system that denies basic access to care for 50 million Americans is both harmful and unconscionable. It is time to repeal and replace the rhetoric of division and distraction. The ACA takes a major step forward in assuring that all Americans have access to affordable, high-quality health care (Dr. Harry Heiman, 4/4).

Chicago Tribune: Playing The Health Care Card
I have some questions. "Mitt, if you were still governor of Massachusetts, knowing what you know today, would you work to repeal the health care act you worked so hard to pass only a short while ago? If it's bad for the nation, how can it be good for Massachusetts? If it's good for Massachusetts, how can it be bad for the nation?" Those three questions are at the center of the Romney candidacy, even though we don't know it yet because the big show leading up to November has not yet started (Charles Madigan, 4/5).

Chicago Tribune: Obamacare Will Be Romney's Savior
The funny thing is: Even as they were saying he can't attack Obamacare, Romney was -- you guessed it -- attacking Obamacare. Romney has been attacking Obamacare since its inception. "I'll stop it in its tracks on day one!" he promises constantly on the stump (Jonah Goldberg, 4/5).

Chicago Tribune: Fear And Medicare, Round 2
We've seen this before. Last year, Democrats attacked (Rep. Paul) Ryan's Medicare proposal, raising fears the program would disappear. That "Mediscare" campaign was judged the "biggest political lie of 2011" by Politifact, the Tampa Bay Times' nonpartisan fact-checking website. It looks as if Mediscare 2 may claim the biggest-lie title for 2012 (4/5).

The Washington Post: Mitt's 'Marvelous' Misjudgment
What was unveiled with Obama's powerful speech is nothing less than a replay of Bill Clinton's reelection argument in 1996. Back then, a colorless GOP leader named Bob Dole was successfully lashed to revolutionary Newt Gingrich's budget, which Democrats argued would ravage Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment. Dole was morphed into Gingrich at least 125,000 times in negative ads (according to Gingrich’s later tally for me), killing Dole with independents and sullying Gingrich's brand forever (Matt Miller, 4/4).

Politico: Bay State Not Buying 'War On Women'
Democrats turned public concern about the Obama administration's mandate that employers (including those with religious affiliations) must provide health insurance covering abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization into a national discussion of Republican attitudes regarding contraception. GOP missteps -- from failing to showcase women at prominent congressional hearings about religious liberty versus the mandate, recast by the left as being about women’s health, to conservative icon Rush Limbaugh, misled by an inaccurate report, insulting a Georgetown law student/contraceptive activist (for which he apologized, but by then the narrative was set) -- allowed Democrats to twist opposition to the unprecedented government mandate into a "GOP War on Women" (Carrie Lukas and Kellyanne Conway, 4/4).

Boston Globe: State Needs More Authority To Curb Abuses At 'Sober Houses'
The Massachusetts attorney general's office is wise to the operators of shady drug testing clinics and their kickback schemes with some so-called "sober houses’" inhabited by recovering addicts. But the absence of regulation in this area practically assures that abuses will happen time and time again. Sober houses fall somewhere between rooming houses and residential treatment centers. At their best, they provide a supportive, shared living environment for tenants who prove sobriety through random urine screenings. At their worst, operators of sober homes pocket the weekly rent as well as bribes for steering their indigent tenants to unethical testing labs, which pad Medicaid bills with frequent and unnecessary tests (4/5).

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Repayment Doesn't End HMO Concerns
A year of controversy over Minnesota health plan profits earned from taxpayer-paid medical programs has yielded a remarkable development: $73 million will soon be returned to state and federal coffers. … The $73 million windfall is momentarily reassuring, but serious questions remain about the repayment and, more importantly, about state and federal oversight of the Medicaid program. Problems in Minnesota may indicate inadequate Medicaid management in other states (4/4).

The Fiscal Times: Working Our Way Through Old Age
[T]his year's World Health Day is dedicated to healthy aging. The trajectory of population aging is entirely predictable. All over the world, we're getting older. It's time to do something about this demographic shift by realigning health, education, work-retirement, economic and financial policies to our current century's demographic truths (Michael Hodin, 4/5).

Journal of the American Medical Association: Choosing Wisely: Helping Physicians And Patients Make Smart Decisions About Their Care
To reduce unnecessary tests and procedures, physicians will need to play a leading role -- their decisions account for about 80 percent of health care expenditures. Yet physicians do not always have the most current effectiveness data. ... To help reduce waste in the US health care system and promote physician and patient conversations about making wise choices about treatments, 9 medical specialty societies ... developed a list of 5 tests, treatments, or services that are commonly used in that specialty and for which the use should be reevaluated by patients and clinicians (Dr. Christine K. Cassel and James A. Guest, 4/4).

New England Journal of Medicine: Building a Better Physician -- The Case for the New MCAT 
A 2004 Institute of Medicine report on "Improving Medical Education" and several years of evaluation identified a need to redesign the [Medical College Admission Test] to better reflect physicians' current challenges. ... Disparities in health outcomes among races and ethnic groups persist. The Los Angeles Department of Public Health, for example, reports a 17.5-year difference in life expectancy between African-American men and Asian-American women. ... Tomorrow's physicians will need to understand demographic changes, the effect of culture on adherence to medications, and the ways in which changes in incentives and payment systems will affect their practices (Robert M. Kaplan, Jason M. Satterfield and Dr. Raynard S. Kington, 4/5).

New England Journal of Medicine: Removing Legal Barriers to High-Quality Care for HIV-Infected Patients 
Remarkably, HIV infection has made the transition from death sentence to chronic condition in relatively short order. Laws that restrict the ability to collect, analyze, and appropriately share data on HIV-infected patients put them at risk for suboptimal care. HIV-positive patients should be treated in patient-centered, coordinated systems that ensure they receive all needed elements of care, for all their conditions. We believe it is time to remove special provisions for privacy that are based exclusively on HIV testing and diagnosis (Lara E. Szent-Gyorgyi, Dr. Sonali Desai, Daniel Kim, Dr. Paul E. Sax and Dr. Jeffrey O. Greenberg, 4/5).

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