KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Political Furor On Contraceptive Policy; Confusing Estimates Of Medicare’s Costs

The Wall Street Journal: ObamaCare's Great Awakening
The political furor over President Obama's birth-control mandate continues to grow, even among those for whom contraception poses no moral qualms, and one needn't be a theologian to understand why. The country is being exposed to the raw political control that is the core of the Obama health-care plan, and Americans are seeing clearly for the first time how this will violate pluralism and liberty (2/8).

The Wall Street Journal: Why The Birth-Control Mandate Makes Sense
It was a historic victory for women's health when the Obama administration changed the law to require private health plans to provide preventive services including breast exams, HIV screening and contraception for free. This new policy will help millions of women get the affordable care they need. Now, sadly, there is an aggressive and misleading campaign to deny this benefit to women. It is being waged in the name of religious liberty (Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray, 2/7).

Chicago Tribune: Contraceptives And Religious Freedom: A Way Forward
My view is that it's sound public-health policy to expand low-cost access to contraception. But I'm sympathetic to the idea that, as a matter of conscience, people shouldn't be compelled to pitch in and pay for products or services they find morally objectionable. How to resolve these feelings? First, let's change the terms of the debate (Eric Zorn, 2/8).

The Washington Post: Obama Runs Roughshod Over Religious Freedom
Most Americans can hardly believe we're having a national debate about birth control in the 21st century — more than 50 years after the Pill became available and decades after condoms became as commonplace as, well, balloons. The reason for the incredulity is because we’re actually not having a debate about birth control. To repeat: The debate is about freedom of conscience. It ain't about the Pill (Kathleen Parker, 2/7).

Politico: End These Health Mandates Now
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as the "Obamacare" statute, tramples on religious liberty and makes it likely that employees of many religious institutions will lose their group health insurance. ... Now, in regulations implementing the health care statute, comes the contraception mandate. This requires employers — including religious employers — that provide group health insurance to cover contraception, abortifacients and human sterilization. The mandate violates religious liberty — and makes it likely that employees of many religious institutions will lose group health insurance (David Addington, 2/7).

Philadelphia Daily News: War On Contraception Heats Up Health-Reform Debate
Once again, Catholic bishops -- and conservative Republicans -- are trying to make a "religious liberty" issue out of the provision of nondiscriminatory health-insurance coverage to women by falsely equating contraception with abortion. In a policy outlined this week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, beginning Aug. 1, most employer-based health-insurance plans will be required to provide birth control as a preventive health service without co-pays or deductibles (2/8).

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Overhyped Controversy Over Contraceptives And The Law
Those entities are performing a secular function, in the secular world, and employing in most cases people with a wide variety of religious beliefs. Therefore, the people working in those entities deserve the same degree of legal protection as their fellow Americans (Jay Bookman, 2/7).

The Seattle Times: Little Late For Birth-Control Debate
About the last thing I would have guessed we'd be doing during the Obama presidency is having a national debate about birth control. ... But crucially, this wouldn't force anybody to use birth control. And it is 2012 (I think). There's scarcely anyone left in this country who doesn't already use birth control, or at least support its use (Danny Westneat, 2/7).

The New York Times: The Loyal Opposition: Komen's Political Person Resigns Over Political Reaction To Non-Political Controversy
Ms. Handel also explained that she was "asked to look at options. I looked at it and I did." The option she chose was to follow her fellow right-wingers in their attack on one of the most important places in the country for women to get reproductive health services, and cancer screenings. The take-away is that the whole thing was political. Should I congratulate Ms. Handel for her candor, or take up a collection to buy her spinning lessons (not the cardio kind)? (Andrew Rosenthal, 2/7).

Houston Chronicle: An Unplanned Benefit For Planned Parenthood
Somehow, though, the mix of surprises, outrage and public discussion last week drove home an important reality. Abortions represent a tiny percentage of the services Planned Parenthood provides (just 3 percent by their calculation). The overwhelming majority of their work is devoted to preventing disease and unplanned pregnancies. Above all, Planned Parenthood provides health care (2/7).

The Dallas Morning News: You Paid For Parkland Report, But You Can't See It?
Remember, taxpayer, you paid for the Alvarez & Marsal report. You just don't get to see it, not if it's up to hospital officials. A little more clarity: They aren't protecting your naïve eyes or your dwindling checkbook. They're protecting themselves (2/7).

Georgia Health News: Congress Must Show Courage On Care For Seniors, Veterans
Congress' pattern of procrastination has led to a series of fiscally irresponsible compromises that threaten Medicare's physician foundation and endanger access to care for more than 40 million seniors, veterans and military families. ... Unless Congress acts, Medicare payments are scheduled to be slashed by 27 percent on March 1, and physicians will be forced to make unwelcome choices, including limiting the number of Medicare patients they take on. ... Almost half a million veterans and military families in Georgia will also be affected, since TRICARE – the military's health program – ties its payment rates to Medicare (Dr. Patrice A. Harris, 2/7).

The Fiscal Times: Bernanke Ducks The Fuzzy Math Of Medicare
But in 2020, seniors will make up 19.1 percent of the nation's projected 334-million population on its way to reaching 22.5 percent 358 million people in 2030. That's an increase of nearly seven percentage points in the share of the population that will be elderly. How much will it cost to provide Medicare and Social Security for this larger population? (Merrill Goozner, 2/7).

Journal of the American Medical Association: The Harms Of Screening: New Attention To An Old Concern
It is not possible to predict whether greater awareness of harms will dampen patients' enthusiasm for dubious screening tests. More realistically, resource limitations will intervene: profligate screening practices will become increasingly unaffordable in a society struggling with spiraling health care costs. However, society's first concern should be to confirm that screening is a net good for public health. This requires harms to be considered independently of costs (Dr. Steven H. Woolf and Dr. Russell Harris, 2/8).

Journal of the American Medical Association: Integrating Technology Into Health Care: What Will It Take? 
The benefits of electronic health records (EHRs) are well documented, yet their introduction has been greeted with reluctance and sometimes resistance. Indeed, current usage rates are quite low.? Similarly, personalized health records (PHRs) for consumers, such as Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault, also have not achieved their predicted uptake. ... For EHRs and PHRs to become effective tools for clinicians and patients, they must merge into an all-in-one record, in which each party has control over updating a separate part. Moreover, for technology to play a truly integral role in health care, less expensive and more nimble systems must be created to integrate with larger systems, in the context of cloud computing, where each access point is like an on-ramp to an information super highway (Dr. C. Jason Wang and Dr. Andrew T. Huang, 2/8).

Journal of the American Medical Association: What Would Patsy Mink Think?
What would (former Rep.) Patsy Mink (who authored the Title IX law) think if she could see the status of women in medicine today? She would undoubtedly be heartened that women now account for nearly 50% of medical students nationwide and are increasingly visible and effective in top leadership positions in all areas of medicine. ... While it is important to celebrate the tremendous gains in gender equity since its passage, we would have to admit to Patsy Mink that the promise of Title IX for full gender equity in medicine remains unfulfilled (Dr. Molly Carnes, 2/8).

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