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KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': For ACA Plans, It’s Time to Shop Around
KFF Health News' 'What the Health?'

For ACA Plans, It’s Time to Shop Around

Episode 321
Mary Agnes Carey photo
Mary Agnes Carey
KFF Health News

In most states, open enrollment for plans on the Affordable Care Act exchange — also known as Obamacare — began Nov. 1 and lasts until Dec. 15, though some states go longer. With premiums expected to increase by a median of 6%, consumers who get their health coverage through the federal or state ACA marketplaces are encouraged to shop around. Because of enhanced subsidies and cost-sharing assistance, they might save money by switching plans.

Meanwhile, Ohio is yet again an election-year battleground state. A ballot issue that would provide constitutional protection to reproductive health decisions has become a flashpoint for misinformation and message testing.

This week’s panelists are Mary Agnes Carey of KFF Health News, Jessie Hellmann of CQ Roll Call, Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico, and Rachana Pradhan of KFF Health News.


Jessie Hellmann
CQ Roll Call
Joanne Kenen
Johns Hopkins University and Politico
Rachana Pradhan
KFF Health News

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Open enrollment for most plans on the Affordable Care Act exchange — also known as Obamacare — began Nov. 1 and lasts until Dec. 15, though enrollment lasts longer in some states. With premiums expected to increase by a median of 6%, consumers are advised to shop around. Enhanced subsidies are still in place post-pandemic, and enhanced cost-sharing assistance is available to those who qualify. Many people who have lost health coverage may be eligible for subsidies.
  • In Ohio, voters will consider a ballot issue that would protect abortion rights under the state constitution. This closely watched contest is viewed by anti-abortion advocates as a testing ground for messaging on the issue. Abortion is also key in other races, such as for Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court and Virginia’s state assembly, where the entire legislature is up for election.
  • Earlier this week, President Joe Biden issued an executive order that calls on federal agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services, to step into the artificial intelligence arena. AI is a buzzword at every health care conference or panel these days, and the technologies are already in use in health care, with insurers using AI to help make coverage decisions. There is also the recurring question, after many hearings and much discussion: Why hasn’t Congress acted to regulate AI yet?
  • Our health care system — in particular the doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel — hasn’t recovered from the pandemic. Workers are still burned out, and some have participated in work stoppages to make the point that they can’t take much more. Will this be the next area for organized labor, fresh from successful strikes against automakers, to grow union membership? Take pharmacy workers, for instance, who are beginning to stage walkouts to push for improvements.
  • And, of course, for the next installment of the new podcast feature, “This Week in Medical Misinformation:” The official government website of the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate is attacking the proposed abortion amendment in what some experts have said is a highly unusual and misleading manner. Headlines on its “On The Record” blog include “Abortion Is Killing the Black Community” and say the ballot measure would cause “unimaginable atrocities.” The Associated Press termed the blog’s language “inflammatory.”

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

Mary Agnes Carey: Stat News’ “The Health Care Issue Democrats Can’t Solve: Hospital Reform,” by Rachel Cohrs.

Jessie Hellmann: The Washington Post’s “Drugstore Closures Are Leaving Millions Without Easy Access to a Pharmacy,” by Aaron Gregg and Jaclyn Peiser.

Joanne Kenen: The Washington Post’s “Older Americans Are Dominating Like Never Before, but What Comes Next?” by Marc Fisher.

Rachana Pradhan: The New York Times’ “How a Lucrative Surgery Took Off Online and Disfigured Patients,” by Sarah Kliff and Katie Thomas.

[Editor’s note: This transcript was generated using both transcription software and a human’s light touch. It has been edited for style and clarity.]

Mary Agnes Carey: Hello, and welcome back to “What the Health?” I’m Mary Agnes Carey, partnerships editor for KFF Health News, filling in this week for Julie Rovner. I’m joined by some of the best and smartest health reporters in Washington. We’re taping this week on Thursday, Nov. 2, at 10 a.m. ET. As always, news happens fast, and things might’ve changed by the time you hear this.

We are joined today via video conference by Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico.

Joanne Kenen: Hi, everybody.

Carey: Jessie Hellmann, of CQ Roll Call.

Jessie Hellmann: Hey there.

Carey: And my KFF Health News colleague Rachana Pradhan.

Rachana Pradhan: Thanks for having me.

Carey: It’s great to have you here. It’s great to have all of you here. Let’s start today with the Affordable Care Act. If you’re interested in enrolling in an ACA plan for coverage that begins Jan. 1, it’s time for you to sign up. The ACA’s open enrollment period began Nov. 1 and lasts through Dec. 15 for plans offered on the federal exchange, but some state-based ACA exchanges have longer enrollment periods. Consumers can go online, call an 800 number, get help from an insurance broker or from other ACA navigators and others who are trained to help you research your coverage options, help you find out if you qualify for a subsidy, or if you should consider changing your ACA plan.

What can consumers expect this year during open enrollment? Are there more or fewer choices? Are premiums increasing?

Hellmann: So, I saw the average premium will increase about 6%. So people are definitely going to want to shop around and might not necessarily just want to stick with the same plan that they had last year. And we’re also going to continue seeing the enhanced premiums, subsidies, that Congress passed last year that they kind of stuck with after the pandemic. So subsidies might be more affordable for people — I’m sorry, premiums might be more affordable for people. There’s also some enhanced cost-sharing assistance.

Carey: So it kind of underscores the idea that if you’re on the ACA exchange, you really should go back and take a look, right? Because there might be a different deal out there waiting.

Kenen: I think the wrinkle — this may be what you were just about to ask — but the wrinkle this year is the Medicaid disenroll, the unwinding. There are approximately 10 million, 10 million people, who’ve been disenrolled from Medicaid. Many of them are eligible for Medicaid, and at some point hopefully they’ll figure out how to get them back on. But some of those who are no longer eligible for Medicaid will probably be eligible for heavily subsidized ACA plans if they understand that and go look for it.

This population has been hard to reach and hard to communicate with for a number of reasons, some caused by the health system, not the people, or the Medicaid system, the states. They do have a fallback; they have some extra options. But a lot of those people should click and see what they’re eligible for.

Pradhan: One thing, kind of piggybacking on what Joanne said, that I’m really interested in: Of course, right now is a time when people can actively sign up for ACA plans. But the people who lost Medicaid, or are losing Medicaid — technically, the state Medicaid agency, if they think that a person might qualify for an ACA plan, they’re supposed to automatically transfer those people’s applications to their marketplace, whether it’s or a state-based exchange. But the data we have so far shows really low enrollment rates into ACA plans from those batches of people that are being automatically transferred. So I’m really curious about whether that’s going to improve and what does enrollment look like in a few months to see if those rates actually increase.

Carey: I’m also wondering what you’re all picking up on the issue of the provider networks. How many doctors and hospitals and other providers are included in these plans? Are they likely to be smaller for 2024? Are they getting bigger? Is there a particular trend you can point to?

I know that sometimes insurers might reduce the number of providers, narrow that network, for example to lower costs. So I guess that remains to be seen here.

Kenen: I haven’t seen data on the ACA plans, and maybe one of the other podcasters has. I haven’t seen that. But we do know that in certain cities, including the one we all live in [Washington, D.C.], many doctors are stopping, are no longer taking insurance. I mean, it’s not most, but the number of people who are dropping being in-network in some of the major networks that we are used to, I think we have all encountered that in our own lives and our friends’ and families’ lives. There are doctors opting out, or they’re in but their practices are closed; they’re not taking more patients, they’re full.

I don’t want to pretend I know how much worse it is or isn’t in ACA plans, but we do know that this is a trend for multiple years. In some parts of the country, it’s getting worse.

Hellmann: Yeah, the Biden administration has been doing some stuff to try to address some of these problems. Last year there were some rules requiring health plans have enough in-network providers that meet specific driving time and distance requirements. So, they are trying to address this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these plans’ networks are still pretty narrow.

Pradhan: Yeah. I mean, I think the concern for a while now with ACA plans is because insurance companies can’t do the things that they did a decade ago to limit premium increases, etc., one of the ways they can keep their costs down is to curtail the number of available providers for someone who signs up for one of these plans. So, like Jessie, I’m curious about how those new rules from last year will affect whether people see meaningful differences in the availability of in-network providers under specific plans.

Carey: That and many other trends are worth watching as we head into the open enrollment season. But right now, I’d like to turn to another topic in the news, and that’s abortion. “What the Health?” listeners know that last week your host, Julie Rovner, created a new segment that she’s calling “This Week in Health Care Misinformation.” Here’s this week’s entry.

A measure before Ohio voters next Tuesday, that’s Nov. 7, would amend Ohio’s constitution to guarantee the right to reproductive health care decisions, including abortion. Abortion rights opponents say the measure is crafted too broadly and should not be approved. The official government website of the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate is attacking the proposed abortion amendment in what some experts have said is a highly unusual and misleading manner. Headlines on the “On The Record” blog — and that’s what it’s called, “On The Record”; this is on the Ohio state website — it makes several claims about the measure that legal and medical experts have told The Associated Press were false or misleading. Headlines on this site include, and I’m quoting here, “Abortion Is Killing the Black Community” and that the proposal would cause, again, another quote, “unimaginable atrocities.” Isn’t it unusual for an official government website to operate in this manner?

Pradhan: I think yes, as far as we know, and that’s really scary. It’s hard enough these days to sort out what is legitimate and what isn’t. We’ve seen AI [artificial intelligence] used in other political campaign materials in the forms of altered videos, photographs, etc. But now this is a really terrifying prospect, I think, that you could provide misinformation to voters — particularly in close races, I would say, that you could really swing an outcome based on what people are being told.

Kenen: The other thing that’s being said in Ohio by the Republicans is that the measure would allow, quote, “partial-birth abortions,” which is a particular — it’s a phrase used to describe a particular type of late-term abortion that’s illegal. Congress passed legislation, I think it’s 15 to 20 years ago now, and it went through the courts and it’s been upheld by the courts. This measure in Ohio does not undo federal law in the state of Ohio or anywhere else. So that’s not true. And that’s another thing circulating.

Carey: This discussion is very important. And to Rachana’s point, how voters perceive this is very important because Ohio is serving as a testing ground for political messaging headed into the presidential race next year. And abortion groups are trying to qualify initiatives in more states in 2024, potentially including Arizona. So even if you haven’t followed this story closely, I mean, how do you think this tactic may influence voters? Again, you’re talking about something — when you hit a news tab on an official state website, you come to this blog. Do you think voters will reject it? Could it possibly influence them — as you were talking about earlier, tip the results?

Kenen: Well, I don’t think we know how it’s going to tip, because I don’t know how many people actually read the state legislature blog.

Carey: Yeah, that could be an issue.

Kenen: Although, and the coverage of it, one would hope, in the state media would point out that some of these claims are untrue. But I mean, it’s taking — you know, the Republicans have lost every single state ballot initiative on abortion, and it’s been a winning issue for the Democrats and they’re trying to reframe it a little bit, because while polls have shown — not just polls, but voting behavior has shown — many Americans want abortion to remain legal, they aren’t as comfortable with late-term abortions, with abortions in the final weeks or months of pregnancy. So this is trying to shift it from a general debate over banning abortion, which is not popular in the U.S., to an area where there’s softer support for abortions later during pregnancy.

And polls have shown really strong support for abortion rights. But this is an area that is not as strong, or a little bit more open to maybe moving people. And if the Republicans succeed in portraying this as falsely allowing a procedure that the country has decided to ban, I think that’s part of what’s going on, is to shift the definition, shift the terms of debate.

Carey: As we know, Ohio is not the only state where abortion is taking center stage. For example, in Pennsylvania, abortion is a key issue in the state Supreme Court justice election, and it’s a test case of political fallout from the Supreme Court, the United States Supreme Court’s decision last summer to overrule Roe v. Wade. In Texas, the state is accusing Planned Parenthood of defrauding the Republican-led state’s Medicaid health insurance program. And in Kansas, in a victory for abortion rights advocates, a judge put a new state law on medication abortions on hold and blocked other restrictions governing the use and distribution of these medications and imposed waiting periods.

And of course, abortion remains a huge issue on Capitol Hill, with House Republicans inserting language into many spending bills to restrict abortion access, to block funding for HIV prevention, contraception, global health programs, and so on. So, which of these cases, or others maybe that you are watching, do you think will be the strongest indicators of how the abortion battle will shake out for the rest of this year and into 2024?

Pradhan: I’m actually going to make a plug for another one that we didn’t mention, which is for our local, D.C.-area listeners, Virginia next week has a state legislative election. So, Gov. [Glenn] Youngkin of course is still — he’s not up for reelection; he’ll sit one single four-year term, but the entire Virginia General Assembly is up for election. So currently Gov. Youngkin says that he wants to institute a 15-week abortion ban, but Republicans would need to control every branch of government, which they do not currently, but it is possible that they will after next week. So that would be a big change as you see abortion restrictions that have proliferated, especially throughout the South and the Midwest. But now Virginia so far has not, in the wake of last year’s Dobbs [v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization] decision, has not imposed greater restrictions on access to abortion.

But I think the 15-week limit also provides kind of a test case, I think, for whether Republicans might be able to coalesce around that standard as opposed to something more aggressive like, say, a total ban or a six-week ban that’s obviously been instituted in certain states but I think at a national level right now is a nonstarter. I’m pretty interested in seeing what happens even in a lot of our own backyard.

Kenen: Because Virginia’s really tightly divided. I mean, the last few elections. This was a traditional Republican state that has become a purple state. And the last few state legislature elections, didn’t they once decide by drawing lots? It was so close. I mean it’s flipped back. It’s really, really, really tiny margins in both houses. I think Rachana lives there and knows the details better than I do. But it’s razor-thin, and it was Republican-controlled for a long time and Democrats, what, have one-seat-in-the-Senate control? Something like that, a very narrow margin. And they may or may not keep it.

Pradhan: Joanne, your memory’s so good, because they had —

Kenen: Because I edited your stories.

Pradhan: You did. I know. And they had to draw names out of a bowl that was— it was in a museum. It was something that a Virginia potter had made and they had to take it out of a museum exhibit. I mean, it was the most — it’s really fascinating what democracy can look like in this country when it comes down to it. It was such a bizarre situation to decide control of the state House. So you’re very right, so it’s very close.

Kenen: It’s also worth pointing out, as we have in prior weeks, that 15 weeks is now being offered as this sort of moderate position, when 15 weeks — a year ago, that’s what the Supreme Court case was really about, the case we know as Dobbs. It was about a law in Mississippi that was a 15-week ban. And what happened is once the courts gave the states the go-ahead, they went way further than 15 weeks. I don’t know how many states have a 15-week ban, not many. The anti-abortion states now have sort of six weeks-ish or less. North Carolina has 12, with some conditions. So 15 weeks is now Youngkin saying, “Here’s the middle ground.” I mean, even when Congress was trying to do a ban, it was 20, so — when they had those symbolic votes, I think it was always 20. He’s changed the parameters of what we’re talking about politically.

Carey: Jessie, how do you see the abortion riders on these appropriations bills, particularly in the House. House Republicans have put a lot of this abortion language into the approps bills. How do you see that shaking out, resolving itself, as we look forward?

Hellmann: It is hard to see how some of these riders could become law, like the one in the FDA-Ag approps bill that would basically ban mailing of mifepristone, which can be used for abortions. Even some moderate Republicans who are really against that rider — I mean just a handful, but it’s enough where it should just be a nonstarter. So I’m just not sure how I can see a compromise on that right now. And I definitely don’t see how that could pass the Senate. So it’s just everything has become so much more contentious since the Roe decision. And things that weren’t contentious before, like the PEPFAR [The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] reauthorization, are now being bogged down in abortion politics. It’s hard to see how the two sides can come to an agreement at this point.

Carey: Yes, contentious issues are everywhere. So, let’s switch from abortion to AI. Earlier this week, President Biden issued an executive order that calls on several federal agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services, to create regulations governing the use of AI, including in health care. What uses of AI now in health care, or even future uses, are causing the greatest concern and might be the greatest focus of this executive order? And I’m thinking of things that work well in AI or are accepted, and things that maybe aren’t accepted at this point or people are concerned about.

Kenen: I think that none of us on the panel are super AI experts.

Carey: Nor am I, nor am I.

Kenen: But we are all following it and learning about it the way everybody else is. I think this is something that Vice President Harris pointed out in a summit in London on AI yesterday. There’s a lot of focus on the existential, cosmic scary stuff, like: Is it going to kill us all? But there’s also practical things right now, particularly in health care, like using algorithms to deny people care. And there’s been some exposés of insurance doing batch denials based on an AI formula. There’s concerns about — since AI is based on the data we have and the data, that’s the foundation, that’s the edifice. So the data we have is flawed, there’s racial bias in the data we have. So how do you make sure the algorithms in the future don’t bake in the inequities we already have? And there’s questions too about AI is already being used clinically, and how well does it really work? How reliable are the studies and the data? What do we know or not know before we start?

I mean, it has huge potential. There are risks, but it also has huge potential. So how do we make sure that we don’t have exaggerated happy-go-lucky mistrust in technology before we actually understand what it can and cannot do and what kind of safeguards the government —and the European governments as well; it’s not just us, and they may do a better job — are going to be in place so that we have the good without … The goal is sort of, to be really simplistic about it, is let’s have the good without the bad, but doing it is challenging.

Carey: Oh, Rachana, please.

Pradhan: Well, all I was going to say was nowadays you cannot go to a health care conference or a panel discussion without there being some session about AI. I guess it demonstrates the level of interest. It kind of reminds me of every few years there’s a new health care unicorn. So there was ACOs [accountable care organizations] for a long time; that’s all people would talk about. Or value-based care, like every conference you went to. And then with covid, and for other reasons, everyone is really big on equity, equity, equity for a long time. And now it’s like AI is everywhere.

So like Joanne said, I mean, we have everything from a chatbot that pops up on your screen to answer even benign questions about insurance. That’s AI. It’s a form of AI. It’s not generative AI, but it is. And yeah, I mean, insurance companies use all sorts of algorithms and data to make decisions about what claims they’re going to pay and not pay. So yeah, I think we all just have to exercise some skepticism when we’re trying to examine how this might be used for good or bad.

Kenen: I just want a robot to clean my kitchen. Why doesn’t anyone just handle the … Silicon Valley does the really important stuff.

Carey: That would be a use for good in your house, in my house, in all our houses.

Kenen: Yeah.

Carey: So, while we’re understandably and admittedly not AI experts, we are experts on Congress here. And the president did say in his announcement earlier this week that Congress still needs to act on this issue. Why haven’t they done it yet? They’ve had all these hearings and all this conversation about crafting rules around privacy, online safety, and emerging technologies. Why no action so far? And any bets on whether it may or may not happen in the near future?

Hellmann: I think they don’t know what to do. We’ve only, as a country, started really talking about AI at kitchen tables, to use a cliche, this year. And so Congress is always behind the eight ball on these issues. And even if they are having these member meetings and talking about it, I think it could take a long time for them to actually pass any meaningful legislation that isn’t just directing an agency to do a study or directing an agency to issue regulations or something that could have a really big impact.

Carey: Excellent. Thank you. So let’s touch briefly — before we wrap, I really do want to get to this point and some of the stuff we continue to see in the news about health care workers under fire. It’s certainly not easy to be a health care worker these days. New findings published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that, in 2022, 13.4% of health workers said they had been harassed at work. That’s up from 6.4% in 2018. That’s more than double the rate of workplace harassment compared to pre-pandemic times, the CDC found.

We’ve talked about this before. It’s worth revisiting again. What is going on with our health care workforce? And what do these kind of findings mean for keeping talented people in the workforce, attracting new people to join?

Hellmann: Has anyone actually caught a break after the pandemic?

Carey: That’s a good point.

Hellmann: I mean, covid is still out there, but I don’t think that our health care system has really recovered from that. People have left the workforce because they’re burned out. People still feel burned out who stuck around, and I don’t know if they really got any breaks or the support that they needed. There’s just kind of this recognition of people being burned out. But I don’t know how much action there is to address the issue.

I feel like sometimes that leads to more burnout, when you see executives and leaders acknowledging the problem but then not really doing much to address it.

Carey: Well, that’s certainly been the complaint by pharmacy staff and others and pharmacists at some of the large drugstore chains, retail chains, that have gone out on strike. They’ve had these two- and three-day strikes recently. So, I’m assuming that will continue, unfortunately, for all the reasons that Jessie just laid out.

Pradhan: Actually, kind of going back to the strikes from pharmacists, I was thinking about this earlier because we’ve seen recently, I think separately in the news when it comes to labor unions, and maybe this will have some bearing, maybe not, but the United Auto Workers strike — I mean, they extracted some of the largest concessions from automakers as far as pay increases. And people are seeing, they really got a victory after striking for weeks. And I think people, at least the coverage that I’ve seen has talked about how that union win might not just catalyze greater labor union involvement, not just in the auto industry but in other parts of the country and other sectors.

And so, I’m not sure what percentage of pharmacists are part of labor unions, but I think people have sort of said more recently that organized labor is having a moment, or has been, that it has not in a while. And so, I’ll be fascinated to see whether there’s a greater appetite among pharmacists to actually be part of a labor union and sort of whether that results in greater demands of some of these corporate chains. As we know — we can talk about this I think in a little bit — but the corporate chains have really taken over pharmacies in America, and rural pharmacies are really dying off. And so that has a lot of important implications for the country.

Kenen: I think the problems with the health care workforce are not all things that labor unions can address, because some of it is how many hours you work and what kind of shifts you have and how often they change and things that — yeah, I mean, labor is having a moment, Rachana’s right. But they’re also tied to larger demographic trends, with an aging society. It’s tied to, our whole system is geared toward the, like dean of nursing at [Johns] Hopkins Sarah Szanton is always talking about, it’s not so much not having enough nurses; we’ve got them in the wrong places. If we did more preventive care and community care and chronic disease management in the community, you wouldn’t have so many people in the hospital in the first place where the workforce crisis is.

So some of these larger issues of how do we have a better health care system; labor negotiations can address aspects of it. Nursing ratios are controversial, but that’s a labor issue. It’s a regulatory issue as well. But our whole system’s so screwed up now that Jessie’s right, nobody recovered from the strains of the pandemic in many sectors, probably all sectors of society, but obviously particularly brutal on the health care workforce. We didn’t get to hit pause and say, OK, nobody get sick for six months while we all recover. The unmet psychiatric needs. I mean, it’s just tons of stuff is wrong, and it’s manifesting itself in a workforce crisis. So maybe if you don’t have anyone to take care of you, maybe people will pay attention to the larger underlying reasons for that.

Carey: That’s an issue I’m sure we will talk more about in the future because it’s just not going anywhere. But for now, we’re going to turn to our extra credit segment. That’s when we each recommend a story we read this week and think you should read, too. As always, don’t worry if you miss it. We will post the links on the podcast page at and in our show notes on your phone or other mobile device.

Joanne, why don’t you go first this week?

Kenen: Well, speaking of which, after we just talked about, there’s a piece in The Washington Post by Marc Fisher. It has a long headline: “Older Americans Are Dominating Like Never Before, but What Comes Next?” And basically it’s talking about not so much the nursing and physician workforce, although that’s part of it, just the workforce in general. We have more people working longer, and in areas where there’s shortages, there’s nothing wrong with having old people. A lot of communities have shortages of school bus drivers. So if you have a lot of older school bus drivers and they’re safe and like kids and like driving the bus, more power to them. If you’re 55 and you can drive a school bus full of nine-year-olds, middle schoolers, so much more.

Carey: Good luck with that one.

Kenen: But some of the physician specialties — one of the people in the story is a palliative care physician who retired and isn’t happy retired and wants to go back to work. And that’s another area where we need more people. But it’s a cultural shift, like, who’s doing what when, and how does it affect the younger generation? Although there was a reference to Angelina Jolie being on the old side at 48. I guess for an actress that might be old. But that wasn’t the gist of it. But we have this shift toward older people in many places, not just Trump and Biden. It’s sort of the whole workforce.

Carey: Got it. Jessie.

Hellmann: My extra credit is also a story from The Washington Post. It’s called “Drugstore Closures Are Leaving Millions Without Easy Access to a Pharmacy.” Focused specifically on some of the big national chains like CVS and Walgreens and Rite Aid, which have really kind of dominated the drugstore space over the past few decades. But now they are dealing with the repercussions from all these lawsuits that are being filed alleging they had a role in the opioid epidemic. And the story just kind of looks at the consequences of that.

These aren’t just places people get prescriptions. They rely on them for food, for medical advice, especially in rural and underserved areas. So yeah, I just thought it was a really interesting look at that issue.

Carey: Rachana?

Pradhan: So my extra credit is a story in The New York Times called “How a Lucrative Surgery Took Off Online and Disfigured Patients.” It’s horrifying. It’s a story about surgeons who are performing a complex type of hernia surgery and evidently are learning their techniques, or at least a large share of them are learning their techniques, by watching videos on social media. And the techniques that are demonstrated there are not exactly high quality. So the story digs into resulting harm to patients.

Kenen: And it’s unnecessary surgery in the first place — for many, not all. But it’s a more complicated procedure than they even need in a large portion of these patients.

Carey: My extra credit is written by Rachel Cohrs of Stat, and she’s a frequent guest on this program. Her story is called “The Health Care Issue Democrats Can’t Solve: Hospital Reform.” While Democrats have seized on lowering health care costs as a politically winning issue — they’ve taken on insurers and the drug industry, for example — Rachel writes that hospitals may be a health care giant they’re unable to confront alone, and they being the Democrats. As we know, hospitals are major employers in many congressional districts. There’s been a lot of consolidation in the industry in recent years. And hospital industry lobbyists have worked hard to preserve the image that they are the good guys in the health care industry, Rachel writes, while others, like pharma, are not.

Well, that’s our show. As always, if you enjoy the podcast, you can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We’d appreciate it if you left us a review; that helps others find us too. Special thanks, as always, to our engineer, Francis Ying. Also, as always, you can email us your comments or questions. We’re at, or you could still find me on X. I am @maryagnescarey. Rachana?

Pradhan: I am @rachanadpradhan on X.

Carey: Jessie.

Hellmann: @jessiehellmann.

Carey: And Joanne.

Kenen: I’m occasionally on X, @JoanneKenen, and I’m trying to get more on Threads, @joannekenen1.

Carey: We’ll be back in your feed next week, and until then, be healthy.


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