KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Longer Looks: Autism Researcher’s Legacy; Methadone For Prisoners

Every week, reporter Jessica Marcy selects interesting reading from around the Web.

The New York Times Magazine: The Crash and Burn Of An Autism Guru
Andrew Wakefield has become one of the most reviled doctors of his generation, blamed directly and indirectly, depending on the accuser, for irresponsibly starting a panic with tragic repercussions: vaccination rates so low that childhood diseases once all but eradicated here -whooping cough and measles, among them - have re-emerged, endangering young lives. And yet here he was in Texas, post-career-apocalypse, calmly discussing his work, and a crowd of around 250 people showed up to listen. … When he finally took the podium, the audience members, mostly parents of autistic children, stood and applauded wildly (Susan Dominus, 4/20).

The Economist: Looking For A Band-Aid
Every child knows the tactic. When you are in trouble over one thing, cause a stir over another. On April 15th the Wall Street Journal reported that Johnson & Johnson (J&J), a giant health-care company, was in talks to buy Synthes, a medical-device maker. Neither company would comment, letting speculation swirl until Synthes confirmed the [rumor] three days later. The deal, said to be worth about $20 billion, would be the biggest in J&J's 125-year history. But it may not be enough to patch up the company's problems. J&J's recent troubles have been epic in scale (4/20).

The Atlantic: Giving Prisoners Addictive Drugs: Sometimes A Good Idea
Considering the high rates of opiate dependency among American prisoners (heroin and OxyContin), short-term jails seem like an ideal place for methadone programs. Several decades' worth of evidence confirm that methadone treatment works. Also well documented is the link between opiate use and crime. According to one National Institutes of Health report, over 95 percent of heroin addicts committed a crime during an 11-year time period. In New York, 12 to 25 percent of arrested felons tested positive for opiate use upon booking in 2003. The NIH says that treating opiate dependence markedly reduces criminal activity (Jessica Wapner, 4/25).

The New Yorker: Bitter Pills
Multitrillion-dollar piles of debt have a way of making people nervous, so it's not really surprising that Washington is now in the throes of budget-cutting hysteria. … Yet, strange as it may sound, the federal government does not have a spending problem per se. What it has is a health care problem. The cost of most budget items typically rises at a reasonable rate, if at all, but the cost of Medicare, Medicaid, and the tax subsidy for employer-provided insurance has been rising much faster than everything else: in the past forty years, Medicare costs increased 8.3 per cent annually. If they're not controlled, Medicare and Medicaid will eventually be by far our biggest expense. Preventing that is the key to getting our fiscal house in order (James Surowiecki, 5/2).

The New Republic: Ask Not
No later than the first year of the next presidential term, we'll have to find a way of coming together around a plan to restore long-term fiscal sustainability. There are three principal impediments to agreement: the president's health reform law; Medicare and Medicaid; and taxes. I don't mean to suggest that other issues - such as defense and Social Security - are trivial, but only that the gaps on these issues seem easier to bridge (William Galston, 4/27).

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