KHN’s ‘What’s Health?’: Judge takes aim at Affordable Care Act


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The same federal judge in Texas who tried — unsuccessfully — to overturn the entire Affordable Care Act in 2018 ruled that parts of the health law’s preventive care benefits package were unconstitutional. But it will be a long time, with many more court actions, before it’s clear whether the decision will change how the law works.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Veterans Affairs, after weeks of deliberations, decided to provide abortions for patients and some dependents in certain circumstances. And in Michigan, a closely watched ballot measure on abortion scheduled for this fall may not get a vote because of a printing problem.

This week’s panelists are KHN’s Julie Rovner, Politico’s Alice Miranda Wolstein, Pink Sheets’ Sarah Carlin-Smith, and Joan Kennen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • A decision announced this week by a federal judge in Texas could have a major impact on a popular provision of the Affordable Care Act that gives consumers free access to preventive care tests and treatments. Judge Reed O’Connor said the group’s determination of which services are eligible for that coverage does not have proper authorization from Congress.
  • O’Connor also ruled that workers with deeply held religious beliefs would not have to provide HIV prevention drugs if employers believed those drugs encouraged inappropriate sexual behavior. The judge has not yet announced how he will suggest remedying these two issues.
  • The Biden administration announced Thursday that it is rescinding a rule implemented by the Trump administration that limited the ability of immigrants to apply for permanent status in the United States if they received government subsidies.
  • The US Department of Veterans Affairs said it will now offer limited abortions to veterans and their eligible dependents at VA facilities that have restricted access to the procedure. This care is available to veterans and dependents if the pregnancy is the result of rape or molestation or threatens the woman’s life.
  • In Michigan, a state judge has ruled that a 1931 ban on abortion is unconstitutional, but that is expected to be appealed. Meanwhile, abortion-rights advocates are seeking to get a ballot measure that would guarantee access approved for consideration in the November election. Supporters have enough signatures, but the measure was drafted with a typographical error that could have invalidated it. The court is expected to give its verdict soon.
  • The new Covid-19 booster immunization is being rolled out at health centers and pharmacies across the country. The administration is encouraging anyone 12 and older (who has not been vaccinated in the past two months) to get the shot. Administration health experts suggest that this is the start of efforts to simplify the vaccination schedule and hope that after that most people will only need one shot a year. But that goal will depend on how the virus continues to evolve.
  • The Senate is back in action on Capitol Hill, and the House returns next week. Lawmakers still need to come up with funding for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Most people expect them to turn into a temporary funding system for the short term.
  • Three senators are out with Covid, and a key Republican, Sen. Richard Barr of North Carolina, is absent due to a hip replacement. His absence comes at an inopportune time as he worked with Democrats to try to push through a bill that would have expanded the FDA’s ability to charge user fees to drugmakers to help pay for the agency’s evaluation of drugs. He also helped push a bill with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to fund more efforts for public health preparedness.

Also this week, Rovner interviews KHN’s Lauren Sauser, who reports and writes in the latest KHN-NPR “Bill of the Month” installment, about a patient who needed a biopsy who had done all the right things beforehand and still had one. Bill stuck with the monster. If you have a large or outrageous medical bill that you would like to send us, you can do so here.

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’s “When Does Life Begin? As State Law Defines It, Science, Politics, and Religion Collide,” by Sarah Varney

Alice Miranda Wolstein: “When Private Equity Takes Over a Nursing Home,” by Yasmin Rafiei in The New Yorker

From Joan: Marilyn W. ProPublica’s “‘The Human Mind Wasn’t Built for This,'” by Thompson and Jenny Dame.

Sarah Carlin-Smith: Stats “Study Raises Concerns About Monkeypox Vaccine Effectiveness,” by Helen Brunswell

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:


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