KHN’s ‘What’s Health?’: Biden Declares Pandemic ‘Over’


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President Joe Biden’s declaration in a national interview that the Covid-19 pandemic is “over” has complicated his own administration’s efforts to get Congress to provide more funding for treatments and vaccines and to get the public to get another booster.

Meanwhile, concerns about medical inflation returning for the first time in a decade are helping to drive up insurance premiums and private companies scrambling to claim a share of their health care costs.

This week’s panelists are KHN’s Julie Rovner, Bloomberg News’ Anna Edney, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico’s Joan Kenen and KHN’s Lauren Weber.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Biden’s comments on “60 Minutes” that the pandemic is over — even though Covid is still a problem — highlight the difficulty of communicating to the public how to transition from a public health crisis to a public health problem.
  • Much of the country may agree with the president, as fewer people regularly use face masks and the number of commercial restrictions related to Covid has decreased. But hundreds of people die every day, a high toll often overlooked.
  • Insurance premiums appear to be on the upswing this fall, even though medical spending has not been growing as fast as other parts of the economy in recent months. The increase may reflect insurers’ concern that, coming out of the Covid crisis, consumers will seek more medical services.
  • One aspect of the health business that is driving up costs is increased investment by private equity companies, which expand their reach beyond emergency room doctors and other specialties to a wider range of medical services, including gastroenterology and ophthalmology.
  • Another concern for the future of health costs is the move toward health care consolidation. Recent developments on that front included Amazon’s announcement that it was moving into primary care with its purchase of One Medical and CVS’ decision to buy home health care company Signify Health.
  • Abortion policies continue to make news in various states. West Virginia passed a law restricting almost all abortions; Several Utah Republican legislators have sent cease-and-desist letters to abortion providers in their state; And Puerto Rico has a new political party campaigning to try to curb the commonwealth’s liberal abortion laws.
  • While Democrats hope the issue of abortion will sway more voters their way in the midterm elections, it’s unclear whether overall support for abortion will be a decisive issue for voters in more conservative states and make a difference.

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

Julie Rovner: The Anchorage Daily News ‘Many Alaska pharmacies are understaffed, leading to scattered hours and patients being turned away, by Annie Berman

Joan buys: Capital B’s “Clinicians dismiss black women’s pain. The Consequences Are Dire,” by Margo Snipe

Anna Edney: The Guardian’s “Fury Over ‘Forever Chemicals’ as US states spread toxic sewage sludge,” by Tom Perkins

Lauren Weber: KHN’s “Doctors rush to use Supreme Court ruling to escape opioid charges,” by Brett Kelman

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:

  • KHN’s “Private Equity Sees Millions in Eye Care Firms Target High-Profit Approach,” by Lauren Weber
  • “‘Disaster Mode’: Emergency Rooms Across Canada Close Amid Crisis,” by Vjosa Isai, The New York Times
  • JAMA Network Open’s “Prevalence and Risk Factors of Medical Debt and Subsequent Changes in Social Determinants of Health in the United States,” Dr. David U. Himmelstein, Samuel L. Dickman, Danny McCormick, et al.
  • “Medical Bills Revealed After Sexual Assault,” by The New England Journal of Medicine. Samuel L. Dickman, Dr. Gracie Himelstein, Dr. David U. Himmelstein, Kathryn Strandberg, Alecia McGregor, Dr. Danny McCormick and Dr. Steffy Woolhandler
  • “Utah GOP Reps. Birkland, Lisonby say threats to abortion providers were just their ‘opinions,’ not a legal document,” by Emily Anderson Stern in The Salt Lake Tribune.
  • “Abortion Helps Reshape Puerto Rico Politics, Gives Conservatives an Open,” by Patricia Mazzei, The New York Times

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