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Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ HHS Leaders Take To The Stump

Three of the top officials of the Department of Health and Human Services — Secretary Alex Azar, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma — were out in force this week. All made major public appearances in an effort to reset the department’s agenda. In the wake of the failed congressional effort to “repeal and replace” the federal Affordable Care Act, the administration officials said they plan to focus on lowering the costs of health care and giving states and consumers more power.

On Capitol Hill, Congress is nearing the next deadline to finish legislation aimed at keeping the government running. But disputes remain over funding for health programs and over separate legislation that could be added to the “must-pass bill” aimed at stabilizing the individual insurance market.

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

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • As Congress looks at a federal reinsurance program to help stabilize the individual insurance market, there’s an interesting irony: The effort would require new funding that Republicans are hesitant to commit to the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces, but at the same time the program would be much like the high-risk pools that the GOP has been touting.
  • It’s not yet clear if the recent round of high-level public outreach from HHS signifies a change in the administration’s health policies, but the strategy is very different than that under former chief Tom Price.
  • The latest big-name consolidation in health care — Cigna’s announcement that it is buying Express Scripts — also suggests that insurers are looking to reduce costs by getting rid of the drug industry middlemen.
  • Arkansas received approval this week to implement work requirements for some people receiving Medicaid benefits. It’s the latest sign that this is a policy priority for the administration.

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

Julie Rovner: NPR’s “Miracle Of Hemophilia Drugs Comes At A Steep Price,” by Jenny Gold of Kaiser Health News.

Joanne Kenen: The New York Times’ “A ‘Bright Light,’ Dimmed in the Shadows of Homelessness,” by Benjamin Weiser.

Margot Sanger-Katz:’s “America’s Opioid Crisis Has Become an ‘Epidemic of Epidemics,’” by Ella Nilsen.

Anna Edney: The New York Times’ “The Price They Pay,” by Katie Thomas and Charles Ornstein.

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KFF Health News' coverage of prescription drug development, costs and pricing is supported in part by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

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