Are Politicians Playing Whac-A-Mole With Medicare?

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

The Washington Post Magazine: A Family Learns The True Meaning Of The Vow ‘In Sickness And In Health’
Seven years later Robert was still mentally impaired and his personality far different than before the accident, but he knew his family, knew he had had a brain injury that upended their lives, and asked lots of questions. He carried with him at all times a reporter’s notebook, in which he had written the information most important to him: his daughters’ ages — 9 and 11 — and that he has “known my honey” 18 years. … Robert had looked at Page with earnest eyes and the relaxed demeanor he used to have and asked if it was hard for her to pack up the house: “Does that cause you distress, darlin’? Make you sad?” Page took his hand, and her eyes filled with tears. “We had the best days of our lives and the worst days of our lives in that house,” she said quietly (Susan Baer, 1/5).

Columbia Journalism Review: The Bloodying Of PolitiFact: What Is Medicare, Anyway?
Now it’s my turn to weigh in on the “Lie of the Year,” the gimmick PolitiFact uses to highlight the most egregious misstatements of the past year. This time, though, the fact-checking service stumbled into a fusillade of criticism from such unlikely bedfellows as New York Times liberal columnist Paul Krugman and the conservative Wall Street Journal’s online opinion page. The lie, according to PolitiFact, was the Democrats’ assertion that Republicans voted to end Medicare when the House voted last spring to embrace a voucher plan pushed by Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan. The fact is Republicans by supporting Ryan’s voucher plan did essentially vote to end Medicare. … PolitiFact and others should have left it there and devoted space to the larger issue. Medicare may be wildly popular, but it is not well understood by most people — be they beneficiaries, politicians, or journalists. Deconstructing how this complicated and misunderstood program works and the historical context for proposed changes would go a long way to helping the public evaluate the arguments from both Democrats and Republicans (Trudy Lieberman, 1/6).

Slate: Make Me A Baby As Fast As You Can
The booming business in international surrogacy, whereby Westerners have begun hiring poor women in developing countries to carry their babies, has been the subject of plenty of media buzzing over the past few years. Much of the coverage regards the practice as a win-win for surrogates and those who hire them; couples receive the baby they have always wanted while surrogates from impoverished areas overseas earn more in one gestation than they would in many years of ordinary work. … But make no mistake: This is first and foremost a business. And the product this business sells — third-party pregnancy — is now being offered with all sorts of customizable options, guarantees, and legal protections for clients (aka would-be parents) (Douglas Pet, 1/9).

Reason: Medicare Whac-A-Mole
It is often said that you can’t put a price on health. But for decades that is exactly what the federal government has attempted. Since the birth of the entitlement, a parade of legislators and bureaucrats has been playing billion- and trillion-dollar games of Whac-A-Mole with Medicare, knocking down spending with an elaborately constructed set of technocratic payment schemes in one area only to see it rise back up in some other part of the system. Obama is merely proposing to try it one more time (Peter Suderman, January 2012).

American Medical News: 5 Simple Ways To Cut Medical Practice Costs
Physicians are finding that a few simple steps can open the door to big savings in operating a medical practice. General operating costs for multispecialty practices have increased 52.6 percent since 2001, exceeding revenue gains in that period, according to the Medical Group Management Assn., which uses such groups as bellwethers for the overall practice economy. But those expenses were cut 2.2 percent in 2010, according to MGMA. … Consultants and experts recommend looking for savings in five key areas: office supplies, office equipment, medical supplies, finance and consulting, and energy costs (Karen Caffarini, 1/9).