KFF Health News’ ‘What the Health?’

Join Julie Rovner, chief Washington correspondent for KFF Health News, along with top health policy reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico and other media outlets to discuss the latest news and explain what the health is going on here in Washington.

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If you have a question for the podcast, you can send it to whatthehealth@kff.org.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': The Crisis Is Officially Ending, but Covid Confusion Lives On

The public health emergency declaration for covid-19 ends May 11, ushering in major changes in how Americans can access and pay for the vaccines, treatments, and tests particular to the culprit coronavirus. But not everyone will experience the same changes, creating a confusing patchwork of coverage — not unlike health coverage for other diseases. Meanwhile, outside advisers to the FDA formally recommended allowing a birth control pill to be sold without a prescription. If the FDA follows the recommendation, it would represent the first over-the-counter form of hormonal contraception. Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times, Tami Luhby of CNN, and Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico join KFF Health News’ Julie Rovner to discuss these issues and more. Plus for “extra credit” the panelists suggest health policy stories they read this week they think you should read, too.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': Health Programs Are at Risk as Debt Ceiling Cave-In Looms

A warning from the Treasury Department that the U.S. could default on its debt as soon as June 1 has galvanized lawmakers to intervene. But there is still no obvious way to reconcile Republican demands to slash federal spending with President Joe Biden’s demand to raise the debt ceiling and save the spending fight for a later date. Meanwhile, efforts to pass abortion bans in conservative states are starting to stall as some Republicans rebel against the most severe bans. Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico, Rachel Cohrs of Stat, and Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico join KFF Health News chief Washington correspondent Julie Rovner to discuss these issues and more.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': Dancing Under the Debt Ceiling

House Republicans passed their plan to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, along with major cuts to health (and other domestic) programs. Unlikely to become law, it calls for new work requirements for adults on Medicaid. Meanwhile, state efforts targeting trans people bear a striking resemblance to the fight against abortion rights. Jessie Hellmann of CQ Roll Call, Shefali Luthra of The 19th, and Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet join KFF Health News chief Washington correspondent Julie Rovner to discuss these issues and more. Also this week, Rovner interviews Renuka Rayasam, who reported the latest KFF Health News-NPR “Bill of the Month” feature, about a specialist’s demand to be paid as much as $15,000 before treating a woman’s serious pregnancy complication.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': Will They or Won’t They (Block the Abortion Pill)?

The Supreme Court is considering the future of the abortion pill mifepristone, after GenBioPro sued the FDA over limitations that effectively block generic production of the drug, a major part of the market. Congress is considering proposals that would impose Medicaid work requirements, crack down on pharmacy benefit managers, and more. And President Joe Biden moved to expand health coverage to young immigrants known as “Dreamers.” Rachel Cohrs of Stat, Sandhya Raman of CQ Roll Call, and Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico join KFF Health News’ Mary Agnes Carey to discuss these issues and more.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': The Confusing Fate of the Abortion Pill

The legality and availability of the abortion pill mifepristone is in question after a federal judge in Texas canceled the FDA’s approval of the first drug used in the two-drug medication abortion regimen. A 5th Circuit Court of Appeals panel overruled that decision in part, saying the pill should remain available, but only under the onerous restrictions in place before 2016. Meanwhile, another federal judge in Washington state issued a ruling in a separate case that conflicts with the Texas decision, ordering the FDA not to roll back any of its restrictions on the drug. Victoria Knight of Axios, Shefali Luthra of The 19th, and Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet join KFF Health News chief Washington correspondent Julie Rovner to discuss these issues and more.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': The ‘Unwinding’ of Medicaid

As of April 1, states were allowed to begin reevaluating Medicaid eligibility for millions of Americans who qualified for the program during the covid-19 pandemic but may no longer meet the income or other requirements. As many as 15 million people could lose health coverage as a result. Meanwhile, the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund is projected to stay solvent until 2031, its trustees reported, taking some pressure off of lawmakers to finally fix that program’s underlying financial weaknesses. Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Rachel Roubein of The Washington Post, and Amy Goldstein of The Washington Post join KHN’s Julie Rovner to discuss these issues and more. Also this week, Rovner interviews Daniel Chang, who reported the latest KHN-NPR “Bill of the Month” feature about a child not yet old enough for kindergarten whose medical bill landed him in collections.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': A Judicial Body Blow to the ACA

A federal judge in Texas has dealt a big setback to the Affordable Care Act. The same judge who tried in 2018 to declare the entire ACA unconstitutional has now ruled that the law’s main provisions for preventive care are unconstitutional and, therefore, unenforceable nationwide. Also this week, North Carolina became the 40th state to expand Medicaid under the ACA. Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Rachel Cohrs of Stat, and Sandhya Raman of CQ Roll Call join KHN chief Washington correspondent Julie Rovner to discuss these issues and more.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': The Policy, and Politics, of Medicare Advantage

Medicare Advantage, the private plan alternative to traditional Medicare, is embroiled in a growing controversy over whether insurers are being overpaid and what it would mean to reduce those payments. Meanwhile, even as maternal mortality in the U.S. continues to rise, providers of care to pregnant women say they’re leaving states with abortion bans that prevent them from treating pregnancy complications. Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times, Jessie Hellmann of CQ Roll Call, and Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico join KHN’s chief Washington correspondent Julie Rovner to discuss these issues and more.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': Judging the Abortion Pill

Any day now a conservative federal judge in Texas could upend the national abortion debate by requiring the FDA to rescind its approval of mifepristone, a drug approved in the U.S. more than 20 years ago that is now used in more than half of abortions nationwide. Meanwhile, a controversial study on masks gets a clarification, although it may be too late to change the public impression of what it found. Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Jessie Hellmann of CQ Roll Call, and Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet join KHN chief Washington correspondent Julie Rovner to discuss these issues and more. Plus, for “extra credit,” the panelists suggest health policy stories they read this week they think you should read, too.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': Biden Budget Touches All the Bases

Very little in the proposed budget released by the Biden administration is likely to become law, particularly with Republicans in charge of the U.S. House. Still, the document is an important statement of the president’s policy priorities, and it’s clear health programs are among those he feels are important. Meanwhile, five women who were denied abortions when their pregnancies threatened their lives are suing Texas. Shefali Luthra of The 19th, Victoria Knight of Axios, and Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times join KHN’s Julie Rovner to discuss these issues and more. Also this week, Rovner interviews Harris Meyer, who reported and wrote the two latest KHN-NPR “Bill of the Month” features. Both were about families facing unexpected bills following childbirth.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': March Medicaid Madness

President Joe Biden and Republicans in Congress spent last month sparring over whether to shield Medicare and Social Security from budget cuts — leading some to wonder if Medicaid was on the table instead. Biden and Democrats say no, but some Republicans seem eager to trim federal spending on the health program for Americans with low incomes. And ready or not, artificial intelligence is coming to medical care. Benefits, as well as unintended consequences, are likely. Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Rachel Cohrs of STAT News, and Lauren Weber of The Washington Post join KHN’s chief Washington correspondent, Julie Rovner, to discuss these issues and more.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': Senators Have Mental Health Crises, Too

When U.S. Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania checked himself into the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment of depression this month, he got an unusual reaction from his colleagues in Congress: compassion. It’s a far cry from how politicians once kept their mental health issues under wraps at all costs. Meanwhile, GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley is stirring up controversy by proposing that all politicians over age 75 be required to pass a mental competency test to hold office. Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico, Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet, and Rachel Roubein of The Washington Post join KHN chief Washington correspondent Julie Rovner to discuss these issues and more. Plus, for “extra credit,” the panelists suggest health policy stories they read this week that they think you should read, too.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': The Kids Are Not OK

A new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that teenagers, particularly girls, are reporting all-time high rates of violence and profound mental distress. Meanwhile, both sides in the abortion debate are anxiously waiting for a district court decision in Texas that could effectively revoke the FDA’s 22-year-old approval of the abortion pill mifepristone. Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Sandhya Raman of CQ Roll Call, and Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico join KHN’s chief Washington correspondent, Julie Rovner, to discuss these issues and more.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': A Health-Heavy State of the Union

President Joe Biden’s 2023 State of the Union address leaned heavily on health care issues. Biden took a victory lap for recent accomplishments like capping prescription drug costs for seniors on Medicare. He also urged Congress to make permanent the boosted premium subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, and he sparred with Republicans on threats to cut Social Security and Medicare. Also this week, both sides in the abortion debate are bracing for a court decision out of Texas that could, at least temporarily, make the abortion pill mifepristone illegal nationwide. Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Rachel Cohrs of Stat, and Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet join KHN chief Washington correspondent Julie Rovner to discuss these issues and more. Also this week, Rovner interviews Kate Baicker of the University of Chicago about a possible middle ground in the effort to get universal health insurance coverage.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': Au Revoir, Public Health Emergency

The Biden administration this week announced it would let the covid-19 public health emergency lapse on May 11, even as the Republican-led House was voting to immediately eliminate the special authorities of the so-called PHE. Meanwhile, anti-abortion forces are pressuring legislators to both tighten abortion restrictions and pay for every birth in the nation. Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times, Rachel Roubein of The Washington Post, and Victoria Knight of Axios join KHN’s chief Washington correspondent Julie Rovner to discuss these issues and more. Also this week, Rovner interviews Hannah Wesolowski of the National Alliance on Mental Illness about the rollout of the national 988 suicide prevention hotline.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': Part II: The State of the Abortion Debate 50 Years After ‘Roe’

In Part II of this special two-part episode, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Sandhya Raman of CQ Roll Call, and Sarah Varney of KHN join KHN chief Washington correspondent Julie Rovner to discuss how the abortion debate has evolved since the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to abortion in 2022, and what might be the flashpoints for 2023. Also, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their most memorable reproductive health stories from the last year.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': Part I: The State of the Abortion Debate 50 Years After ‘Roe’

In Part I of this special two-part episode, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Sandhya Raman of CQ Roll Call, and Sarah Varney of KHN join KHN chief Washington correspondent Julie Rovner to discuss how the abortion debate has evolved since the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to abortion in 2022, and what might be the flashpoints for 2023. Also in this episode, Rovner interviews Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, about changing reproductive policies in the states.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': As US Bumps Against Debt Ceiling, Medicare Becomes a Bargaining Chip

The debt ceiling crisis facing Washington puts Medicare and other popular entitlement programs squarely on the negotiating table this year as newly empowered Republicans demand spending cuts. Meanwhile, as more Americans than ever have health insurance, the nation’s health care workforce is straining under the load. Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico, Tami Luhby of CNN, and Victoria Knight of Axios join KHN’s chief Washington correspondent Julie Rovner to discuss these topics and more. Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read, too.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': GOP House Opens With Abortion Agenda

Leaders of the new Republican-led U.S. House kicked off their legislative agenda with two bills supported by anti-abortion groups. While neither is likely to become law, the move demonstrates how abortion will continue to be an issue in Washington. Meanwhile, as open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act nears its end in most states, the number of Americans covered by the plans hits a new high. Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, and Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet join KHN’s Julie Rovner to discuss these topics and more. Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read, too.

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': Year-End Bill Holds Big Health Changes

The year-end spending bill passed by Congress in late December contains a wide array of health-related provisions, including a structure for states to begin to disenroll people on Medicaid whose coverage has been maintained through the pandemic. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is taking steps to make the abortion pill more widely available. Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico, Rachel Cohrs of Stat, and Rachel Roubein of The Washington Post join KHN’s chief Washington correspondent Julie Rovner to discuss these topics and more. Also this week, Rovner interviews Mark Kreidler, who reported and wrote the latest KHN-NPR “Bill of the Month” feature about a billing mix-up that took about a year to sort out.