KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: The Changing of the Guard

“What is Health?” podcast featuring Julie Rovner and a panel of health journalists is produced by Kaiser Health News, republished here with permission

November 17, 2022

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The upcoming Congress will look different than the current one: While Democrats narrowly held control of the US Senate, Republicans won a majority in the House. Although their majority is small, it will likely be enough to block any additional items on President Joe Biden’s agenda.

Meanwhile, the current Congress still has a lot on its to-do list, including keeping the government open and preventing a planned 4 percent cut in payments to health care providers.

This week’s panelists are KHN’s Julie Rovner, Joan Kennen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico, Axios’ Victoria Knight and Politico’s Alice Miranda Olstein.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • With Democrats holding the Senate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is expected to be the next chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. In that role, he could set a more progressive agenda, though he could not push for changes to Medicare, which is outside the committee’s jurisdiction. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a physician who worked on surprise billing legislation, is in line to become HELP’s top Republican.
  • Republicans seized control of the House of Representatives and nominated Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to be speaker, though he will have to overcome pressure from weaker-than-expected midterm results. While there are chances to demonstrate bipartisanship, as with telehealth regulation, the party will be able to fend off the Democratic-controlled Senate and White House. Watch for investigations into the Biden administration and Republican refusals to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling.
  • In the states, Oregon voters approved a constitutional amendment that establishes an individual right to health care, although it does not allow the state to spend money to guarantee that right. What the change means remains to be seen, though it likely opens the door for residents to sue the state over health care affordability.
  • A liberal group, the Fairness Project, was behind a wave of successful ballot measures last week, capitalizing on the divide between voters and Republican lawmakers on issues like abortion and Medicaid expansion. Both parties have had success using ballot initiatives to get voters to the polls in off-election years, and this year Democratic incumbents like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan appear to have taken advantage of similar measures.
  • Congress faces a busy session with must-do tasks, including funding the government and preventing long-planned cuts to Medicare payments. Pandemic preparedness and maternal health legislation are also on the list of possibilities. President Biden is still pushing for more money for COVID-19 relief as existing pandemic funds run out, though Republicans are unlikely to back down in their opposition.
  • Codification of abortion rights seems unlikely for now. Neither side appears to have the support to pass national protections or national restrictions, although battles are expected over appropriations for several existing policies, including those affecting incarcerated and indigenous women. Meanwhile, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops elected two hardline opponents this week, and courts are scrutinizing state bans in Georgia and Kentucky, while Florida is talking about increasing restrictions there.
  • The Cleveland Clinic instituted a policy of charging patients’ insurance $50 to respond to any message sent to providers through its online portal that took more than five minutes of their time to respond. Insurance companies will likely push back, but be careful that the policy extends to other providers.
  • KHN’s annual Project on Private Equity in Healthcare ended this week with reports showing that private equity has poured nearly $1 trillion into 8,000 healthcare transactions in the past decade alone. But lax reporting requirements mean the federal government often doesn’t review these transactions for potential antitrust violations.

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

Julie Rovner: “Condiment containers are the dirtiest surface in your kitchen” on the Philadelphia Inquirer by Sarah Ganz

Alice Miranda Olstein: ProPublica’s ‘We must protect this law’: Inside an anti-abortion meeting with Tennessee GOP lawmakers, by Kavita Surana

Victoria Knight: The Daily Beast “Covid-19-denying medical group explodes over founder’s extravagant spending,” by Will Sommer

Joan by: The Pink Sheet “Kalif’s Covid tweets reveal gaps in knowledge partly FDA’s fault” by Sarah Carlin-Smith

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:

“Nonprofit with progressive health care ballot measures in red states” on Axios by Sabrina Moreno

Cleveland.com “Some Electronic Messages to Cleveland Clinic Health Care Providers Could Cost $50,” by Julie Washington

KHN “Sick Profit: Investigating Stealth Takeover of Private Equity of Health Care Across Cities and Specialties” by Fred Schulte

To listen to all of our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to KHN’s What’s Health? on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three main operational programs of the KFF (Family Kaiser Foundation). KFF is a charitable, non-profit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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This story may be republished for free (details).KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three main operational programs of the KFF (Family Kaiser Foundation). KFF is a charitable, non-profit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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