Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ Nothing In Health Care Ever Goes Away

Congressional Republicans have struck a decidedly different tone when talking about the Affordable Care Act, and the Democrats have introduced a new Medicare expansion bill.

Meanwhile, states are talking about Medicaid expansion, and a federal court’s ruling on Maryland’s proposal to battle drug price-gouging sends shock waves nationwide. Both chambers of Congress have been busy introducing legislative fixes for the nation’s opioid epidemic with lawmakers promising that legislation will land this spring.

This week’s panelists for KHN’s “What the Health?” are Sarah Jane Tribble of Kaiser Health News, Joanne Kenen of Politico, Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times and Paige Winfield Cunningham of The Washington Post.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • In the upcoming election season, the tables may be turned: Democrats likely will spend more on health care ads than Republicans.
  • Democrats think that this congressional campaign season they can effectively target vulnerable Republicans by focusing on the GOP’s support for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.
  • Republicans, on the other hand, predict they have a winning argument with their repeal of the unpopular requirement that people get insurance or pay a penalty. Campaigns likely will also point to the party’s efforts to encourage more flexible — but perhaps less protective — coverage options, such as association and short-term health plans.
  • Two Democratic senators, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, introduced a bill this week that would allow individuals who haven’t yet reached 65 and small businesses to buy into the Medicare program. It would also substantially increase subsidies for people buying ACA marketplace plans.
  • Democratic efforts to expand the population that can use Medicare could hit opposition from two key groups: health care providers, such as hospitals and doctors, who object to the lower reimbursement, and seniors, who may be afraid that resources could be stretched too thin.
  • Medicaid expansion advocates in some conservative states seek to follow Maine in getting the issue on the ballot, but those efforts in very conservative states, such as Utah and Idaho, face immense obstacles.
  • Despite a court last week throwing out Maryland’s new law on drug pricing, other states are moving forward on efforts to bring more transparency to what consumers are charged for their prescriptions.
  • Lawmakers are scurrying to push through Congress efforts to help fight the nation’s opioid epidemic. One measure, by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), is expected to be marked up next week. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, says his panel will bring a bill to the floor by Memorial Day.

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

Joanne Kenen: The New York Times’ “How Profiteers Lure Women Into Often-Unneeded Surgery,” by Matthew Goldstein and Jessica Silver-Greenberg

Margot Sanger-Katz: STAT.com’s “A ‘Breakthrough in Organ Preservation’: Study Shows Keeping Livers Warm Helps Preserve Them for Transplant,” by Eric Boodman

Paige Winfield Cunningham: The Washington Post’s “Science Hinted That Cancer Patients Could Take Less of a $148,000-a-Year Drug. Its Maker Tripled the Price of a Pill,” by Carolyn Y. Johnson

Sarah Jane Tribble: The Washington Post’s “‘One Last Time’: Barbara Bush Had Already Faced a Death More Painful Than Her Own,” by Steve Hendrix

Additional Reading

Sanger-Katz recommended two stories during the opioid discussion. Here are the links to those, too:

Reason’s “America’s War on Pain Pills Is Killing Addicts and Leaving Patients in Agony,” by Jacob Sullum

Harper’s “The Pain Refugees: The Forgotten Victims of America’s Opioid Crisis,” by Brian Goldstone

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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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