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KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': The New Speaker’s (Limited) Record on Health

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After nearly a month of bickering, House Republicans finally elected a new speaker: Louisiana Republican Rep. Mike Johnson, a relative unknown to many. And while Johnson has a long history of opposition to abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, his positions on other health issues are still a bit of a question mark.

Meanwhile, a new study found that in the year following the overturn of Roe v. Wade, the number of abortions actually rose, particularly in states adjacent to those that now have bans or severe restrictions.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Rachel Cohrs of Stat, and Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico.


Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • New House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) doesn’t have much of a legislative record, but in a previous life he worked for the Christian conservative law firm Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF has been on the winning side of several major Supreme Court cases on social issues in the past decade, including the case that overturned Roe v. Wade.
  • In Colorado this week, a federal judge ruled that the state cannot enforce a new law banning medication abortion “reversals,” an unproven treatment that most medical associations don’t recognize, because it could violate the religious rights of those who do advocate it.
  • A new demonstration Medicaid program in Georgia to require low-income adults who want Medicaid coverage to prove they work a certain number of hours per week is off to a slow start, enrolling in its first three months only about 1,300 of the estimated 100,000 people who could be eligible.
  • The National Institutes of Health may soon get a Senate-confirmed director for the first time in more than a year and a half. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, after a several-months delay, voted on a bipartisan basis to elevate National Cancer Institute chief Monica Bertagnolli to the top post at NIH. Notably, among the votes against her on the panel came from the committee chair, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has been trying to leverage the nomination to win more drug pricing concessions from the Biden administration. Bertagnolli is still expected to win full Senate approval.
  • Finally, in the first installment of a new podcast feature, “This Week in Medical Misinformation,” KFF Health News’ Liz Szabo writes about how Suzanne Somers, a popular TV actress from the late 1970s through the 1990s, used her fame to push questionable medical treatments, becoming an “influencer” long before there was such a thing.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, about his new book, “Recovery: A Guide to Reforming the U.S. Health Sector.”

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

Julie Rovner: The Washington Post’s “The Pandemic Has Faded in This Michigan County. The Mistrust Never Ended,” by Greg Jaffe and Patrick Marley.

Alice Miranda Ollstein: Politico’s “Dozens of States Sue Meta Over Addictive Features Harming Kids,” by Rebecca Kern, Josh Sisco, and Alfred Ng.

Rachel Cohrs: The New York Times’ “Ozempic and Wegovy Don’t Cost What You Think They Do,” by Gina Kolata.

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:

KFF Health News’ “Suzanne Somers’ Legacy Tainted by Celebrity Medical Misinformation,” by Liz Szabo.

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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