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KHN’s ‘What The Health?’: Despite Booming Economy, Uninsured Rate Ticks Up


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The annual report from the Census Bureau, released this week, found that 27.5 million Americans were without health insurance last year, an increase of nearly 2 million from 2017. The 0.5 percentage point increase in the uninsured rate — to 8.5% — was the first in a decade and came as unemployment and other economic indicators have been good.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration signaled that it is moving to ban flavored vaping liquid used in e-cigarettes. Companies making the products have been accused of marketing to underage users with flavors like mango and bubble gum.

And Congress is back from its summer break, with legislation to address rising prescription drug prices and surprise medical bills still on the agenda.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Joanne Kenen of Politico, Tami Luhby of CNN and Rebecca Adams of CQ Roll Call.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • The Census Bureau’s report this week defied usual economic models. Normally, the more people employed, the more people insured.
  • Health advocates blame a variety of actions by the Trump administration for the lower rate of insured Americans. Those include policies intended to deter people from staying on or signing up for Medicaid; the elimination of the tax penalty for not having coverage; and the announcement that immigrants’ use of public benefits such as Medicaid could affect their ability to get a green card allowing them to live and work in the U.S.
  • The biggest surprise in the Census Bureau report was the increase in children without insurance. Coverage for kids has generally been a bipartisan goal on Capitol Hill. It’s not clear what caused that drop. It could just be a result of differences in how the survey was conducted, or it may be another sign of immigrants worried about whether using public insurance could lead to their deportation.
  • The administration’s announcement that it is moving forward on a ban of flavored vaping products comes as worries grow among parents and public health officials about an epidemic of lung problems around the country. Among those worried parents is first lady Melania Trump.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appears to be inching closer to releasing her plan to curb high drug prices. It’s not clear yet whether President Donald Trump will sign on to her effort. But Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is seeking support for his more modest plan instead, arguing to his Republican colleagues that if they don’t stand with him, they may be forced to accept Pelosi’s legislation if she manages to make a deal with the president.
  • Opponents of some of the legislation to curb surprise medical bills appear to have made progress over Congress’ August recess with a major advertising campaign saying the measures would hurt local hospitals and doctors. Advocates say the legislation is not dead, but the strong momentum it had is waning.

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

Julie Rovner: Vox.com’s “This life-threatening pregnancy complication is the next frontier in the abortion debate,” by Anna North

Joanne Kenen: The New York Times’ “Nursing Homes Are a Breeding Ground for a Fatal Fungus,” by Matt Richtel and Andrew Jacobs

Rebecca Adams: Kaiser Health News’ “‘UVA Has Ruined Us’: Health System Sues Thousands Of Patients, Seizing Paychecks And Claiming Homes,” by Jay Hancock and Elizabeth Lucas

Tami Luhby: The New York Times’ “Bernie Sanders Went to Canada, and a Dream of ‘Medicare for All’ Flourished,” by Sydney Ember

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

Related Topics

Cost and Quality Health Care Costs Insurance Medicaid Multimedia Pharmaceuticals Public Health The Health Law Uninsured