Viewpoints: The Threat From 'Contagion Exhaustion;' An Economist Sees Humor In Hospital Pricing

The New York Times: The Next Contagion: Closer Than You Think
There has been a flurry of recent attention over two novel infectious agents: the first, a strain of avian influenza virus (H7N9) in China that is causing severe respiratory disease and other serious health complications in people; the second, a coronavirus, first reported last year in the Middle East, that has brought a crop of new infections. While the number of human cases from these two pathogens has so far been limited, the death rates for each are notably high. Alarmingly, we face a third, and far more widespread, ailment that has gotten little attention: call it "contagion exhaustion" (Michael T. Osterholm, 5/9).

The New York Times: The Next Pandemic: Not If, But When
Terrible new forms of infectious disease make headlines, but not at the start. Every pandemic begins small. Early indicators can be subtle and ambiguous. When the Next Big One arrives, spreading across oceans and continents like the sweep of nightfall, causing illness and fear, killing thousands or maybe millions of people, it will be signaled first by quiet, puzzling reports from faraway places — reports to which disease scientists and public health officials, but few of the rest of us, pay close attention. Such reports have been coming in recent months from two countries, China and Saudi Arabia (David Quammen, 5/9). 

Los Angeles Times: Is $1,721.75 The Bill You'd Expect For Treating A Cut? 
Medical costs are often inexplicably high and are almost always kept hidden from patients until the bill arrives. Health insurance, meanwhile, is frequently coverage in name only. The federal government released data this week showing that hospitals nationwide charge wildly differing amounts for the same procedure. ... Medicare and private insurers routinely pay less than what a hospital bills, and different insurers will cut different deals with healthcare providers. The bottom line is that, even with this rare look at medical pricing nationwide, consumers are still in the dark about how much treatments actually cost. All we know for sure is that the prices we pay are typically way above the hospital's true expenses (David Lazarus, 5/10).

The New York Times’ Economix Blog: American Health Care As A Source Of Humor
It is not that I inject humor into our otherwise august debate on health policy. Rather, the health system in the United States is in many ways so risible that it comes across as droll even when a dour German-born economist describes it. One of those risible moments occurred this week when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services of the Department of Health and Human Services delivered a giant spreadsheet on hospital charges and payments (Uwe E. Reinhardt, 5/10). 

Los Angeles Times: For Wal-Mart, Should Healthcare Be A Cost Of Doing Business?
Big employers beware -- some California lawmakers want to pressure you to extend health insurance to virtually everyone who lands on your payroll, even part-timers who work less than two hours a day. That's one of the effects that a bill by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Echo Park) would have on companies and nonprofits that employ 500 or more people in the state. But it's not the one that Gomez, a former labor leader, emphasizes when talking about the measure, which the Assembly Health Committee approved on a party-line vote April 30 (Jon Healey, 5/9).

The Washington Post: The Successes Of Obamacare
For more than 100 years, leaders from both parties struggled to bring affordable health care to all Americans. When President Obama took up the fight, many people predicted defeat. Three years, 34 repeal votes, one Supreme Court decision and a presidential election later, some are questioning whether government is capable of implementing the historic law. Concern is understandable: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) transforms a health-care system that accounts for one-sixth of the U.S. economy and is central to our lives. But recent history shows that big changes in health-care policy can be implemented (Nancy-Ann DeParle, 5/9).

The Washington Post: Why Obamacare Is Oversold
It's the great moral imperative behind the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"): People should not be denied health care because they can't afford insurance. Health status and insurance are assumed to be connected, and opponents have often been cast as moral midgets, willing to condemn the uninsured to unnecessary illness or death. The trouble is that health status and insurance are only loosely connected. This suggests that Obamacare may result in more spending and health services but few gains in the public's health (Robert J. Samuelson, 5/9).

Sacramento Bee: Big Issues Await State In Prepping For Health Reform
We have fewer than five months until the October enrollment launch when uninsured Californians will be able to apply for coverage through the state. Depending on their income, uninsured individuals can either buy insurance in the state's exchange, called "Covered California," or get coverage from expanded Medi-Cal, the joint state-federal insurance plan for lower-income people. Yet some big issues remain unresolved. The state needs to decide them quickly so providers, insurers, community groups, state agencies and counties can prepare for the October enrollment period, with insurance coverage to begin in January (5/9). 

Boston Globe: Student Health: Fighting Abuse Of Stimulants
Student health centers are a necessity to college life. On-campus medical staffs treat students, many living away from home and their regular doctors, for conditions that range from the common cold to severe depression. An increasing number of clinics, however, are opting out of diagnosing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder among their students or are tightening rules on prescribing the much-misused stimulant medications used to treat it. This is a fair decision as long as schools refer students with legitimate needs to trusted off-campus providers (5/10).

Louisville Courier Journal: Dental Decay A Public Health Crisis
Dental disease continues to be one of Kentucky's worst public health crises but gets scant attention in a state already struggling with high rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and a host of other health problems. Yet it afflicts Kentucky at alarming rates — causing pain and infection in the state's youngest children, some of whom arrive in kindergarten having never had a dental screening and many with rotted baby teeth (5/9).

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