Skip to content
KFF Health News' 'What the Health?'

Will They or Won’t They (Block the Abortion Pill)?

Episode 294

Return to the Full Article View You can republish this story for free. Click the "Copy HTML" button below. Questions? Get more details.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': Will They or Won’t They (Block the Abortion Pill)?

The Host

Mary Agnes Carey KFF Health News @maryagnescarey Read Mary Agnes' stories Mary Agnes Carey, Partnerships Editor and Senior Correspondent, oversees placement of KFF Health News content in publications nationwide. She has covered health care policy and politics for KFF Health News, CQ, Dow Jones Newswires, and other news outlets.

Supreme Court justices could act at any moment on access to the abortion pill mifepristone. Beyond reproductive health, their ruling could carry significant implications for states’ rights and FDA independence and integrity. For now, though, observers are unsure what the court will do — or what exactly prompted justices to again delay their decision this week.

At the Capitol, lawmakers grumbled, scoffed, and bickered this week as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy revealed the Republican proposal to cut government spending. The package would be dead-on-arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate. But of note is the pushback from within McCarthy’s own caucus, with some hard-right conservatives pressing to go further by demanding the repeal of the Inflation Reduction Act in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

And President Joe Biden pursued new efforts to grant legal status to young immigrants living in the country illegally who were brought here as children, sometimes called “Dreamers,” as his administration announced a plan to grant them access to government-funded health coverage.

This week’s panelists are Mary Agnes Carey of KFF Health News, Rachel Cohrs of Stat, Sandhya Raman of CQ Roll Call, and Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico.

Panelists

Rachel Cohrs Stat News @rachelcohrs Read Rachel's stories Joanne Kenen Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico @JoanneKenen Read Joanne's stories Sandhya Raman CQ Roll Call @SandhyaWrites Read Sandhya's stories

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • The Supreme Court extended its stay on the use of mifepristone through Friday, giving justices longer to act on a major, complicated case with nationwide implications for reproductive health. It is unclear what the court will do, though there are several actions it could take — including sending the case back to the lower courts or again extending the stay and buying justices even more time to come to agreement or pen dissents.
  • GenBioPro, which produces the generic version of mifepristone, sued the FDA on Wednesday, attempting to preserve access to the drug. About two-thirds of the mifepristone currently used in the United States is generic.
  • In congressional news, House Speaker McCarthy released what is effectively Republicans’ opening offer in the fight over raising the debt ceiling. The package includes GOP health priorities that would not garner needed support in the Senate, like work requirements for Medicaid and the clawback of unspent covid-19 pandemic funds.
  • While health costs are high across government programs, Medicaid takes the big hit in the Republican proposal to cut federal spending. Republicans have embraced work requirements for government assistance since at least the 1980s, yet in Arkansas — a state that implemented work rules for Medicaid — it has proved challenging to verify that enrollees are meeting those requirements.
  • The Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over much of federal health spending, revealed a package this week to tackle drug pricing. While the proposal is in the early stages, it seeks to incorporate bipartisan measures touching pharmacy benefit managers, insulin users, and more.
  • And on the coverage front, the Biden administration announced that immigrant kids brought to the United States who remain here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will be able to apply for Medicaid and Affordable Care Act coverage. This eligibility expansion comes as states prepare to disenroll those who no longer qualify for Medicaid as the public health emergency’s coverage protections expire. Expect a fight from some states as they resist being forced to cover insurance for individuals living in the U.S. without legal permission.

Plus, for “extra credit,” the panelists suggest health policy stories they read this week that they think you should read, too:

Mary Agnes Carey: The New York Times’ “A Beauty Treatment Promised to Zap Fat. For Some, It Brought Disfigurement,” by Anna Kodé

Joanne Kenen: The New York Times’ “My Transplanted Heart and I Will Die Soon,” by Amy Silverstein

Sandhya Raman: ABC News’ “Puerto Rico’s Water Supply Is Being Depleted, Contaminated by Manufacturing Industry on the Island, Experts Say,” by Jessie DiMartino, Lilia Geho, and Julia Jacobo

Rachel Cohrs: The Wall Street Journal’s “‘I Hate You, Kathie Lee Gifford!’ Ozempic Users Report Bizarre Dreams,” by Peter Loftus

click to open the transcript Transcript: Will They or Won’t They (Block the Abortion Pill)?

KFF Health News’ ‘What the Health?’Episode Title: Will They or Won’t They (Block the Abortion Pill)?Episode Number: 294Published: April 20, 2023

[Editor’s note: This transcript, generated using transcription software, has been edited for style and clarity.]

Mary Agnes Carey: Hello and welcome back to “What the Health?” I’m Mary Agnes Carey, partnerships editor for KFF Health News. I’m filling in this week for Julie Rovner, and I’m joined by some of the best and smartest health reporters in Washington. We’re taping this week on Thursday, April 20, at 10 a.m. Eastern. As always, news happens fast and things might have changed by the time you hear this. So here we go. Joining us today by video conference are Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico.

Joanne Kenen: Hi, everybody.

Carey: Rachel Cohrs of Stat.

Cohrs: Morning, everyone.

Carey: And Sandhya Raman of CQ Roll Call.

Raman: Good morning.

Carey: Let’s start with the current court action on mifepristone. The Supreme Court was scheduled to rule yesterday on a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit that rolled back FDA action since 2016, allowing patients to get mifepristone through the mail, authorizing prescriptions by medical professionals other than doctors, and approving the drug’s use up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy instead of seven. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr, who’d previously set Wednesday as the deadline for the court to act, extended that stay until Friday, and the justices could certainly act before they choose to —hopefully not while we’re taping. But I wanted to get everyone’s thoughts on why do you think the court didn’t act yesterday? Joanne, can I start with you?

Kenen: I mean, presumably they’re still hashing it out. There’re probably two or three judges who are still thinking about it or discussing it with their colleagues, or colleagues who want to think they can persuade them to their side. I mean, there’s something internal. On the other hand, I mean, they didn’t originally give themselves a lot of time to consider a complicated and historic case. We know there’s an anti-abortion majority. We know they’re not crazy about medical abortions any more than they are about surgical abortions. But this has large implications about states’ rights and about the sort of integrity of the FDA. So they may just wanted to sleep on it. They’re human, but the two sides are battling for two or three in the middle.

Carey: So what does this signal about how they might rule? I mean, to your point about the split, the battle, what are the options? What do you — Sandhya, what do you think about what they might —

Kenen: Well, if it was slam dunk, we’d have had it.

Carey: That is true. That is true. It is not a slam dunk.

Raman: And everyone that I have talked to in the last few weeks on this is just that there are so many different options, different permutations, that it’s difficult even for people that are experts on FDA policy, like expert lawyers, experts on abortion policy, to just kind of like predict the nuances. You know, they could let the stay expire. They could send it back to the 5th Circuit. They could decide to hold arguments and let it expire or not expire. They could decide something different than the 5th Circuit. You know, there’s so many different ways that things could happen that I think it makes it difficult. And then yesterday, the other manufacturer of mifepristone, GenBioPro, also filed suit against the FDA. So now we have, since Dobbs, like five different lawsuits related to mifepristone and three of them, post-Dobbs, are related to the FDA in particular. And I think it just gets very, very complicated to make a decision, even if ideologically some people might align with one way versus the other, given all of these different permutations and that we still have that Washington case that is attacking another part of this. So it’s just complicated to get people to do something. And the fact that this case has been moving so, so quickly.

Carey: Could we be in the same place on Friday? Could we get another stay? Could the justices certainly ask for more time, and are there any thoughts about the probability of that actually happening? Rachel, what are your thoughts?

Cohrs: I think they can do what they want.

Carey: That’s true.

Cohrs: They gave themselves time once more, and I think obviously there’s a benefit to having some certainty and predictability for people, for providers, but certainly they could stay again.

Carey: So, Sandhya, you just mentioned the Washington state case. So while this Texas ruling is before the Supreme Court, a federal district judge in Washington state issued a ruling in a separate case that instructed the FDA to not alter the current availability of the drug in 17 states and the District of Columbia. And as you just mentioned, a manufacturer of the generic version of the drug — the company’s name is GenBioPro; they make the generic version of mifepristone — they’re arguing that if the FDA implements a court order suspending approval of the drug, the agency would deprive the company of its rights to market the drug without due process of law. And as I understand, this company is a major manufacturer of the generic version of the drug, right? So let’s talk a bit more about this confusion of these split rulings. I mean, what is the public to make of it? What’s the reaction with facilities that are providing this medication or doctors who want to prescribe it or just the general public? The person who might be interested in this situation is very confused. I mean, talk a little bit about how people sort through it and what this means for them.

Raman: So the suit that was filed yesterday about the generic, they make two-thirds of the mifepristone that is used in the U.S. So if they were unable to be manufacturing theirs based on a ruling that only allowed the name-brand version of the drug, that’s a huge percentage of the market that is gone, and more than half of abortions are done through medication abortion. So that’s one thorn in it. And I think that another is that we have all of these states that have been stockpiling the drugs — several that have been, you know, in case they don’t know what is happening with the ruling. Washington is one of them. And there’s still not clarity depending on what happens with these cases of, you know, will they be able to use what that they have stockpiled? And then we have other states like New York and I think California that have been stockpiling misoprostol as another way to — in case there’s a court ruling that doesn’t go in their favor — to just give patients in their states access to medication abortion. I think that there are so many different permutations that it’s very difficult for even folks that are confident that the rule may go a different way to know what to predict, just because we’re in such uncertain territory, from all of the different former FDA officials that have said, “You know, this is a very different situation. We don’t even know, after decades of experience at the FDA, like, how this would play out, what it would mean, whether we’d have to pull everything off the market.” How it would play out, it’s just a lot of unknown territory given all of the different things going on.

Kenen: Well, also, whatever they do now isn’t necessarily the end of the story, right? I mean, if the court issues a stay, it will still go through the courts and it presumably ends up at the Supreme Court again. If they issue a stay pending full hearing of the case, it’ll be going on for months more. But either they issue a stay saying the 5th Circuit ruling, which did not totally — the lower federal court banned the use of the pill; the appeals court limited it to seven weeks instead of the FDA has ruled it’s for 10 weeks. So if they uphold the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, there would still be use, but it would be limited. If they put a stay saying, “Yes, it can stay legal in the states that allow it for now,” then it would still be legal in those states but we’d still be back discussing what is the Supreme Court going to do a couple of months from now.

Carey: And how — where is the drug industry on this? I mean, this would have sweeping ramifications.

Kenen: They’re horrified. One of you might know the number — was it like 250 companies signed the brief that you’re going to have a court decide what drug is safe and what drug is not safe, rather than the FDA? I mean, the pharmaceutical company fights with the FDA all the time, but they need the FDA and they know they need the FDA and they admit they need the FDA. You know, you have one voice in this country saying a drug is safe or a drug is not safe or a drug is safe under the following conditions.

Raman: There have been hundreds of the drug companies that have spoken out against it, and PhRMA [Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America] more recently also finally came out against it. It’s been pretty uniform in a way that I have not really seen in the past where there have been, you know, the drug companies, the various people that have been regulators, the folks that are in favor of abortion rights, then just advocates — and just very unified in this response.

Carey: Rachel, what is the impact of the drug industry’s weighing in in this manner? How could that shape the decision? Was there anything surprising in how they worked together on this? I know you’ve done some reporting on this area.

Cohrs: Yes. Yeah. So I think certainly them actually filing briefs with the court will kind of help drive home the ramifications of this, just on a much larger scale. I mean, we’re not just talking about abortion now. We’re talking about any medication that could be at all controversial. You know, we’re talking PrEP for HIV. You know, there are so many areas where companies genuinely are concerned about lawsuits and about judges who aren’t experts. So I think this uniform voice will drive home the larger impacts here beyond this one issue. And also, I think, the drug industry has significant resources to invest. And I think, it took a little while, but the trade groups PhRMA and BIO [Biotechnology Innovation Organization] have said that they are willing to invest, and they haven’t made any specific commitments, but certainly I think down the line there could be legal challenges. And now that they have put themselves out there, they certainly are a significant player in the space, with resources.

Raman: The drug industry is also a huge player in, you know, donating to various campaigns and lobbying on the Hill. And it’s definitely going to be — put increasingly different folks in a tight spot if they are receiving a lot of backing from the pharmaceutical industry and if they’ve spoken out in favor of restricting the drug. And it’ll be interesting to see kind of as it goes on what happens there with some of these folks.

Carey: Sure. Well that’s a perfect segue way because we have lawmakers on Capitol Hill are also weighing in on this. About 150 Republicans are urging the Supreme Court to uphold the 5th Circuit’s ruling, while more than 250 Democrats have urged the court to not prevent access to mifepristone. Are Republicans taking a political risk here speaking out? Because I know it’s been talked about on the podcast before, about the abortion rights opponents have some splits on how far to go on some of these restrictions on abortion. You know, Republicans didn’t really seem eager to engage when the decision came out, but now they are. What does that mean? What do you make of it?

Raman: We’ve had that delay first that, you know, a lot of Republicans did not even comment on the case, which was kind of interesting, given that, you know, after a lot of these decisions, we see a lot from both sides kind of weighing in. And I think when you look at some of these briefs, they say a lot of the similar talking points as before, which is something that you can kind of look to. But I mean, the conversation is still moving, even on the Hill. Yesterday, Robert Califf from the FDA was facing questions about mifepristone from different Republicans, from Cindy Hyde-Smith, who had agreed with the lower court decision, from Susan Collins, who was kind of against the decision as one of the Republicans who generally supports abortion rights. And I think it’ll be very interesting if this gets taken up by a committee that has jurisdiction over the FDA, which we have not really seen a commitment to. Energy and Commerce [Committee] Democrats have asked for something on this to come up. But, you know, under Republican leadership, I don’t know that that would necessarily happen. The only committee that is really committed to looking at this issue has been, like, Senate Judiciary, which with Democratic control is going to look a different way. And they don’t really have the jurisdiction over FDA in the same way as some of the other committees do. So I think that’ll be interesting to look at if that changes.

Kenen: There is a divide in the Republican Party about how far to go. I mean, some are for rape and incest exceptions, some are not. Some are for six weeks, some are for 15 weeks, some are for zero weeks. This is reflecting those divisions. It also depends on the individual lawmaker’s district. You know, if you come from an extremely conservative district and you are an anti-abortion absolutist, then you’re going to speak out on this. But we’ve noted they don’t really want to antagonize pharma either. So you’ve seen, I guess it’s 150ish — you haven’t seen all of them. It’s a complicated issue for some of them, given the competing interests, you know. Is abolishing all abortions in the United States of America your top goal? In which case you’re going to want to support the lower court. If you have a more nuanced view, where you’re worried about precedent for overriding the FDA, you have competing — I mean, there are very few abortion rights Republicans, but they don’t all want to draw the line in the same place.

Carey: So while we’re on the subject of Capitol Hill, let’s talk about the debt ceiling. We have a little bit of action there this week. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy unveiled his plan to raise the debt ceiling. McCarthy and many Republicans have said they don’t want to raise the debt ceiling without spending cuts. President Biden and many Democrats are pushing for a clean debt ceiling increase. So among its provisions, Speaker McCarthy’s plan would cut federal spending by roughly $130 billion, and that would take spending back to fiscal 2022 levels. Health-related provisions include new work requirements for Medicaid and food stamp recipients, and the package would also claw back unspent covid aid funds. And there’s a bit of a twist on the work requirement proposals of the past: States could opt to keep those that don’t comply with the work rules covered under Medicaid, keep them on the rolls. But if they do, the state would bear the full cost of that coverage and forgo the federal money for those enrollees, right? The proposal also requires states to make use of existing resources like payroll databases, state health and human service agencies, to verify compliance with a work rule when possible. There’s a lot to unpack here. It’s pretty clear that, I mean, House Democrats aren’t going to vote for this. Does the speaker even have enough votes in his own caucus to pass it? I think he can only lose like four.

Kenen: TBD. But I don’t think the conventional wisdom is that he has the votes. You know, it’s a starting offer, but they can change, you know, has to go Rules [Committee]. They’ll change — you know, they could change things.

Carey: It is a starting offer. But your vote is next week and it’s Thursday. OK. Rachel, what’s your take on this?

Cohrs: Yeah, I think it was a bit of a roller coaster this week, as some members of the Freedom Caucus were demanding wholesale repeal of the Inflation Reduction Act around midweek, and they certainly backed off from that, especially the health care portion. So I think that is worth noting, at least right now. Again, unclear if he has the votes, or if the speaker has the votes, and then obviously Senate Democrats aren’t going to go for it and President Biden isn’t going to go for this. So I think, like Joanne said, it is kind of an opening offer here. And again, there isn’t a lot on Medicare in here. So I think we just, you know, finally, after so much rhetoric and so much back-and-forth, have some sort of tangible starting point from Republicans here, which is significant.

Kenen: But, you know, as soon as they made that pledge that we’re not going to touch Medicare, meaning traditional Medicare actually, and we’re not going to touch Social Security, we all knew that, Oh, that means that it’s all going to go to Medicaid. So this is a big Medicaid hit. And work rules have been something the Republicans have embraced at least since the Reagan era, maybe even before, but certainly since the 1980s. A few states tried them or at least said they were going to impose them under the Obama administration. At that point, the administration didn’t approve them and the courts didn’t uphold them. But we have a different court now. So I think this court would uphold; that’s likely. But this is not acceptable for Democrats, nor is it meant to be.

Raman: And when we had the various states propose these and in some cases implement them during the Trump administration, every single one of them was struck down by the court once, sometimes twice. You know, we had Arkansas, we had New Hampshire, we had Kentucky, we had Michigan. Every single time the judge at hand was, you know, “This is going against the function of Medicaid,” which — historically we’ve had work requirements in some of the other programs, but the way the Medicaid statute is written, it has been difficult to find a way to keep those in place. So if they were able to get that past, I mean, even the House, which seems like is a, is a question mark, I mean — whatever could get through would absolutely face court battles from some of the same folks that challenged them during the Trump administration.

Kenen: But I think the only one that actually went into effect was Arkansas. And in addition to it being thrown out by a court, it also just didn’t work. The mechanism didn’t work. It became really hard for people. The verification that you’re working, which this proposal actually addresses, that Mary Agnes just alluded to that, the verification was extraordinarily cumbersome. I mean, you had like lots of poor people in Arkansas — and rural Arkansas don’t have access to Internet — and you only had a few hours a day where you could use the portal and you have to leave work to go to the local library to prove that you were working. I mean, it was just — forget the ideology of it — the mechanics didn’t work, and people were thrown off even though they were compliant. And but this [is] just like a deep philosophical divide between the two parties, and they have compromised, and back in the Clinton years they compromised on welfare, what’s now called TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families]. There’s work requirements for SNAP, for what we used to call food stamps. But Medicaid has been a red line for Democrats, that this is an entitlement based on health; it’s not like you deserve — some people deserve it and some people don’t. It’s been a philosophical, ideological, you know, something that Democrats feel very strongly about.

Cohrs: Oh, I just want to jump in on the covid money as well — much smaller deal, fewer impacts on patients — but it has been kind of interesting and over the last couple of weeks that the Biden administration has rolled out some new programs that cost quite a bit of money, as there’s this horizon, this call for Congress to claw back unspent covid funds. I mean, they’re spending $5 billion now on developing vaccines and therapeutics, $1 billion on vaccine access, when they said they didn’t have any money. So it’s just kind of interesting that, you know, when these funds are committed to a program legally, then Congress can’t claw them back. So I’m curious to see what else we’ll see as these negotiations solidify.

Carey: All right. We’ll keep our eye on it. And I want to just check in briefly on the Senate side. I know we’ve discussed these issues on the podcast before. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has been working on legislation focused on drug prices and pharmacy benefit managers. This morning we have a framework introduced from the Senate Finance Committee. It’s with Sen. Wyden, the chair from Oregon, who’s a Democrat, and Sen. Mike Crapo, Republican from Idaho, that also seeks to address PBMs in the prescription drug supply chain. We also have the moving, or maybe not moving, but introduce legislation, anything new there on insulin prices with Sen. Warnock and Sen. Kennedy to cap the out-of-pocket price at $35. Any movements there in the Senate, any insight you could offer?

Cohrs: On the Senate Finance [Committee] side, that is a very significant development, that they’ve decided to get in on the fun this week of putting together a package, just because their committees do have jurisdiction over so much federal spending. And Sen. Wyden has been involved in this issue. He’s put out — I found a package of bills from 2019, and, you know, he’s been on this issue a long time. So I think his team has proven they can craft big-picture, very impactful policy with the Inflation Reduction Act. So I think that’s certainly something to watch with that much federal spending on the line. And on insulin, you know, Sen. Schumer this week has committed to have some sort of insulin pricing provision in whatever package might come together — it’s still pretty amorphous — but it’s unclear what that’s going to look like. There is another proposal from Sen. Collins and Sen. Shaheen, two much more senior members of the caucus, and that mechanism works differently. For patients, it would look pretty similar. But on the back end, for insurers, for drugmakers, both of those programs would work differently. So they haven’t sorted that out yet. HELP hasn’t even picked a date for their hearing and formally announced it yet. So we are in early stages, but there’s certainly a lot swirling around.

Carey: Absolutely. And we’ll keep our eye on all of that as well. So I’d like to also chat a little bit about some ACA developments that happened this week. President Biden recently announced that hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children will be able to apply for Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges. This allows participants in the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, to access government-funded health insurance programs. You can expect pushback from conservative leaders of states that have been reluctant to expand Medicaid, possibly also pushback from Republican members of the Hill on this provision. And then, in other ACA news, the administration has finalized new rules that are aimed at making it easier for consumers to sign up for ACA plans, in particular those who are losing their coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, also known as CMS, will also give state marketplaces the option to hold a special enrollment period for people who lose their Medicaid or CHIP coverage. What could this possibly mean for enrollment in the program, right, to making it easier for DACA participants to enroll in the ACA or people losing their coverage through CHIP or Medicaid? I think it’s about 16 million people now in the program. Does this build more support for it? Are Republicans going to engage against it? Do they think that’s simply a losing battle because they’ve never agreed on an alternative?

Raman: I mean, right now, we’ve had historic levels of people in Medicaid and CHIP just because states have been unable to unenroll them from coverage during the public health emergency for covid. And now that states are starting to recheck their rolls and see who’s still eligible, who’s not eligible, we’ve been expecting just, you know, a big drop in different people that would be either getting uninsured or maybe moving to a different type of plan with a private or the exchanges. And I think it’s been something that, you know, states and the federal government have been working on for the entire time of just, you know, different ways to make sure that that drop-off in the number of uninsured folks doesn’t skyrocket as states are going through this process. And so I think the timing is important in that, you know, you’re trying to counteract the drop. And HHS [the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services] has been touting, you know, the high levels of uptake in the ACA and just like the low uninsured rate and this has been something they’ve just kind of been pushing, you know, month after month. This has been something that has been like a big achievement for them. And so now really like push comes to shove to say that, you know, it doesn’t drop off dramatically if you want to continue touting some of these achievements and making sure that people don’t drop off just because the emergency is ending and that guaranteed coverage isn’t there.

Kenen: So there are multiple issues in the question that are exposed, the DACA, which —

Carey: Of course it can’t be just one question I have to ask four at once.

Kenen: The DACA, which is also known as the Dreamers, Biden is trying to cover them. Democrats have been trying to give them legal status and got nowhere. In fact, they’re probably further away from that than they were five or six years ago. But to get them health coverage is something the Democrats — it’s like the least they can do to this population. But I can’t imagine there’s not going to be a political and/or a legal fight from the states who are going to have to pay for their share of it, right? I mean, Medicaid is a state-federal joint expenditure, and the states that don’t want to cover these people will well resist or sue. Or, I mean, everything ends up in court; I would imagine this will, too, or baked into the debt ceiling — you know, one more thing to fight about with the debt ceiling. So that’s one issue. I mean, the other issue is this unwinding of this huge Medicaid population. Most of these people are going to be eligible for some kind of coverage. Some of them are still going to be eligible for Medicaid. Some of them are going to be eligible for very good deals for sort of low-income working people on the ACA. And some have jobs that they can get insured through — theirs or a partner or a family member. But really, the only ones who are ineligible for anything would be those in the remaining Medicaid gap states. But that’s like theoretically, if we did everything right, the only people that would be ineligible are the Medicaid gap population, which is now down to about 10 states, assuming North Carolina, you know, finalizes their approval or, you know, enacts their expansion. But like, that’s the perfect world, and we don’t live in a perfect world. I mean, some of these people are going to get lost in the shuffle. And in fact, maybe several million; their estimates are like maybe 6 million, you know, no one knows. But, you know, our health care system is complicated. You know, getting a letter in the mail saying, you know, “Sayonara, Medicaid,” is not all of them will know how to negotiate new coverage even when they’re eligible, and we’re going to have to do a really good job of helping them. And that has to be from the federal government, from the state governments, from the health system itself, from advocates, from Congress. You know, everyone’s going to have to pitch in to get these people what they’re eligible for. And I don’t see that as an overnight success story. I think that there are people who should be covered and can be covered who won’t be covered. Eventually we’ll probably catch up and most of them enrolled. But I think that some of them have periods of uninsurance.

Carey: It’s absolutely a major undertaking. I know we’ll all be watching closely. OK, that’s the news for this week. Now it’s time for our extra credit segment. That’s when we each recommend a story we read this week and think you should read it too. As always, don’t worry if you miss it. We’ll post the links on our podcast page at kffhealthnews.org and in our show notes on your phone or other mobile device.

Kenen: I actually want to read the first sentence of this piece. This is a guest essay in The New York Times by Amy Silverstein. She’s a heart transplant recipient. She’s, I guess, about 60 now, and she’s about to die, not because her heart, her transplanted heart is failing — she writes about how she kept that in pristine condition — but because she’s got cancer. And it’s called “My Transplanted Heart and I Will Die Soon,” and it begins, “Today, I will explain to my healthy transplanted heart why, in what may be a matter of days or weeks at best, she — well, we — will die.” And in addition to being just a heart-tugger, I did not know a lot of what she explores about transplant medicine, that we think of transplants as medical miracles — and they are; you know, she had like an extra 35 years of life — but they’re also, transplant medicine itself hasn’t really, according to what she writes, transplant medicine itself — the drugs, the care they get, these heavy-duty drugs haven’t improved in 40 years. While she has a healthy heart, she has metastatic lung cancer because of these drugs. The medical care around transplant can be quite dangerous. And I knew nothing about that, and I’ve covered health for a long time. So it’s a tragic story and it’s also a scientific failure or a medical system or a medical research failure story that I hope a lot of people who have the power to change it read.

Carey: Sandhya, what’s your extra credit?

Raman: So my extra credit is from ABC News. It’s called “Puerto Rico’s Water Supply Is Being Depleted, Contaminated by Manufacturing Industry on the Island, Experts Say.” It’s a triple byline from Jessie DiMartino, Lilia Geho, and Julia Jacobo. And I thought their story was really interesting because it looks at the effects of the manufacturing industry on the water supply in Puerto Rico. The manufacturing there is, in Puerto Rico, is really high because there used to be a tax incentive that’s now lapsed to create a huge boom in manufacturing in the ’60s and ’70s. And kind of looking at the impacts of that, and over time and to the environment, and pharma manufacturing in particular, is 65% of what has been the industrial groundwater withdrawals. So in areas that rely heavily on groundwater on an island, this is felt especially hard. And so they go through a lot of the implications of some of that and how the manufacturing affects it, especially in an island with a finite water supply.

Carey: Rachel.

Cohrs: Mine is, the headline is, “‘I Hate You, Kathie Lee Gifford!’ Ozempic Users Report Bizarre Dreams,” in The Wall Street Journal and by Peter Loftus. Our newsroom has been covering the weight loss drug explosion this year, and I think this story was just so colorful and just a great example of reporting on the side effects that emerge when so many people are interested or want to take a drug. And I think there is certainly a public service to people understanding what they’re getting into and just hearing from all sorts of people, because certainly there are agencies who are supposed to be doing that. But I think there’s also just a lot of buzz that’s fascinating. The writing was just so rich and bizarre. And yeah, it was a great read and a great illustration on it, too.

Carey: Well, speaking of weight loss and getting fat out of our bodies, my story is from The New York Times, called “A Beauty Treatment Promised to Zap Fat. For Some, It Brought Disfigurement,” by Anna Kodé, and I hope I’m pronouncing your name correctly. You might have heard or seen all these ads about the treatment called CoolSculpting. It uses a device on a targeted part of the body to freeze fat cells. Patients typically undergo multiple treatments in the same area, and in successful cases, the cells die and the body absorbs them. “But for some people,” Anna writes, “the procedure results in severe disfigurement. The fat can grow, harden and lodge in the body, sometimes even taking on the shape of the device’s applicator.” The manufacturer says this is a rare side effect, but a Times investigation that drew on internal documents, lawsuits, medical studies, and interviews indicates the risk to patients may be considerably higher. So that’s our show. As always, if you enjoyed the podcast, you can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We’d appreciate it if you left a review; that helps other people find us too. Special thanks, as always, to our ever-patient producer, Francis Ying. And as always, you can email us with your comments or questions. We’re at whatthehealth@kff.org. Or you can tweet me @maryagnescarey. Rachel?

Cohrs: @rachelcohrs.

Carey: Joanne?

Kenen: @JoanneKenen.

Carey: Sandhya.

Raman: @SandhyaWrites.

Carey: We’ll be back in your feed next week. Until then, be healthy.

Credits

Francis Ying Audio producer Emmarie Huetteman Editor

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to KFF Health News’ ‘What the Health? on SpotifyApple PodcastsStitcherPocket Casts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

This article was produced by KFF Health News, formerly known as Kaiser Health News (KHN), a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF — the independent source for health policy research, polling, and journalism. 

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.

Some elements may be removed from this article due to republishing restrictions. If you have questions about available photos or other content, please contact khnweb@kff.org.