KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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Viewpoints: The Supreme Court Limits Health Care Transparency; More Arguments Favoring Medicaid Expansion

A selection of opinions from around the country.

Los Angeles Times: The Supreme Court Just Made Healthcare Comparison Shopping Much Harder
Go figure. Just when you thought the Supreme Court's new lineup might turn it more consumer-friendly, the eight-member court went and blew a hole in one of the most promising new approaches to healthcare cost transparency. The issue in Gobeille vs. Liberty Mutual, which was decided Tuesday, was whether Vermont could require all payers for healthcare, including insurers and self-insuring employers, to report to a state-run database what they pay to every hospital or doctor for every claim. The court answered no. (Michael Hiltzik, 3/4)

Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer: No More Reason To Evade Medicaid Expansion
As of the end of December, the governor announced in a press release last month, Medicaid was $181 million under budget. Yes, under budget by the same kind of numbers that it once exceeded its budget. ... And our repaired Medicaid system is getting even more attention, being revamped from a program that pays medical costs for the sick to one that pays to keep people healthy. There's good reason to expect even more savings. ... With that accomplished, McCrory's only good objection to Medicaid expansion is gone. (3/7) The Case For Medicaid Expansion In Alabama
Over the past several years, arguments for Medicaid expansion in Alabama have been made using sound economic, budgetary and public health rationales. They have collapsed, however, under the reflexive antipathy toward the Affordable Care Act of conservatives in the state legislature. The result: Tens of thousands of Alabama's workers go without health insurance compared to states that expanded Medicaid, according to a study by Families USA. Expansion states, on average, saw a 25 percent decline in their rate of uninsured workers, compared to just 12 percent for Alabama – a difference of more than 2 to 1. It shouldn't be this way. (Ron Pollack, 3/4)

Los Angeles Times: Tell Me Again How Obamacare Is A 'Disaster'
Conservative attacks on the Affordable Care Act long ago took on the qualities of reflexive, empty rhetoric, of the "say it enough and people will believe it" variety. As it happens, a couple of statistical releases from the U.S. government give the lie to the most persistent attacks. ... As the Department of Health and Human Services reported Thursday, "20 million uninsured adults have gained health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act as of early 2016." The figure includes 17.7 million who gained coverage via the insurance exchanges or Medicaid, and 2.3 million young adults age 19 to 25 who were able to remain on a parent's plan up to age 26. The overall uninsured rate has been cut by nearly half, from 20.3% in 2012 to 11.5% now. The trend includes every ethnic group and both genders; for whites and non-Hispanic blacks, the reduction in the uninsured rate exceeds 50%, and for Hispanics the rate has come down from 41.8% to 30.5%. (Michael Hiltzik, 3/4)

The New York Times: Paying Employees To Lose Weight
If your employer offered you $550 to lose weight, an amount that would be deducted from your health insurance premiums next year, would that provide the motivation to help you finally shed those pounds? Roughly four out of five large employers in the United States now offer some sort of financial incentive to employees to improve their health. The Affordable Care Act has encouraged the creation of such programs by significantly increasing the amount of money, in the form of a percentage of insurance premiums, that employers can reward (or take away) to improve factors such as body mass index, blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as for ending tobacco use. These programs make intuitive sense. But do they work? (Mitesh S. Patel, David A. Asch and Kevin G. Volpp, 3/4)

The New York Times: The Return Of The D.I.Y. Abortion
During oral arguments last week before the Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, Justice Elena Kagan noted that she was struck by the clear relationship between abortion restrictions in Texas and the closing of abortion clinics. “It’s almost like the perfect controlled experiment as to the effect of the law, isn’t it?” she said. “It’s like you put the law into effect, 12 clinics closed. You take the law out of effect, they reopen.” How women respond to these closings, however, is another story. (Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, 3/5)

The Washington Post: My Grandmother Died Because Of An Illegal Abortion
This testimony in State of New York v. Regina Michele was heard in the New York City 6th District Court of Brooklyn on Nov. 10, 1921. Michele, accused of providing an abortion, denied knowing or ever seeing my grandmother. The case was dismissed. Maria died at age 36. She had already given birth to seven children, then ranging in age from 11 months to 10 years. An immigrant from Santa Paolina, Italy, an hour east of Naples, she spoke no English and depended on her husband, Francesco, to negotiate the world outside their Brooklyn flat. Maria, a talented seamstress, helped the family eke by, taking in clothing to repair and alter. Her oldest child, Biaggio, would lug piles of garments in need of her handiwork back and forth to tailor shops. (Christine Dinsmore, 2/4)

The New York Times: Republicans’ Baseless Abortion Investigation
With its hidden-camera videos that took aim at Planned Parenthood, the Center for Medical Progress tried to stir up opposition to abortion rights by concocting a controversy over fetal tissue research. Now Republicans in the House are doing much the same thing. Initially convened in response to the videos, the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, a part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, pledges to “get the facts about medical practices of abortion service providers and the business practices of the procurement organizations who sell baby body parts.” (3/7)

Detroit Free Press: The EPA Needs To Look At Where It Went Wrong In Flint
It's not that no one was paying attention. That's one of the hardest things to understand about the Flint water crisis in which the city's roughly 100,000 residents were exposed to lead-contaminated drinking water for nearly two years, after the city failed to properly treat the water it pumped from the Flint River. (Nancy Kaffer, 3/5)

Los Angeles Times: Dirty Water Isn't Just A Flint Problem
Two days before primary voters go to the polls in Michigan, Democrats will bring the Bernie Sanders-Hillary Clinton debate road show to the put-upon city of Flint on Sunday, where they will doubtlessly discuss the city's well-publicized water crisis. Sanders and Clinton can take turns blaming Republican state officials for their sluggishness in protecting residents from the dangerous levels of lead that leached into their tap water, the result of a temporary cost-saving switch from a tried-and-true lake supply to more corrosive river water. (3/6)

The Washington Post: I Have Parkinson’s — And My Wife Is Its Invisible Victim
Probably the only good thing I can say about having Parkinson’s disease is that it has introduced me to the unexpected helpfulness of others. Any time I venture out with my sturdy cane, people go out of their way to open doors, offer a helping hand or instruct their kids to stand aside as I shuffle past. Some teenagers will even extract themselves from their smartphones to offer assistance. Yet people seldom offer to help the woman who struggles to hoist me from the car seat, push my chair up to the restaurant table or quietly cope with my unseen, round-the-clock needs and demands. (Don Riggenbach, 3/4)

news@JAMA: JAMA Forum: Cultural Influences Reflected In Divergent US Vs UK Human Embryo Research Policies
In a first, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) of the United Kingdom recently approved a research application to use a gene-editing tool on early human embryos. The applicant, Kathy K. Niakan, PhD, a developmental biologist with the Francis Crick Institute in London, England, is seeking to define the molecular program of the earliest stages of human development. (Eli Y. Adashi, 3/3)

Tampa Bay Times: Florida's Smart Investment In Mental Health
The Florida Legislature is making a smart call by adding money to the state budget to hire more mental health workers. For too long, Florida has starved state-run mental health hospitals of appropriate funding, leading to severely understaffed institutions that have become havens for violence and mayhem. Adding more workers is an important step in the right direction. (3/4)

The Washington Post: Five Myths About Heroin
America’s epidemic of heroin and prescription-pain-reliever addiction has become a major issue in the 2016 elections. It’s worse than ever: Deaths from overdoses of opioids (the drug category that includes heroin and prescription analgesics such as Vicodin) reached an all-time high in 2014, rising 14 percent in a single year. But because drug policy has long been a political and cultural football, myths about opioid addiction abound. Here are some of the most dangerous — and how they do harm. (Maia Szalavitz, 3/4)

The Denver Post: Michael Marshall Was A Candidate For Pre-Arrest Diversion Programs
Last November, 50-year-old Michael Marshall suffered an acute psychotic episode — symptomatic of his chronic schizophrenia — while in custody at the Denver jail. Multiple deputies forcibly restrained the 130-pound, 5-foot-3 man for 13 minutes, during which time he choked on his own vomit. Marshall died 10 days later when his family made the heartbreaking decision to discontinue life support. However, the district attorney determined that the deputies involved should not face prosecution. (Art Way, 3/4)

The New York Times: Raise The Legal Age For Cigarette Sales To 21
California could soon raise the legal age for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products to 21, from 18. That change could help prevent many young people from becoming addicted and reduce premature deaths from lung cancer and other tobacco-related diseases. ... The biggest reason to raise the legal age to 21 is to reduce young people’s access to tobacco when they are more likely to become addicted and when their brains are still developing. Studies have found that nicotine, the main addictive ingredient in cigarettes, can impair cognition among young people. About 90 percent of adult smokers first use cigarettes before turning 19, and almost all smokers start before age 26, according to an Institute of Medicine study published last year. (3/5)

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