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Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ Health Law Fix Misses The Spending Bill Train

Congress passed a bill to fund much of the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year just hours before its March 23 deadline. But not included in that legislation is a bipartisan bill aimed at stabilizing premiums for individuals who buy their own health insurance. That proposal collapsed in partisan rancor after lawmakers were unable to resolve a fight over abortion and other issues.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration is moving forward with potentially landmark rules that could dramatically change the tobacco industry. And the spending bill loosens two decades of restrictions on the public health impact of guns.

This week’s panelists for KHN’s “What the Health?” are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Anna Edney of Bloomberg News, Joanne Kenen of Politico and Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • In the big spending bill passed by Congress, a number of health agencies and initiatives — including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and efforts to combat opioid addiction – received additional funding.
  • With the passage of the federal spending bill now over, it seems highly unlikely that there will be another effort to stabilize the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplaces this year. One possible reason is that health care does not appear — at this point — to be much of a motivating issue for voters as they think about the midterm elections. While they did get activated by the threat of a repeal of the ACA in 2017, dealing with trying to fix the marketplaces is much more complicated and unlikely to galvanize voters in the same way.
  • The House has now passed a bill letting terminally ill patients appeal to drugmakers to get experimental medicines. But the House version of this “right-to-try” legislation is different than the Senate version that passed last year, and it’s not yet clear which bill will go forward. Patient groups and government drug officials past and present have complained the bill could do more harm than good. A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine helps explain that financial problems patients face after a hospitalization are based on more than just their health insurance status.

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

Julie Rovner: Kaiser Health News’ “The Dream Among ‘Dreamers’ To Become A Doctor Now ‘At The Mercy’ Of Courts,” by Ana B. Ibarra.

Also: CNN’s “Juul e-cigarettes and teens: ‘Health problem of the decade’?” by Ana B. Ibarra.

Joanne Kenen: Slate’s “The New Spending Bill Could Finally Pave the Way for Federal Research on Gun Violence,” by Alex Barasch.

Margo Sanger-Katz:’s The Weeds podcast, “The opioid debate: Could reversing overdoses worsen the epidemic?” by Ezra Klein and Sarah Kliff.

Anna Edney: Stat’s “That’s $425,000 right there’ — The anxious launch of a gene therapy with a record sticker price,” by Eric Boodman.

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