Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ New Year, New Health Proposals

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The new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives took its first steps on health care — voting to intervene in the appeal of a Texas-led lawsuit that found the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional in December. And around the country, Democratic governors and mayors unveiled new initiatives aimed at making health care cheaper and more accessible.

In Washington, the partial shutdown of the government has left most health agencies untouched but shuttered major parts of the Food and Drug Administration and the Indian Health Service.

This week’s panelists for KHN’s “What the Health?” are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times, Anna Edney of Bloomberg News and Rebecca Adams of CQ Roll Call.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Much of the attention on the impact of the federal judge’s decision in Texas to invalidate the ACA has centered on how it affects people with preexisting medical conditions. But the ruling is much more far-reaching and could affect broad swaths of health care in the country.
  • The partial government shutdown has had only a small impact on the Department of Health and Human Services, which already received its funding. But the FDA, which is funded through the Agriculture Department’s appropriations bill, is affected. Officials there say they are trying to keep up with high-risk food inspections and may bring some employees back to work.
  • The FDA receives a substantial part of its budget through the fees paid by pharmaceutical companies for review of their products. But during the shutdown, the agency is not allowed to accept more fees, so it will run out of money for drug application reviews in about a month, officials said.
  • Recent efforts by some Democratic state and local officials highlight the intraparty debate over health care. New California Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed expanding insurance premium subsidies to people making up to 600 percent of the federal poverty level (about $72,800 for an individual) — up from the law’s current 400 percent (about $48,500) — while Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wants to set up a government-run plan that would be an option for people buying their own insurance. And in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to offer coverage to people who are in the country illegally.
  • The latest government enrollment figures show that more than 11 million people signed up for coverage offered in the ACA marketplaces. That is down a bit from prior years, but still more than industry watchers predicted given the tax penalty for not having coverage expired this year.
  • The small slippage in enrollment in the past two years, following changes made by the Trump administration and a Republican-led Congress, may signal challenges in the future, especially in small markets where getting competition has been tough.

Also this week, Julie Rovner interviews KHN senior correspondent Jordan Rau, who investigated and wrote the latest “Bill of the Month” feature for Kaiser Health News and NPR. It’s about a skiing accident that required repeat surgeries — and bills for the patient, although she did nothing wrong. You can read the story here, and its update here.

If you have a medical bill you would like NPR and KHN to investigate, you can submit it here.

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

Julie Rovner: Rewire.News’ “There’s Almost No Data About What Happens When Catholic Hospitals Deny Reproductive Care,” by Amy Littlefield

Rebecca Adams: The Washington Post Magazine’s “Life, Death and Insulin,” by Tiffany Stanley

Margot Sanger-Katz: Vox.com’s “A $20,243 Bike Crash: Zuckerberg Hospital’s Aggressive Tactics Leave Patients With Big Bills,” by Sarah Kliff

Anna Edney: The Washington Post’s “The FDA Is Still Letting Doctors Implant Untested Devices Into Our Bodies,” by Jeanne Lenzer and Shannon Brownlee

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