Longer Looks: Health Policy Picks From Thought-Provoking Publications

Every Thursday, KHN's Jessica Marcy compiles this selection of interesting perspectives, from a variety of publications, on health care in America.

Newsweek: Social Security Is Middle-Class Welfare
Recall that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, the main programs for the elderly, exceed 40 percent of federal spending. Exempting them from cuts—as polls indicate many Americans prefer—would ordain huge deficits, steep tax increases, or draconian reductions in other programs. ... The connection between Social Security and the rest of the budget is brutally direct. As important, how we treat Social Security will affect how we treat Medicare. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, House Speaker John Boehner indicated last week that Republicans may challenge popular attitudes on entitlements; President Obama should do likewise. It is because these programs are middle-class welfare that cuts can be made without inflicting widespread hardship. All the elderly aren't poor. (Robert J. Samuelson, 3/6).

National Journal: Separate Corners
Republican and Democratic governors who passed through Washington this week for their annual conclave expressed similar frustrations about the burden imposed on their states' budgets by Medicaid, the giant federal-state health care program for the poor and elderly. But although their diagnoses overlapped, the two groups offered very different prescriptions for treating Medicaid's fiscal ills. Historically considered less partisan than Congress, the governors actually appear nearly as divided over the best course forward on a program that now provides health coverage to more than 50 million Americans (Meghan McCarthy, 3/5).

Forbes: Seeking Common Ground On Medicaid
Harold Pollack, a health economist at the University of Chicago, responds to my recent discussion of how Medicaid harms the poor. Unlike some other pro-[health law] economists, … Harold takes the time to treat the issue in a fair-minded way, and so I wanted to take the time to address his points. I'm a big believer in the value of economic research. But I'm also a big believer in the limitations of economic research. … What's great about medical science, that is different from economics, is that we are constantly testing, in prospective, randomized studies, the relative importance of these confounding factors. So we are highly attuned to which aspects of a patient's background matter more than others when it comes to clinical outcomes, which in turn helps to further refine future studies (Avik Roy, 3/5).

California Healthline: Do Health Insurers Deserve the Latest Public Hit?
The federal health reform law arguably wouldn't have passed Congress if not for health insurers -- a dubious and accidental achievement, in the eyes of many payers. Anthem Blue Cross' early 2010 decision to hike rates by as much as 39% provided the political cover for some House Democrats to back the reform bill, which at the time was idling in Congress. ... Insurers say that soaring health care costs have forced them to raise their rates. But patient advocates blame another culprit: Wall Street. ... [And] some argue that health providers -- and not payers -- have more pricing power in the nation's health care system and deserve greater responsibility for spiraling health costs. Trying to tamp down rising premiums in his state, New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch (D) recently called for a moratorium on new hospital construction (Dan Diamond, 3/9). 

Huffington Post: Healthy Food Costs More--A Myth?
The conventional wisdom is that more nutritious foods cost more. Here in the proverbial nutshell (walnuts score a deservedly impressive 82 on the 100-point NuVal scale, so let's make it a walnut shell) is what's right, wrong, and downright ugly about this persistent bit of prevailing perception. What's right is what made it conventional wisdom in the first place. In the modern food world, government subsidies are largely tied up with mass-production of crops used for purposes other than feeding people. … Where the subsidies have not gone traditionally is to the most nutritious foods, such as vegetables and fruits intended for human consumption. (David Katz, 3/9).

The Root: The Lingering Questions About Human Medical Experiments
The lessons of Tuskegee and Guatemala have a presidential commission reviewing how the government protects vulnerable test subjects. A committee member explains the ugly past and the safeguards in place now…. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study inevitably looms over talk of human subjects in medical research. The well-known case involved the U.S. Public Health Service, which, from 1932 to 1972, studied hundreds of black men in Alabama with syphilis, failing to inform them of their diagnosis or treat their condition. From this striking example of a disregard for ethical standards and the lives of these men, many African Americans harbor deep suspicions about government-sponsored medical studies. The Tuskegee experiments, however, are one of many disturbing cases over the field's history, in which tests were often performed on nonconsenting mental patients, prisoners, poor blacks and people overseas (Cynthia Gordy, 3/4). 

Modern Healthcare: Trade Route
The wheels of international diplomacy traditionally move slowly, but a recently formed public-private partnership in healthcare between the U.S. and China is taking shape at a relatively quick pace. … The U.S. and China touted the partnership in a news release in January when it was announced as a means to help China with its healthcare system and U.S. healthcare companies increase sales. … The healthcare partnership is set to get started with a USTDA-funded exchange program for health professionals that will include a series of visits to the U.S. by Chinese healthcare officials (Paul Barr, 3/7).

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