KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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Viewpoints: Mobilize To Fight Growing Numbers Of Early Deaths; Keep Medicare Payment Reform

A selection of opinions on health care from around the country.

The Washington Post: Americans Are Dying Younger. Will The Government Do Anything About It?
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Americans died at a younger age, on average, because of increasing mortality from heart disease, strokes, drug overdoses, diabetes, accidents and other causes, pushing the death rate up 1.2 percent. As the incoming administration prepares to reshape the nation’s health-care system and budget, it should keep in mind the public-health challenges that cannot be solved without government research money, government health campaigns and government support for low-income people. In fact, the challenges may be getting more severe, because baby boomers are aging, requiring more care, and because Americans of many age groups may be living less healthy lives. (12/29)

The New York Times: The Quiet War On Medicaid
Progressives have already homed in on Republican efforts to privatize Medicare as one of the major domestic political battles of 2017. If Donald J. Trump decides to gut the basic guarantee of Medicare and revamp its structure so that it hurts older and sicker people, Democrats must and will push back hard. But if Democrats focus too much of their attention on Medicare, they may inadvertently assist the quieter war on Medicaid — one that could deny health benefits to millions of children, seniors, working families and people with disabilities. (Gene B. Sperling, 12/25)

Forbes: Medicaid Endangers Lives; Block Grants Can Save Them
Democrats and their enablers in the media are hyperventilating about the GOP's drive to cap federal Medicaid funding with a series of "block grants" to the states as part of their replacement plan for Obamacare. ... House Speaker Paul Ryan's plan is no cause for alarm. By freeing states to experiment with new ways of caring for low-income patients, the proposal will likely make Medicaid more effective -- and less costly. (Sally Pipes, 12/26)

The New York Times: How Donald Trump’s Health Secretary Pick Endangers Women
With the selection of Representative Tom Price as secretary of health and human services, President-elect Donald J. Trump has taken a giant step toward undermining the health of American women. ... What may jolt even those who supported Mr. Trump is the extremity of Mr. Price’s views on women’s health. In Congress, he opposed a law that would protect women in Washington, D.C., from employment discrimination based on their decision to use birth control or have an abortion. He was a co-sponsor of legislation that would have defined life as beginning at conception, inviting arguments that common forms of birth control constitute a murder weapon. (Allison K. Hoffman and Jill R. Horwitz, 12/28)

Los Angeles Times: One Obama Rule That Trump Should Keep: Making Sure Family Planning Funds Reach Everyone Who Needs Them
A new rule from the Department of Health and Human Services makes it clear that state agencies should not be determining how to distribute millions of dollars of federal Title X family planning funds based on anything other than a health clinic’s ability to provide those services. This is a provocative but smart move that aims to restore federal funding for healthcare centers serving lower-income populations that have been disqualified by some states simply because they also provide abortions. (12/27)

Bloomberg: Don't Give Up On Medicare Payment Reform
The quest to create a more rational health-care system took a dispiriting turn this month, when the federal government abandoned an effort to motivate doctors to use the best available drugs, rather than the costliest ones. What’s worrisome is that this could be the start of a more general retreat from payment reform in health care as the White House changes hands. ... The broader cause of payment reform is in jeopardy, too, partly because the present administration has moved slowly on it. When Barack Obama exits the White House, dozens of pilot projects for new payment systems will be left unfinished. (12/28)

The New England Journal of Medicine: Should Medicare Value-Based Purchasing Take Social Risk Into Account?
The United States is rapidly moving to a health care delivery system in which value-based payment models are the predominant way of reimbursing clinicians for care. Since caring for patients with social risk factors may cost more and make it harder to achieve high performance on quality metrics, there is long-standing concern about how these patients might fare under such systems and how the systems might affect providers who disproportionately provide care to socially at-risk populations. (Karen E. Joynt, Nancy De Lew, Steven H. Sheingold, Patrick H. Conway, Kate Goodrich and Arnold M. Epstein, 12/28)

Fiscal Times: The VA Doesn’t Need To Be Privatized, And Our Vets Know It
You don’t often see Donald Trump pull a punch, but he did it last week. Trump spent his entire campaign deeply angered by how the government treats veterans, particularly regarding their medical care. He promised to overhaul the Veterans Administration (VA) health care system and “take care” of the vets. Everyone has interpreted this as code for privatizing the VA, a long-awaited conservative goal. But last week at Mar-a-Lago, after a meeting with health care executives about his VA plans, Trump told reporters this: “We think we have to have kind of a public-private option, because some vets love the VA. Definitely an option on the table to have a system where potentially vets can choose either/or or all private.” (David Dayen, 1/3)

The New York Times: Why Keep The Old And Sick Behind Bars?
Anyone who visits a prison these days might be shocked to see what looks more like a nursing home with bars and metal detectors. Prisoners put away years ago under the wave of draconian sentencing are now turning gray and frail, suffering from heart disease and hypertension and feeling the effects of Alzheimer’s and other age-related illnesses. Corrections officials once thought they had time to prepare for this, but something unexpected happened. Federal data shows that prison inmates age more rapidly than people on the outside — because of stress, poor diet and lack of medical care — so much so that their infirmities qualify them as “elderly” at the age of 50. (1/3)

The New York Times: A Zika Vaccine, But For Whom?
The race for a Zika vaccine, one of the most pressing priorities in global health, is at full throttle. More than a dozen companies and government institutions are working to unlock the secrets of the virus, and a vaccine could be available as early as 2018. But available to whom? If history is any guide, impoverished communities in Africa are likely to be the last in line. (Patrick Adams and Cameron Nutt, 12/28)

The New York Times: Black Lung, Incurable And Fatal, Stalks Coal Miners Anew
Appalachian health officials report a shocking rise in cases of black lung — the deadly coal-mining disease thought to have been reined in by a landmark federal law passed in 1969. ... The emergence of a new generation of miners gasping for their lives should give President-elect Donald Trump, who has vowed to revive the industry, reason to reflect on a safer course for the very workers he claimed to prize as a candidate. There is no known cure for black lung, a wearying disease responsible for 78,000 deaths since 1968. (12/24)

The New York Times: How To Become A ‘Superager’
Why do some older people remain mentally nimble while others decline? “Superagers” (a term coined by the neurologist Marsel Mesulam) are those whose memory and attention isn’t merely above average for their age, but is actually on par with healthy, active 25-year-olds. My colleagues and I at Massachusetts General Hospital recently studied superagers to understand what made them tick. ... We succeeded in identifying a set of brain regions that distinguished the two groups. (Lisa Feldman Barrett, 12/31)

Los Angeles Times: When Cancer Is Trying To Kill You, Another New Year's Eve Is A Humbling Bonus
I am just about through my first bonus holiday season. Last year around this time, my husband and I assumed we had decorated our final Christmas tree, and planned our farewell New Year’s Eve together. I’d been diagnosed with terminal cancer six months earlier and given a year to live. But as I’ve written in earlier op-eds in The Times, a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral. Instead of growing, my tumors started disappearing. By spring of 2016 I was officially a “partial responder” to immunotherapy. (Melinda Welsh, 12/30)

San Jose Mercury News: Carrie Fisher Battled Stigma As Well As Stormtroopers
As therapists, we were astonished to see so many people honor Carrie Fisher’s legacy by sharing their own struggles with mental illness. Their coming out messages on Facebook and Twitter may one day herald a new era of acceptance for millions of people who too often have been blamed for conditions that are as arbitrary as the color of their skin. (Clement Papazian, Elizabeth White and Natalie Salinas, 1/1)

Richmond Times-Dispatch: What Money Will Fix In Mental Health, And What It Won't
The death of Jamycheal Mitchell in a Portsmouth jail cell has rekindled Virginia’s fitful debate over dealing with the mentally ill. Mitchell was arrested for stealing $5 worth of snacks. He starved to death in jail over the course of three months. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has proposed more than $30 million in new spending for mental health and substance-abuse treatment. This is welcome. ... But no one should think more money will solve the problem, which has bedeviled the commonwealth for decades. (1/2)

The New York Times: Housing That Ruins Your Finances and Your Health
Of the nearly one million foreclosed houses sold by Fannie Mae, the government-run mortgage giant, since the housing bust, tens of thousands were decrepit, moldy and unfit for human habitation. Investor groups rounded them up anyway and turned them into cash cows by using “rent-to-own” leases or “contracts for deed.” ... doctors and health officials in many states are now warning that the dilapidated homes are connected to an increase in lead poisoning in children. Yet even as the warnings have become more urgent, the owners of the properties seem to care more about their profits than about children’s health. (1/2)

The New York Times: The Health Data Conundrum
There's quite a paradox when it comes to our health data. Most of us still cannot readily look at it, but there’s been an epidemic of cybercriminals and thieves hacking and stealing this most personal information. (Kathryn Haun and Eric J. Topol, 1/2)

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Heroin A Mass Killer Of Ohioans In 2016; Outlook For 2017 Is Similarly Grim
The scourge of heroin continued to wage relentless and deadly war on Ohio in 2016. At least 500 people died from drug-related overdoses in the past year in Cuyahoga County alone. Thousands more died similar deaths throughout the state. Heroin or fentanyl or some combination of the super-potent opioids are now a leading cause of deaths for Ohioans -- surpassing the longstanding toll wrought by gun violence and automobile accidents. (Phillip Morris, 12/31)

The New York Times: A Month Without Sugar
Choose a month this year — a full 30 days, starting now or later — and commit to eating no added sweeteners. Go cold turkey, for one month. I have done so in each of the last two years, and it has led to permanent changes in my eating habits. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. It reset my sugar-addled taste buds and opened my eyes to the many products that needlessly contain sugar. I now know which brands of chicken stock, bacon, smoked salmon, mustard and hot sauce contain added sugar and which do not. (David Leonhardt, 12/30)

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