Does the health care reform bill ask the wrong questions?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 26 2009 6:37 AM

Healthy Debate

The Washington Post leads with a look at the evolving debate over health care reform. While previous reform efforts referred to providing universal coverage as a moral issue, President Barack Obama is instead focusing on reining in the burgeoning cost of care. Now some experts worry that all this focus on cost may backfire because the little administrative cuts being proposed fail to address more systemic problems with our health care system. The Los Angeles Times leads with an inside look at the deal-making and petty squabbles that turned the state legislature's last-minute work on a budget bill into "a slow-moving train wreck." The New York Times leads, at least online, with a look at the difficulties facing Justice Department antitrust official Christine A. Varney as she tries to regulate a number of industries in which large companies are choking competition. Varney now finds herself having to spar with other White House officials in addition to the usual industry opposition.

On the flip side of the health care debate, the WP points out in its off-lead story that as medical costs have grown over the years, treatment has become much more effective. For common problems like heart disease, treatment options and survival rates are dramatically higher than they were 50 years ago, but that care has also become dramatically more expensive. The paper wonders aloud whether continued advances in care will devour any savings created by a health care reform bill.

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The NYT takes a different tack, focusing on the political concerns that are driving the health care policy debate. The paper posits that President Obama now has a choice: Will he work with the handful of moderate Republicans remaining in the Senate to fashion a slightly more bipartisan bill? Or will he try to build Democratic cohesion around the measure and ram a health reform bill down the GOP's throat? Analysts and members say the costs could be huge either way, as the bill will be seen either as divisive and partisan or as watered down by compromise.

While the debate wears on in Washington, the senator most associated with expanding health care coverage is being forced to sit this one out, reports the LAT. Although Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., hasn't been able to take a hand in shaping the bill due to a brain tumor, his illness has made him something of a symbol for the cause of reform. The paper reports that colleagues are rushing to complete the bill so that Kennedy will live long enough to vote for it.

The NYT fronts an interesting take on the life and death of abortion practitioner and activist Dr. George Tiller. The paper posits that even though pro-choice advocates have lost a powerful friend, anti-abortion groups were harder hit by his murder. Anti-abortion activists say that with Tiller's death, they've lost a big draw for support and his violent death has driven some moderates from their ranks.

The WP fronts another look at the arrest of Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. The paper considers President Obama's role in the ensuing racial dialogue and what (if anything) can be done to address concerns about racial profiling.

If you can work from home, why not work from a coffee shop or a friends' house or from the side of a hotel pool? The WP examines the lives of "digital nomads," employees who work wirelessly from wherever they please.

Worried that super-intelligent robots will someday become our masters? Chuckle if you like, but the idea of independent machine intelligence is rapidly moving out of the realm of the Hollywood blockbuster, according to the NYT. Experts say robots will soon be able to navigate, refuel and kill humans at their own discretion. Ethicists say guidelines for handling advanced machine intelligence need to be developed now, before the problem grows out of control.

The LAT fronts a feature on Filipino settlers on an island in the hotly contested Spratly archipelago. While the government in Manila is eager to safeguard its claim to the island's natural resources, most of the volunteer residents are desperate to leave, saying the tiny, isolated island brings on feelings of despair and loneliness.

Chinese investors are snapping up châteauxin the Bordeaux region, according to the WP. The investors are looking for wineries with long pedigrees and expensive wines that can be easily marketed to the newly affluent back in China.

Insurgents in Afghanistan are decidedly fiercer and better organized than those in Iraq, reports the NYT. Soldiers say their Afghan enemies may not be particularly well-trained, but they show a tenacity and a tactical awareness that makes them especially dangerous.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials have been trying to save the endangered Mexican wolf from extinction for almost two decades, says the LAT. The program has been a resounding failure, however, because it tries to micromanage the wolves' behavior.

Two dimensions, alike in dignity …

Can a person really love a cartoon character? That might sound like a silly question, but animation fans with imaginary paramours tell the NYT that their affection is as real as anyone else's.

Jesse Stanchak is a writer living in Washington, D.C.

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