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KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': Health Funding in Question in a Speaker-Less Congress


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As House Republicans struggle — again — to decide who will lead them, the clock is ticking on a short-term spending bill that keeps the federal government running only until mid-November. The turn of the fiscal year has also left key health programs in limbo, including the one that provides international aid to combat HIV and AIDS.

Meanwhile, a major investigation by The Washington Post into why U.S. life expectancy is declining found that the reasons, while many and varied, tend to point to a lesser emphasis on public health here than in many peer nations.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet, Victoria Knight of Axios, and Lauren Weber of The Washington Post.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • House Republicans are choosing a new speaker with government funding still uncertain beyond Nov. 17. But some programs are already experiencing a lapse in their congressional authorizations, notably the global HIV/AIDS program known as PEPFAR — and the problems in renewing it are sending a troubling signal to the world about the United States’ commitment to a program credited with saving millions of lives.
  • Drug companies have entered into agreements with federal health officials for new Medicare price negotiations even as many of them challenge the process in court. Early signals from one conservative federal judge indicate the courts may not be sympathetic to the notion that drug companies are being compelled to participate in the negotiations.
  • Kaiser Permanente health system employees and pharmacists with major chains are among the American health care workers on strike. What do the labor strikes have in common? The outcry from workers over how staffing shortages are endangering patients, leaving overwhelmed medical personnel to manage seemingly impossible workloads.
  • Elsewhere in the nation, new covid-19 vaccines are proving difficult to come by, particularly for young kids. Officials point to this being the first time the vaccines are being distributed and paid for by the private sector, rather than the federal government.
  • Reporting shows those getting kicked off Medicaid are struggling to transition to coverage through the Affordable Care Act exchanges, even though many are eligible.

Also this week, Rovner interviews physician-author-novelist Samuel Shem, whose landmark satirical novel, “The House of God,” shook up medical training in the late 1970s. Shem’s new book, “Our Hospital,” paints a grim picture of the state of the American health care workforce in the age of covid.

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

Julie Rovner: The Atlantic’s “Virginia Could Decide the Future of the GOP’s Abortion Policy,” by Ronald Brownstein.

Sarah Karlin-Smith: The Wall Street Journal’s “Children Are Dying in Ill-Prepared Emergency Rooms Across America,” by Liz Essley-Whyte and Melanie Evans.

Lauren Weber: ProPublica’s “Philips Kept Complaints About Dangerous Breathing Machines Secret While Company Profits Soared,” by Debbie Cenziper, ProPublica; Michael D. Sallah, Michael Korsh, and Evan Robinson-Johnson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; and Monica Sager, Northwestern University.

Victoria Knight: KFF Health News’ “Feds Rein In Use of Predictive Software That Limits Care for Medicare Advantage Patients,” by Susan Jaffe.

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:

  • The Washington Post’s “Medicaid Rolls Are Being Cut. Few Are Finding Refuge in ACA Plans,” by Amy Goldstein.
  • The Washington Post’s “An Epidemic of Chronic Illness Is Killing Us Too Soon,” by Joel Achenbach, Dan Keating, Laurie McGinley, Akilah Johnson, and Jahi Chikwendiu.
  • The Washington Post’s “How Red-State Politics Are Shaving Years Off American Lives,” by Lauren Weber, Dan Diamond, and Dan Keating.
  • The Washington Post’s “England Considers Raising Smoking Age Until Cigarettes Are Banned Entirely,” by Andrew Jeong.

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

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



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