KHN’s ‘What’s the Health?’: Summer health news


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Congress and President Joe Biden are officially on summer break, but they’ve left behind many health policy successes. The president returned from his South Carolina beach retreat this week to sign the Inflation Reduction Act, which among other things allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices for the first time.

The law also preserves increased subsidies for premiums on insurance purchased through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces. Congress added those more generous subsidies in 2021, but they would have ended at the end of the year.

Meanwhile, although Democrats were unable to secure additional Medicare vision, hearing and dental benefits in the final version of the budget bill, this week the FDA established ground rules for the sale of over-the-counter hearing aids, which Congress mandated in some 2017.

This week’s panelists are KHN’s Julie Rovner, Bloomberg’s Anna Edney, Politico’s Alice Miranda Wolstein, and Joan Kennen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Despite provisions in the new law allowing Medicare to negotiate some drug prices, enrollees will have to wait years to see the benefits of those negotiations. That makes it challenging for Democrats to use the measure as a campaign tool. Also, Republicans may try to use the intervening years, when the price negotiation process is being set, to disrupt Democrats’ efforts.
  • Other Medicare provisions, such as new limits on out-of-pocket drug costs and caps on insulin costs, will provide more immediate benefits.
  • The expansion of the ACA premium subsidy law is a tough victory to chalk up to consumers, who won’t see their costs go down and would likely notice a difference if the measure failed to pass and the program ended.
  • Still, ad campaigns have already begun targeting Republican opponents for popular health issues. No GOP lawmakers voted to support the measure.
  • The new category of hearing aids suitable for people with mild to moderate hearing loss is expected to be significantly less expensive. Whether these new devices will work adequately is yet to be answered.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new Covid-19 guidelines last week that relaxed previous recommendations. The announcement highlighted growing public distaste for continuing the isolationist resistance tactics of the past few years. But perhaps overlooked is the growing number of people suffering from long-term Covid symptoms and how the condition affects their lives and the economy.
  • The CDC announced this week that it will restructure its Covid response to better address public health crises after a study identified problems, particularly in communicating with the public.
  • However, opposition to abortion restrictions has been rising since the Supreme Court overturned the ruling Roe v. Wade Driven by women, men are also playing a role in frontline politics and broader personal decisions, such as choosing which state to attend college or seeking a vasectomy.

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

Julie Rovner: Los Angeles Times’ “CDC Relaxes Its Covid Rules. Who Will Fill This Public Health Void?” By Wendy Netter Epstein and Daniel Goldberg

Alice Miranda Wolstein: MedPage Today’s “Falls from Higher Border Walls Embrace Trauma Services,” by Cheryl Clark

Joan buys: Harper’s Magazine’s “A Hole in the Head,” by Zachary Siegel

Anna Edney: “Parents and doctors say private equity’s profit fixation short-changes children with autism,” by Tara Bano of Status

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:

“Florida court rules 16-year-old not ‘mature enough’ for abortion” by Brittany Shamus and Kim Bellware, Washington Post.

“The Pandemic’s Soft Closing,” Kathryn J. by W

Politico’s “Tim Kaine has a long covid. By Alice Miranda Wolstein It’s not getting Congress to act


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