KHN’s ‘What’s Health?’: Biden Hits Democrats on Track to Record Sales


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What do pandemic preparedness, mental health services, and over-the-counter hearing aids have in common? These are all things President Joe Biden has been campaigning for this week as he tries to maintain Democrats’ majority in Congress in the Nov. 8 midterm elections.

As Democrats retain control of the House and Senate, Biden has been campaigning on his support for abortion, promising to sign a bill codifying abortion rights. Recent polls, however, show abortion as a top polling issue.

This week’s panelists are KHN’s Julie Rovner, Pink Sheets’ Sarah Carlin-Smith, CQ Roll Call’s Sandhya Raman and KHN’s Mary Agnes Carey.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Initiatives recently highlighted by the White House include preparing for future pandemics and a plan to thwart any bioterrorist attack. But the question is where that money will come from. Republicans in Congress have already blocked more public health funding for some Covid-19 and monkeypox programs.
  • Strong advocates in the Senate — Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Sens. Richard Barr (RNC) — Backs legislation to advance national public health strategy, but has little time to push through this session. Such a package through. And Burr is retiring at the end of the year, so it’s unclear who might be willing to pick up the baton on the Republican side of the aisle.
  • Although the abortion issue seemed to help Democrats’ midterm chances after the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade In June, some of that excitement may subside as the economy and other issues come to the forefront of voters’ concerns But there are few precedents in recent U.S. history that guide voters today in evaluating the issue of abortion or reacting to such a big, sudden change.
  • Even if Democrats hold the levers of power on Capitol Hill, they’ll have a tough time pushing an abortion bill through. No one expects the party to take control of the 60 seats in the Senate — needed to overcome a filibuster — and Democrats may not have the votes to get rid of the filibuster either. Almost all Republicans are expected to oppose any such effort.
  • One of the obstacles to passing national laws to protect abortion rights has been more than half a century before the decision was made Ro, the Supreme Court has upheld several state laws that limit access, such as allowing parents to be notified of a teenage abortion. Many Democrats object to these restrictions and want to exclude them from any new legislation, while other members of Congress would demand them.
  • Biden’s pledge was designed to remind voters who care about the issue that they will be heading to the polls in three weeks, but it was also a reminder to many progressives that the administration is prepared for failure and has a strategy to protect abortion rights while the Supreme Court ruling is tied up. .
  • Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita isn’t backing down from his criticism of an Indianapolis doctor who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old Ohio girl who couldn’t get the procedure there because of a strict new state law. The doctor said he followed all of Indiana’s procedures, but Rokita’s criticism continues to worry others who support abortion access. That chilling effect may be part of Rokita’s strategy.
  • Pharmacists are also concerned about their liability in states with strict abortion limits Federal officials announced investigations into CVS and Walgreens after allegations that they were not readily filling prescriptions for drugs that can be used for many medical indications but can also terminate early pregnancies.
  • An FDA advisory committee this week recommended removing the drug used to prevent preterm labor from the market. The drug, Makena, was first approved in 2011 through an accelerated pathway that requires the company to conduct follow-up studies to assess the drug’s effectiveness. This trial found that Makena did not help pregnancies progress to later gestational ages or improve the health of premature babies.
  • If the FDA were to accept the committee’s recommendation, it would be a rare move. This will be the second time that a fast-track approved drug has been withdrawn due to sponsor objections.
  • This week marks a milestone for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Starting last Monday, the government allowed over-the-counter sales of hearing aids. The move is expected to dramatically lower the price of the devices and open up a potentially huge market for consumers to now be able to afford them.

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

Julie Rovner: KHN and NPR’s “Children’s Mental Health Care Leaves Parents in Debt and Shadows,” by Yuki Noguchi

Sarah Carlin-Smith: Scientific American “Some people really are mosquito magnets, and they’re stuck that way,” by Daniel Leonard

Sandhya Raman: “Use of Straighteners and Other Hair Products and Incident Cervical Cancer” by Che-Jung Chang, et al., in Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Mary Agnes Carey: KHN’s “Blind to the Problem: How the VA’s Electronic Records System Turns Out Blind Patients,” by Darius Tahir

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:

KHN’s “Say What? Hearing aids by Phil Galewitz are available over-the-counter for as low as $199 and without a prescription.

Politico’s “‘Michigan could turn into Texas’ – Voters see stark choice in abortion referendum” by Alice Miranda Wolstein


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