KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: ACA Packs More Benefits — And More Confusion


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The covid relief bill signed by President Joe Biden a week ago includes billions of dollars in new health benefits for consumers. But those benefits may be hard for people to take advantage of because of the interaction with the income tax system and the lack of experts to help them navigate the system.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is shedding some health-related cases, as the Biden administration begins to reverse some of the Trump administration’s actions. The justices have already canceled planned oral arguments on a case challenging the prior approval of work requirements for some adult Medicaid recipients and soon are expected to drop a case on rules that effectively bar Planned Parenthood from participation in the federal family planning program.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Joanne Kenen of Politico, Mary Ellen McIntire of CQ Roll Call and Rachana Pradhan of KHN.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • The key changes to health insurance policy in the $1.9 trillion covid relief package passed by Democrats this month could be confusing to consumers. While the president and administration officials are taking a victory tour on the legislation, getting the details out to Americans may not be their most pressing issue, especially as they continue to use the bully pulpit to push for people to avoid covid and get a vaccination.
  • Implementing the health provisions in the relief legislation has been hampered because the Department of Health and Human Services is still without top officials, although the Senate has moved forward on the confirmation process this week.
  • Members of the House introduced a bill again to set up a single-payer health system, the “Medicare for All” system that was a highlight of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) presidential campaign. The measure faces huge hurdles in the Senate, and President Joe Biden has called instead for a public option — a government-run insurance plan to be added to the commercial plans on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace. But Biden may not want to expend his political capital on that issue right now.
  • Concerns being raised by some officials in Europe about possible clotting problems for people who’ve taken the AstraZeneca covid vaccine could complicate public health efforts by weakening confidence in other vaccines as well.
  • Results released this week of a focus group of Republicans who were skeptical of the covid vaccination efforts suggest that celebrity endorsements are not nearly as powerful as statements from trusted doctors or public health officials who explain the facts and studies that led to the vaccine. Nonetheless, celebrities will likely still be needed to help promote public health campaigns.

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

Julie Rovner: KHN and The Guardian’s “Lost on the Frontline” project, by the staffs of KHN and The Guardian

Joanne Kenen: Radiolab’s “Dispatch 14: Covid Crystal Ball,” by Molly Webster

Mary Ellen McIntire: The New York Times’ “Maggots, Rape and Yet Five Stars: How U.S. Ratings of Nursing Homes Mislead the Public,” by Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Robert Gebeloff

Rachana Pradhan: The Indianapolis Star’s “Careless: Indiana Received Billions in Medicaid Cash. So Why Are Its Nursing Homes Among the Worst in the Nation?” by Tim Evans, Emily Hopkins, and Tony Cook

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to What the Health? on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify, or Pocket Casts.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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