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KHN’s ‘What The Health?’: A ‘Super Tuesday’ For The Health Debate?

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The Super Tuesday presidential primaries have left only two major Democratic candidates standing: former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Whoever prevails to face off against President Donald Trump in November will shape how the party confronts Republicans on health care.

Meanwhile, Congress and the Trump administration are working to address the continuing spread of the novel coronavirus, while the Supreme Court heard its first major abortion case in four years and agreed to decide the fate — for the third time — of the Affordable Care Act.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Kimberly Leonard of the Washington Examiner, Tami Luhby of CNN and Emmarie Huetteman of Kaiser Health News.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Many of Sanders’ critics have questioned his proposal for “Medicare for All,” but there has been less attention to the specifics of Biden’s plan for a public option. That could begin to change now that the presidential field for the Democrats is, finally, narrowing.
  • As the public — and the White House — mobilize to fight the novel coronavirus, efforts to lower drug prices may have to take a back seat to getting drugmakers to push out a vaccine or new therapeutic drugs.
  • The coronavirus outbreak is exposing holes in the American health care safety net. Questions are being raised about hospitals’ capacity to accommodate many patients with the virus and who will shoulder the costs for testing and care. Public health officials insist that adequate testing capacity for the virus will be available soon. Yet with so many consumers now on the hook for a large portion of their medical costs through high-deductible health plans or no insurance at all, many patients could face large bills for the test and related expenses.
  • The Supreme Court could be poised to roll back abortion rights, using a Louisiana law that requires doctors who perform abortions, even medical abortions, to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic. The court struck down a nearly identical Texas law in 2016, but two new justices who presumably oppose abortion have joined since then.
  • The high court also may have surprised the Trump administration by accepting the case by Republican state officials seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Although the administration supports that case, the argument could come shortly before the November election, and Democrats think that will bolster their case against Trump.
  • While politics and the coronavirus filled news feeds this week, the House passed a bill that would outlaw flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes, including menthol. It’s not clear if the Senate will take up the bill, which divided even some Democrats in the House.

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

Julie Rovner: The Connecticut Mirror’s “‘I’m Relying on Prayer.’ Complaints Pile Up Against Health Care Sharing Ministries as State Mounts a Defense,” by Jenna Carlesso

Kimberly Leonard: U.S. News & World Report’s “Alcohol Is Increasingly a Women’s Health Issue,” by Katelyn Newman

Tami Luhby: ProPublica’s “U.S. Hospitals Say They’re Ready for Coronavirus. Their Infection Control Violations Say Otherwise,” by Marshall Allen, Caroline Chen, J. David McSwane, and Lexi Churchill

Emmarie Huetteman: Reuters’ “Sanofi to Pay $11.9 Million to Resolve U.S. Drug Charity Kickback Probe,” by Nate Raymond

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This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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