KHN’s ‘What The Health?’: The Pandemic Shifts; The Politics, Not So Much

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President Donald Trump caused a stir when he said at his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last weekend that he wanted less testing for COVID-19. While aides denied that, it didn’t help when on Wednesday the administration announced it would cut off federal funding for a number of state testing sites, including several in Texas, which is in the midst of a large spike in cases.

Meanwhile, in non-coronavirus news, the Trump administration won a round in its effort to require hospitals to make the prices they charge public, although that case is far from over. And as the administration submits its brief for the Supreme Court case that could invalidate the Affordable Care Act, Democrats on Capitol Hill unveil their bill to shore up the health law.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times, Paige Winfield Cunningham of The Washington Post and Kimberly Leonard of Business Insider.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Federal officials denied that the cutback in coronavirus testing sites announced this week was related to the president’s recent comments. The Department of Health and Human Services said the closings were long planned and part of an effort to move testing responsibility to local health officials.
  • That kerfuffle, however, is emblematic of the Trump administration’s decision not to set up a national testing strategy and generally leave states on their own. Thus, as some states now find themselves facing rising coronavirus case numbers, they can’t rely on adequate national resources or help from other states.
  • The growing number of cases among young adults has startled public health officials, who had focused in previous months on the devastating effects of the disease among seniors. Although death rates may be lower among these younger patients, this group likely has a big impact on the spread of the disease.
  • The Trump administration won the opening skirmish this week in a legal battle with hospitals over a federal rule requiring them to post the rates they negotiate with different insurers for procedures. Barring a reprieve from an appeals court, the rule is set to go into effect Jan. 1. It’s unclear what would happen if Trump doesn’t win reelection and whether a Democratic administration would seek to carry on the policy.
  • House Democrats went on the campaign offensive this week by offering a bill that would enhance the Affordable Care Act by rolling back some of the policy changes implemented by the Trump administration and enhancing subsidies for consumers. It does not, however, seek to expand Medicare eligibility, a provision endorsed by the presumptive presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel of the University of Pennsylvania. He’s a former Obama administration health policy adviser with a new book out: “Which Country Has the World’s Best Health Care?”

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

Julie Rovner: KHN and USA Today’s “Fractured Skulls, Lost Eyes: Police Often Break Own Rules Using ‘Rubber Bullets,’” by Liz Szabo and Jay Hancock of KHN, and Kevin McCoy, Donovan Slack and Dennis Wagner of USA Today

Margot Sanger-Katz: ProPublica’s “The Trump Administration Paid Millions for Test Tubes — and Got Unusable Mini Soda Bottles,” by J. David McSwane and Ryan Gabrielson. And ProPublica’s “He Removed Labels That Said ‘Medical Use Prohibited,’ Then Tried to Sell Thousands of Masks to Officials Who Distribute to Hospitals,” By J. David McSwane

Kimberly Leonard: Business Insider’s “We Combed Through the Political Donations of 75 Top Healthcare Companies. They Reveal Execs Are Making a Surprising Choice in How They Give Their Cash,” by Kimberly Leonard

Paige Winfield Cunningham: The New York Times’ “’They Just Dumped Him Like Trash.’ Nursing Homes Evict Vulnerable Residents,” by Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Amy Julia Harris


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