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KHN’s ‘What The Health?’: Trump Turns To Medicare

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President Donald Trump tried to change the subject from his impeachment investigation by going to Florida to unveil changes to the Medicare program before an audience of seniors. The changes consist largely of enhanced benefits in private Medicare Advantage plans, which Republicans have long championed as replacements for government-run Medicare benefits.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration this week also issued guidance allowing states to add “wellness” programs to plans on the individual insurance market. The program, part of the original Affordable Care Act, was never implemented by the Obama administration. However, numerous studies have shown that wellness programs that raise or lower premiums based on participation or health goals neither save money nor improve health significantly.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Kimberly Leonard of the Washington Examiner and Rebecca Adams of CQ Roll Call.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Trump’s speech Thursday comes amid the backdrop of his fierce opposition to the Affordable Care Act and is seen as an effort to highlight the administration’s goal to promote private Medicare health plans. But Democrats and other administration critics point out that these Medicare Advantage policies are more expensive than traditional Medicare and tighten restrictions on doctors and hospitals.
  • Trump’s speech also has the potential to remind voters that the administration has been fighting to overturn the ACA in court, which would upend many of its consumer protections, including the guarantee of coverage for people with preexisting medical problems.
  • The administration proposal on wellness programs has raised concerns among some consumer groups that the programs might make insurance more expensive for some people who cannot meet the health standards in those programs.
  • Federal officials are redistributing funding for the Title X program after Planned Parenthood and some state health departments pulled out. Those agencies objected to the administration’s rule that participating organizations could not refer women for abortions. But finding new groups to take the money may prove difficult since not many are able to handle the work or the large numbers of clients that Planned Parenthood once did.
  • With several state challenges to abortion rights working their way through the court system, it seems likely that the Supreme Court will adjudicate an abortion case during the 2020 presidential campaign season.
  • A federal court in California is weighing a suit by immigration advocates to overturn the Trump administration’s rule that would hamper legal immigrants’ efforts to gain citizenship if they have used government benefits like Medicaid or food stamps.

Also this week, Rovner interviews KHN’s Cara Anthony, who wrote the latest KHN-NPR “Bill of the Month” feature about a biopsy that was more expensive than expected. If you have an outrageous medical bill you would like to share with us, you can do that here.

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

Julie Rovner: NPR’s “Workers Are Falling Ill, Even Dying, After Making Kitchen Countertops,” by Nell Greenfieldboyce

Alice Miranda Ollstein: and ProPublica’s “These Sheriffs Release Sick Inmates to Avoid Paying Their Hospital Bills,” by Connor Sheets

Kimberly Leonard: The Los Angeles Times’ “The FDA Tried to Ban Flavors Years Before the Vaping Outbreak. Top Obama Officials Rejected the Plan,” by Emily Baumgaertner

Rebecca Adams: The Washington Post’s “With the Affordable Care Act’s Future in Doubt, Evidence Grows That It Has Saved Lives,” by Amy Goldstein

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Related Topics

Courts Health Industry Medicaid Multimedia Pharmaceuticals States The Health Law