KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Many quest ads (Vaccines)

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Even as the new omicron variant of the covid virus is spreading in the US, Republicans on Capitol Hill are pushing to stop President Joe Biden from requiring workers to be regularly tested or vaccinated. The attempt is likely to end in failure – even if it does get to Biden’s desk, he has vowed to veto it. But it seems Republicans think the effort will boost their popularity with their base.

Meanwhile, Congress is also working to block scheduled Medicare cuts, and the Supreme Court has heard two health cases: Not about abortion.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Joanne Kenen of Politico and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Sarah Karlin-Smith of Pink Sheet and Rachel Cohrs of Stat News.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Congress is expected to soon pass a bill that would protect Medicare reimbursements for hospitals and doctors, who have faced some automatic pay cuts based on previous laws aimed at finding how to curb federal spending. Some doctors have considered a 10% cut in payments.
  • Republican and Democratic leaders this week agreed to add to the Medicare bill a complex program that would allow Congress to pass an extension of the federal debt limit. The measure would give the Senate a one-time option to pass the debt ceiling bill by a simple majority and without facing the threat of a default.
  • Public health officials say preliminary data suggests that the latest covid-19 variant, omicron, may be more contagious than delta but could perhaps cause less severe symptoms. However, more infections could create problems for an already strained healthcare system.
  • Senate Republicans – with the backing of two Democrats – launched an attack on Biden’s vaccination missions at work and passed a bill that would repeal regulation that determination. That effort is a sign of how political opposition to the push to force vaccines is growing. It is an increase in other efforts by conservatives to oppose public health measures designed to combat the pandemic, including mask-wearing mandates and business shutdowns.
  • A successful effort to contain covid requires robust testing, but in this country, making rapid tests available to the public is still lacking. Abroad, those tests are common and cheap. But here, they are relatively expensive and often hard to find. Biden’s efforts to help consumers by requiring insurers to cover expenses are still a month from inception and would be complicated to set up. It will only help people with private insurance because this requirement does not apply to people who are uninsured or covered by Medicare or Medicaid.
  • Often overlooked last week in the hype about the Supreme Court’s arguments over Mississippi’s abortion law were two recent cases of federal hospital payments. Both are complicated cases, one involving administrative rules about hospital funding for poor patients and the other involving a drug discount program.
  • The trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the now-defunct Theranos executive, points to a federal regulation problem. Both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services have diagnostic lab testing authority, but it doesn’t appear to be doing much to stop what prosecutors say. alleged to be a fraudulent plot by Theranos to test people for diseases by analyzing a few drops of blood.
  • Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, who is being hailed this week after his death on Sunday, was a strong Republican. But that never meant he wouldn’t work with the Democrats. For him, the issues are policy-related and not personal. It was a far different era than today.

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

Julie Rovner: NPR of “Inside the burgeoning alliance between anti-vaccination activists and pro-Trump Republicans, ”By Geoff Brumfiel

Joanne Kenen: Slate of “We won’t go back to the ‘before’ Roe, ‘” By Dahlia Lithwick.

Sarah Karlin Smith: Axios “”US Drug Pricing Matrix Secret Disclosure Document,” by Bob Herman.

Rachel Cohrs: Statistical News ‘“Biogen’s Reckoning: How Aduhelm Debacle propelled a troubled company and its fractured leadership to the top,” by Adam Feuerstein and Damian Garde.

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KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom specializing in the production of in-depth coverage of health issues. Along with Policy Analysis and Exploration, KHN is one of the three main activities in KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). The KFF is a nonprofit organization privileged to provide information on health issues to the nation.


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