Health

KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Planning for Round Two


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Congress is out of session, but that hasn’t stopped Democrats from planning their next round of health legislation. Together with President Joe Biden, they are looking at a broad array of possibilities, from allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices to adding more benefits to the program to creating a government-funded “public option” insurance plan that consumers could choose.

Meanwhile, despite financial incentives for states to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the Wyoming legislature this week killed a nascent effort to expand the government health program, and Republicans in Missouri are trying to block implementation of an expansion approved by voters in 2020.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Rachel Cohrs of Stat and Kimberly Leonard of Business Insider.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • As Democratic lawmakers weigh options for health care proposals this year, they appear divided over priorities. Some from the party’s progressive wing want to move forward on establishing a government-run health plan that would be an option for consumers on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplaces, but there are disagreements within the party about the scope and timing for such an initiative. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has thrown cold water on achieving a public option law at this time.
  • As these conversations swirl on Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is looking into the prospect of again using a special legislative procedure known as reconciliation that would allow Democrats — if they can agree on a bill — to pass some health care initiatives without any Republican votes and avoid a filibuster. Schumer thinks he may have found a way to use that technique even more frequently than is considered the limit under Senate rules.
  • The Supreme Court has announced it will take an unusual case from Kentucky rooted in an abortion dispute, but the case likely will not deal specifically with the issue of abortion. The state’s attorney general is seeking authority to defend Kentucky’s law banning a common abortion procedure after the governor and his appointed officials have opted not to appeal a court decision striking down the law.
  • The Biden administration is at a key juncture in the fight against covid. Officials are keen to highlight the success of the vaccination campaign as tens of millions of people have been vaccinated — and the hope to return to a more normal lifestyle. At the same time, they seek to stir more public caution as they fear a new surge, propelled by covid variants that are more transmissible.
  • Amid a surge of vaccinations, some businesses and community leaders are calling for the use of vaccine passports to help guarantee that people who are shopping, eating out, going to athletic events or performances and other gatherings will not be spreading the covid virus. But some consumer advocates suggest that could discriminate against communities that are hesitant to get vaccinated or have had trouble accessing shots.

Also this week, Rovner interviews KHN’s Lauren Weber, who reported the latest KHN-NPR “Bill of the Month” feature — about a woman whose regular treatment for arthritis suddenly got a lot more expensive. If you have an outrageous medical bill you’d like to share with us, you can do that here.

Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read too:

Julie Rovner: The Atlantic’s “The Vaccine Line Is an Illusion,” by Olga Khazan

Alice Miranda Ollstein: The New Yorker’s “How Do Plague Stories End?” by Jill Lepore

Kimberly Leonard: Business Insider’s “People Flocked to Florida and Texas for a Lower Cost of Living During the Pandemic. They Were Shocked When Their Healthcare Got Way More Expensive,” by Kimberly Leonard

Rachel Cohrs: Stat’s “The Particular Torment of Dying, Now, From Covid-19,” by Andrew Joseph


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