Viewpoints: Zika Readiness Falls Short; A Lack Of Obamacare Enthusiasm?
A selection of opinions on health care from around the country.
The Wall Street Journal:
Will Health Insurance Premium Increases Related To Obamacare Sway Voters?
As candidates in both parties focus on the general election campaign, some Republicans wonder if large premium increases related to the Affordable Care Act could be an “October surprise” that helps propel them to victory in November. The causes of the approaching premium increases vary, but some are rooted in a 2013 Obama administration proposal. In reporting on premium increases by one Iowa insurer, the Des Moines Register noted that individuals who bought new plans that complied with Affordable Care Act regulations could face premium increases of 38% to 43% next year. “Another 90,000 Wellmark customers who hold older individual insurance plans are expected to face smaller increases, which will be announced in June,” the paper said. (Chris Jacobs, 5/22)
The Charlotte Observer:
An Insurer’s Obamacare Grade: Passing, But Barely
Last month in this space, we suggested that Obamacare is working, at least with regards to its goals of slowing health care costs and bringing insurance coverage to millions more Americans. Our readers, however, were quick to point out that insurance providers are not nearly as enthusiastic. That’s true. One of the nation’s larger insurers, UnitedHealth, announced last month that it would pull out of several Obamacare markets, including North Carolina. Another N.C. provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield, might stop selling ACA policies in 2017, CEO Brad Wilson said in February. (5/22)
The Washington Post:
Zika Is Coming, But We’re Far From Ready
The good news is that both the House and Senate have finally passed bills that would provide some funding to combat the Zika virus. The bad news is that this action comes more than three months after President Obama requested the aid. Moreover, the House bill provides only one-third of the response needed; pays for this limited, ineffective response by diverting money allocated to fight other infectious diseases; and necessitates a conference committee to resolve differences with the Senate bill, meaning we still do not know when any money will finally get through Congress to fund the response. (Ronald A. Klain, 5/22)
The Wall Street Journal:
A Medicare Experiment With A Grim Prognosis
Federal bureaucrats announced earlier this year that they plan to upend the way Medicare Part B pays for drugs. The goal? To save money by getting doctors to alter their treatment choices. That’s bad medicine, flawed economics and destructive public policy—and Congress should pass legislation to stop this ill-conceived experiment. Medicare plays a crucial role in the lives of more than 55 million Americans. It is the only way some seniors can get access to the drugs that keep them alive. The new policy from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will jeopardize this access by inserting the government between doctors and patients in an unprecedented way. (Jeffrey L. Vacirca, 5/22)
Doctors Have The Right To Perform Abortions
On Friday, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin vetoed a bill that would have effectively banned abortion in the state. The bill, which would have made performing the procedure a felony, was certainly unconstitutional. But it was unlawful in a very interesting way, because it raised the question of whether the right to abortion belongs to a woman or to her doctor. As it turns out, that question has been an important one ever since Roe v. Wade, a decision that actually emphasizes the rights of the physician. (Noah Feldman, 5/22)
What's A New Cancer Drug Worth?
The latest cancer drugs emerging from drug and biotechnology company labs come with hefty price tags. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration approved Roche/Genentech's application for a new bladder cancer drug—the fourth in the hot new class of immunotherapy drugs. Its cost will be $12,500 a month, despite clinicians and patients not knowing how well Tecentriq (generic name atezolizumab) works. The clinical trial showed the drug shrank tumors in only 14.8% of the 310 patients in the trial. That's a 1-in-7 response rate, which lasted from two to 14 months, according to the FDA analysis. (Merrill Goozner, 5/21)
Replacing Social Security Numbers On Medicare Cards
Everyone cautions people not to carry their Social Security cards with them, yet Medicare cards prominently display a beneficiary’s Social Security number. ... In April of last year, President Barack Obama signed MACRA, Section 501 of which prohibits the inclusion of Social Security account numbers on Medicare cards. MACRA stands for the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. The CMS Social Security Number Removal Initiative is now underway. (Julie Jason, 5/23)
Money Doesn’t Buy As Long A Life As It Used To
Here’s some excellent news on inequality: Measured from birth, the gap in life expectancy between rich and poor in the U.S. has been rapidly narrowing. It appears that a variety of policy initiatives, including those designed to promote children’s health and cut smoking, are actually working. These findings run counter to the widespread view that the economic gap increasingly means that the rich live longer while the poor don’t. That view has some solid research behind it: By some measures, rich people are indeed showing longevity gains, but in many parts of the country, poor people aren’t. (Cass Sunstein, 5/21)
Los Angeles Times:
'The Patient Is Code 3 Critical. Her Frail, 90-Year-Old Body Is Failing. How Much Should I Do To Save Her Life?'
"This … is the end … of my life.” These would be my patient’s only words — an economy of phrasing made necessary by an all-consuming air hunger. She had just arrived in the emergency room, Code 3 critical, after a lights-and-sirens ambulance transport from her nursing home. Awake, alert and intensely focused, every effort of her frail, 90-year-old body was concentrated on the simple act of breathing. Her weak heart and failed kidneys had caused her lungs to fill with fluid, every breath becoming a mixture of water and air. The analogy to drowning is inevitable. As her physician, I was going to have to make some big decisions quickly, including this one: How much should I do to save her life? (Eric Snoey, 5/22)
Another Cry Of Wolf On Autism
The road to medical understanding is pitted with confounding news headlines. Take one last week warning that women exposed to too much of the ubiquitous vitamins folate and B-12 during pregnancy face an increased risk of having an autistic child. The research, out of Johns Hopkins University, is part of a quest to unravel the causes of autism. The provocative folate finding is a valuable clue, but the way the university publicized it was not useful and potentially dangerous. (Faye Flam, 5/20)
Health Care Consumers Put More 'Skin In The Game'
New proposals are being considered in Tennessee and neighboring states to reform Medicaid programs using cost-sharing. These ideas may be novel to legislators, but they mirror years-long commercial insurance trends. ... The big question for these proposals, whether they apply to Medicaid recipients, marketplace consumers or those with job-based health coverage, is if they are effective in slowing spending, and at what cost to consumers. (Alex Tolbert, 5/20)
St. Louis Post Dispatch:
Fighting The Growing Epidemic Of Overdoses
Over the past seven years, more than 2,700 residents of St. Louis County have died as a result of heroin or opioid overdose. A sad, stark truth, but deaths related to heroin and prescription drug overdoses have surpassed car accidents as the number one cause of injury-related deaths nationwide. Between 2004 and 2015, hospital utilization for opioid abuse increased 137 percent in Missouri, with the highest rates reported in St. Louis. (Rep. Ann Wagner, 5/23)
Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Ohio Has Opportunity To Remove Barrier To Addiction Treatment
Ohio Governor John Kasich has said frequently that among those Ohioans benefiting most from Medicaid expansion in Ohio were those with a severe and persistent mental illness and or an addiction. During a Republican presidential debate last October, he told Fox News' Megyn Kelly, "I had the opportunity to bring resources back to Ohio. To do what? To treat the mentally ill." (John Corlett, 5/22)