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KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: It’s Health Costs, Stupid (2022 Edition)

Can’t see the audio player? Click here to listen on Acast. You can also listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Pocket Casts or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Click here for a transcript of the episode.

The pandemic may be showing signs of winding down, but health care costs are not.

In Massachusetts, a fight is shaping up over whether one of the most prestigious hospital systems needs to save money, while antitrust cases against other hospital systems have been filed in California, Connecticut, and North Carolina.

Meanwhile, the Senate confirmed Dr. Robert Califf to head the FDA, finally filling out the Biden administration’s health leadership. Califf’s nomination was strongly opposed by anti-abortion groups, but, in the end, he won the votes of several Republicans who are not running for reelection.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet, Tami Luhby of CNN, and Rachel Cohrs of Stat.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Califf’s narrow confirmation vote was in marked contrast to seven years ago when he also headed the FDA. Twenty-six Republicans who supported him then voted no this time. This week, five Democrats who had complained about the FDA’s stance on opioids also voted no.
  • With Califf confirmed, he may join other administration public health officials, such as the National Institutes of Health’s Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dr. Rochelle Walensky, in becoming a spokesperson for the administration on covid and other medical issues.
  • Among the major issues facing the FDA are safety and efficacy of covid vaccinations for young children, the pending application by Novavax for authorization for a different type of covid vaccine, and a review of how the agency handles accelerated drug approvals. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) secured a promise by Califf before he was confirmed to probe whether drugmakers are living up to their promise to report back on those drugs.
  • While the debate on cutting health care costs often centers on prescription drugs, hospitals are a major driver of spending. A Massachusetts regulatory panel has ordered Mass General Brigham hospital to set up a performance improvement plan to curb the growth in health care costs at the state’s premier hospital system.
  • The disruption of the health care workforce caused by the pandemic is creating major shifts, among them a move by many nurses to take high-paid travel nursing jobs. That has created problems for smaller, less profitable hospitals to recruit full-time nurses. Private equity firms are showing interest in the traveling nurse industry, which is prompting some officials to seek more transparency in how those firms are paid and who gets the money.
  • Federal health officials reported this week that the U.S. has recorded 1 million “excess deaths” as a result of the pandemic.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Hannah Wesolowski of the National Alliance on Mental Illness about how the pandemic has worsened the nation’s mental health crisis and what can be done about it.

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

Julie Rovner: KHN’s “Demand for Service Dogs Unleashes a ‘Wild West’ Market,” by Markian Hawryluk

Sarah Karlin-Smith: Scientific American’s “There Is Nothing Normal About One Million People Dead From COVID,” by Steven W. Thrasher

Tami Luhby: The Philadelphia Inquirer’s “COVID-19 Has Even Ruined Our Feet,” by Sarah Gantz

Rachel Cohrs: Bloomberg’s “Nurses Who Faced Fines, Lawsuits for Quitting Are Fighting Back,” by Josh Eidelson

Also discussed on this week’s podcast:

Stat’s “Private Equity Firms Are Cashing In on the Travel Nursing Business That Has Boomed During the Pandemic,” by Rachel Cohrs

The New York Times’ “Vehicle Crashes, Surging,” by David Leonhardt

CNN’s “More Than 50 Million Households Have Received Free Government Covid-19 Tests,” by Tami Luhby and Naomi Thomas

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to KHN’s What the Health? on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Pocket Casts or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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.

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