KHN’s ‘What The Health?’: Change Is in the Air


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Assuming former Vice President Joe Biden becomes President-elect Joe Biden and Republicans retain control of the Senate, the health agenda could be very different from what Democrats campaigned on. A GOP Senate is unlikely to want to pursue many of Biden’s agenda items, including expanding eligibility for Medicare, boosting financial assistance for people who buy insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and creating a federal “public option” insurance plan.

Meanwhile, no matter who is elected, the ACA is on the line next week as the more conservative Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case that could potentially result in its total overturn. A decision in that case is not expected until sometime next year.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Joanne Kenen of Politico, Kimberly Leonard of Business Insider and Mary Ellen McIntire of CQ Roll Call.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill might find common ground on some smaller — but important — issues, such as restricting surprise medical bills, which consumers get after they receive care from doctors outside their insurance network. But changes in the GOP committee chairs could dim current efforts to reduce prescription drug prices.
  • One issue that might have bipartisan support next year is enhancement of the public health system. The coronavirus pandemic has shown that parts of the system have deteriorated in recent years.
  • Democrats’ dreams of major gains in both the House and Senate failed to materialize Tuesday. That suggests that their arguments that Democrats would protect the ACA did not carry as much weight this year as they did in 2018, when the party saw success in midterm elections.
  • Although the campaign is over, there’s no clear indication that the debate on how to attack COVID-19 will become less politicized. The fear of another economic shutdown and the consequences of that for millions of Americans is driving strong — and very divided — public sentiment on the issue.
  • The Trump administration appeared to be seeking to enhance the president’s campaign in Georgia when it announced Sunday that it would allow the state to starkly revamp its offerings of ACA marketplace plans in a couple of years.

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

Julie Rovner: The New York Times’ “A New Item on Your Medical Bill: The ‘Covid’ Fee,” by Sarah Kliff and Jessica Silver-Greenberg

Joanne Kenen: PBS NewsHour’s “Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Wisconsin Voters Choose Biden Over Trump,” by Laura Santhanam

Kimberly Leonard: The Wall Street Journal’s “States Hire Consultants for Covid-19 Help, With Mixed – and Expensive – Results,” by Jean Eaglesham and Kirsten Grind

Mary Ellen McIntire: The AP’s “Counties With Worst Virus Surges Overwhelmingly Voted Trump,” by Carla K. Johnson, Hanna Fingerhut and Pia Deshpande

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Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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