KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Weekend Reading: Volunteers In The Battle With Heart Disease

Every week reporter Ankita Rao selects interesting reading from around the Web.

The Atlantic: Lost In Medication
Psychiatrists who take time with their patients are not the norm. It's not because others don't care. Rather the system rewards efficiency, not empathy ...  I treated a patient who had suffered from schizophrenia for years. He had finally achieved some stability on a cocktail of antipsychotic medications as he was passed along through the clinic, year after year ... One day, though, he showed up for his appointment looking completely different. His complaints had nearly disappeared; he was cheerful, optimistic. ... Inquiring about what had changed, I found out that with the assistance of the hospital work program, he had gotten a job for the first time in nearly 30 years. … In many places psychiatry has become a biological enterprise, with some psychiatrists even introducing themselves as "psychopharmacologists." In no other specialty does a physician define themselves by the medication that they use (Sarah Mourra, 5/10).

The New Republic: My Five Obamacare Anxieties
Conservatives are talking about the implementation of Obamacare in the same thoughtful way they talked about its enactment—that is, as an impending apocalypse. It won't be, as I've noted previously. Most Americans get insurance through employers, Medicare, and Medicaid, and that will still be the case on January 1, when Obamacare's big provisions take effect. But the minority who buy insurance on their own or have no insurance will see tremendous changes. And you don't have to be Rush Limbaugh to have real concerns about how those changes will play out (Jonathan Cohn, 5/13).

The Fiscal Times: Why The IRS Scandal Could Bring Down Obamacare
The Internal Revenue Service's scandalous targeting of Tea Party-themed and other conservative groups could severely damage President Obama – but it's not necessarily because anyone close to the White House sanctioned the allegedly independent actions by the tax collection agency. ... The real fallout could be that it will impede Obamacare, ... The IRS will largely administer this attempt at providing near-universal health insurance. It is responsible for overseeing the tax credits and tax increases in the law, and—most critically—ensuring that businesses and individuals comply with the individual mandate and other major provisions. Prominent Republicans are already connecting the unpopular insurance program to the questions swirling around the IRS (Josh Boak and Eric Pianin, 5/14).

The Weekly Standard: Eggs For Sale?
If you want to know what's going to go wrong in the culture, read the professional journals. A case in point: An article in the April 10 New England Journal of Medicine called for the creation of a commodities market for "made-to-order" human embryos. The authors, I. Glenn Cohen and Eli Y. Adashi—university professors, of course—treat embryos as the equivalent of a prize cattle herd. They note that sperm and eggs are already bought and sold for in vitro fertilization (IVF) and, further, that New York legalized buying eggs for use in biotechnological research a few years ago. Hence, "it is not clear" (an oft-used phrase in bioethical advocacy that frees the author from actually having to prove a point) why we should not also allow companies to make "made-to-order embryos" for profit, since that activity would be "more similar to the sale of gametes than the sale of children" (Wesley J. Smith, 5/14).

The New York Times: Seeking Clues To Heart Disease In DNA Of An Unlucky Family
Researchers have long known that a family history of early death from heart disease doubles a person's risk independently of any other factors. Family history is defined as having a father or a brother who were given a diagnosis of heart disease before age 55 or a mother or sister before age 65. Scientists are studying the genetic makeup of each member of the Del Sontro family, searching for telltale mutations or aberrations in the long sequence of three billion chemicals that make up human DNA. Until very recently, such a project almost certainly would have been futile. Picking through DNA for tiny aberrations was so costly and time-consuming that it was impractical to take on for an entire family (Gina Kolata, 5/12).

The New Yorker: Can We Patent Life?
On April 12, 1955, Jonas Salk, who had recently invented the polio vaccine, appeared on the television news show "See It Now" to discuss its impact on American society. Before the vaccine became available, dread of polio was almost as widespread as the disease itself. Hundreds of thousands fell ill, most of them children, many of whom died or were permanently disabled. The vaccine changed all that, and Edward R. Murrow, the show's host, asked Salk what seemed to be a reasonable question about such a valuable commodity: "Who owns the patent on this vaccine?" Salk was taken aback. "Well, the people," he said. "There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?" ... It took thousands of scientists and technicians more than a decade to complete the Human Genome Project, and cost well over a billion dollars. The same work can now be carried out in a day or two, in a single laboratory, for a thousand dollars—and the costs continue to plummet. As they do, we edge closer to one of modern science's central goals: an era of personalized medicine, in which an individual’s treatment for scores of illnesses could be tailored to his specific genetic composition. That, of course, assumes that we own our own genes (Michael Specter, 4/2).

The National Journal: How Much Big Insurance Paid A Small-Business Group To Fight A Premium Tax
The nation's leading health insurance industry group gave $850,000 to a top small-business trade association as part of a campaign to repeal a key provision of President Obama’s health care law, National Journal Daily has learned (Frates, 5/14).

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