Viewpoints: GOP intransigence on super committee; taxing health benefits would backfire; the need for care in defining essential benefits

The Washington Post: Why The Super Committee Should Disband
There may be logic to (Speaker John Boehner's) insidious intransigence. Republicans keep saying no and Democrats keep offering more concessions. Super committee Republicans suggested instead a package based largely on cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, combined with magical hundreds of billions they say would be produced by slashing assistance to the elderly and the vulnerable, by selling off government assets, and by the growth sparked by tax cuts (Katrina vanden Heuvel, 11/1).

Roll Call: Taxing Health Benefits Would Make Budget Problem Worse, Not Better
(Phasing out the tax exemption for employer-sponsored coverage) would run completely counter to the stated goal of deficit reduction. Expert analysis of these proposals has concluded that eliminating the tax exemption reduces health care coverage for millions of Americans and would increase long-term federal spending obligations, driving millions out of their existing coverage into federally subsidized coverage. It would also erode self-insured health care plans and multi-employer health care plans that operate on a nonprofit basis (Reps. Joe Courtney and Tom Cole, 10/31).

Politico: Affordability, Flexibility Key To Health Benefits
The federal government is in the throes of developing an "essential health benefits" package for the controversial health reform law. This package will dictate what all health insurance plans offered in small and individual group markets must cover. The more comprehensive the package, the more costly the basic plan will likely be. This is where rubber meets road. ... Regardless of our opinions of this health care law, we realize that if the federal government gets this wrong, our health care system and its markets will be worse than before it was passed. Unless this package is defined with care, the most basic plans will be unaffordable, out of reach to millions of Americans (Bruce Josten, Dan Danner, Dirk Van Dongen, Matthew Shay, 11/1).

The Wall Street Journal: The Bush-Obama Rx Shortages
This week President Obama finally confronted a major U.S. health care disgrace -; the growing shortages of lifesaving drugs, especially anticancer therapies. For some reason the White House lumped its executive order with its "we can't wait" campaign against House Republicans, but the pity is that we will have to wait, because the only genuine fix is a liberal anathema: market prices (11/2).

The New England Journal of Medicine: The Shortage Of Essential Chemotherapy Drugs In The United States
For the first time in the United States, some essential chemotherapy drugs are in short supply. Most are generic drugs that have been used for years in childhood leukemia and curable cancers. ... The main cause of drug shortages is economic. If manufacturers don't make enough profit, they won't make generic drugs. ... The second economic cause of shortages is that oncologists have less incentive to administer generics than brand-name drugs. ... The only good news is that the drug shortages may catalyze a shift from a mostly market-based system to one that rewards the provision of high-quality cancer care at an affordable cost (Mandy L. Gatesman and Thomas J. Smith, 10/31).

The New England Journal of Medicine: Drug Shortages -; A Critical Challenge for the Generic-Drug Market
It will be up to the community of cancer doctors, patients, and concerned citizens to demand further action at the federal level and by the private sector to ensure access to lifesaving and life-extending drugs. A license to market lifesaving products should entail a public obligation to meet demand. After all, if we can afford to spend billions of dollars on medical research, we should, as a society, enjoy the fruits of that investment by assuring the manufacture of generic drugs (Bruce A. Chabner, 10/31).

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Silver Lining To News Of Flu Vaccine Failure
In its Oct. 26 headline for an article about the efficacy of flu vaccine, the Star Tribune announced "Flu shots fail almost half of us."  Within hours of the article's publication, I had received dozens of calls and e-mails from health care providers, public health workers, reporters, and the general public wondering what this meant for our ongoing efforts to immunize people against influenza. … The release of this study has actually helped increase the credibility of public health. And credibility is crucial if public health is going to be effective (Edward P. Ehlinger, 11/1).

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wellness Plan Will Pay Off Later
Milwaukee County faces a number of budget challenges for 2012. … That's why I am pleased to "STEP Up" to the challenge and encourage a Stronger Team through Employee Participation. My STEP Up wellness plan will inspire employees to live healthier, resulting in lower health care costs in Milwaukee County. … In the STEP Up wellness structure, employees participate in an annual screening and develop a plan to help them stay or get healthy. They then meet with a health professional and receive reminder phone calls (Marina Dimitrijevic, 11/1).

Los Angeles Times: Support Brown's Pension Plan
If the governor were proposing to slash benefits, it might make sense for the unions to pull out all the stops to defend their members and retirees against his plan. But that's not the case. The governor is asking workers to pay half the cost of their retirement benefits -; just like those in the private sector who are lucky enough to work for a company that matches their retirement contributions (Marcia Fritz, 11/2).

The Miami Herald: Demeaning, Unnecessary Test
It would be easy to praise Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature for the laudable goals of curbing drug use among welfare recipients by testing applicants and saving money by denying users aid. Easy to praise, that is, if wholesale testing really saved money and if applying for temporary cash assistance itself proves probable drug use. … Florida had been there, done that with a pilot test of drug testing in 1998 and found few benefits for the poor or for taxpayers. The next year the federal courts declared unconstitutional a similar program in Michigan. Yet, this year Mr. Scott proposed the drug-testing measure, and the Legislature cantered off to do it again with no indication that it now would be successful (11/1).

The Miami Herald/The St. Petersburg Times: Prescription Drug Crisis Hits Newborns In Florida
We need to do more research on drug-addicted women having babies. ... When we first began seeing more babies born with withdrawal symptoms, a few generations ago, it was because of an increased number of expectant women addicted to crack cocaine. Now we are seeing a new generation of babies; their numbers have nearly quadrupled in Florida over the past five years. They're addicted to legal drugs, such substances as oxycodone and methadone (Catherine Lynch and Ellen Daley, 11/1).


http://www.kaiserhealthnews.orgThis article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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