KHN’s ‘What’s Health?’: Voters get their views on a range of health issues

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Voters in several states will be asked to vote on ballot questions related to abortion, but that’s not the only health issue that will be decided on Election Day. Other ballot propositions would ask voters whether they want to curb interest on medical loans (Arizona), expand Medicaid (South Dakota), or make health care a right under the state constitution (Oregon).

Meanwhile, plaintiffs in one lawsuit allege that the Affordable Care Act’s requirements to provide preventive drugs against HIV are expanding their scope. Now they want a judge to rule that all preventative benefits under the health law are unconstitutional.

This week’s panelists are KHN’s Julie Rovner, Politico’s Alice Miranda Wolstein, CQ Roll Call’s Jessie Hellman, and Axios’ Victoria Knight.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • The South Dakota ballot measure is the latest effort by conservative state health care advocates to expand Medicaid despite resistance from state officials. South Dakota’s governor and state legislature have refused to take this step. In recent years, voters in several states, including Idaho, Missouri and Utah, have pushed expansion through voter initiatives over officials’ objections.
  • Arizona’s unique ballot measure would limit medical loan interest rates, among other things. It’s an under-the-radar issue, but if Arizona passes the measure, it could encourage other states to try similar initiatives.
  • Some states will also vote on abortion. In Kentucky, the legislature introduced a constitutional amendment that says abortion rights are not protected by the state constitution and does not require government funding for abortions. Voters in another red state, Kansas, surprised political pundits last summer when they overwhelmingly voted to maintain abortion access rights, so the Kentucky results will be closely watched. If voters reject the measure, it will be the first Southern state where voters have turned against the tide of legislation to restrict abortion.
  • On the other hand, two reliably blue states — California and Vermont — are asking voters to include abortion rights in state constitutions. Controversy over the ballot measure, however, has raised questions about whether fetal viability should be the criterion when an abortion cannot be performed. Neither groups supporting expanded access to abortion rights nor those opposed to abortion said they were comfortable making decisions about abortion using a viability standard.
  • In Washington, D.C., news, the Defense Department’s announcement that it will cover travel expenses and provide leave for service members seeking out-of-state abortions is likely to upset Republicans on Capitol Hill. This could make final negotiations on the defense spending bill, which needs to be settled before the end of the year, tense. The tone of those talks will depend on the outcome of elections next month.
  • Litigation challenging the ACA’s preventive care mandate continues to mount in federal court in Texas. Judge Reid O’Connor has already ruled that the plaintiffs’ religious views should exempt them from providing some preventive care, including some HIV drugs. The significance of the case may still be months away, but the plaintiffs asked the judge to strike down all preventive care provisions and make the ruling apply nationwide. If so, the case will undoubtedly be appealed.
  • Studies this week show that the Covid-19 pandemic has had an adverse effect on children: Test scores across the country have fallen. And a Washington Post analysis found that the Covid death rate among white Americans is now higher than among black residents. Those data points raise concerns this fall as public health officials face difficulty encouraging people to get the latest Covid boosters, let alone their flu shots.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Sandra Alvarez, writer, director and co-producer of the “InHospitable” documentary, which looks at the growing market power of nonprofit hospitals and how well they serve their patients and their communities.

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

Julie Rovner: Washington Post’s “An Autistic Teen Needs Mental Health Help. He spent weeks in an ER instead,” by William Wan

Alice Miranda Wolstein: “U.S. offers flu shot to migrants in border detention, reverses longstanding policy” by CBS News’ Camilo Montoya-Galvez.

Victoria Knight: Status’s “Inside Michelle McMurry-Heath’s Departure From BIO: Firings, Internal Clashes, and a Pivotal Job Review,” by Rachel Kohrs

Jesse Hellman: KHN’s “Hospitals say they lost money to Medicare patients. Some Made Millions, a State Report Finds,” by Fred Klassen-Kelly

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:

“Whites now more likely to die from Covid than blacks: Why the epidemic has shifted,” by Akilah Johnson and Dan Keating, The Washington Post

Bloomberg Law’s “Law Firm Calls Notes on Former EEOC Counsel on Abortion Trip,” by Rebecca Rainey and J. By Edward Moreno

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