“What the Health?” by KHN: Year-end bill predicts big changes for health

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The year-end public spending bill includes many changes to federal health care programs, including changes to Medicare payments and some structures to allow states to begin de-enrolling people whose eligibility has been maintained during the pandemic from Medicaid .

Separately, the Biden administration has taken several steps to expand the availability of the abortion pill, which in combination with another drug can terminate a pregnancy within about 10 weeks of gestation. The anti-abortion forces have launched their own campaign to limit the reach of the abortion pill.

This week’s speakers are Julie Rovner of KHN, Rachel Cohrs of Stat, Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico, and Rachel Roubein of The Washington Post.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Congress ended the year by passing a nearly $1.7 trillion government spending package. The legislation included smaller-than-expected cuts to Medicare payments for physicians, flexibility extended to telehealth, and funding increases for programs such as the Indian Health Service and the federal 988 mental health hotline.
  • But lawmakers have left out many priorities, such as more money in response to the COVID-19 emergency, and have included a change to Medicaid eligibility that could result in the loss of health insurance for millions of Americans.
  • The Biden Administration Has Taken Perhaps Its Biggest Stance on Abortion Rights Since the Supreme Court Overturned Roe versus Wade last year, with the FDA announcing that retail pharmacies will be allowed to dispense abortion pills for the first time and the Justice Department confirming that it is legal to send the pills through the US Postal Service.
  • A new congressional report on the controversial Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm reveals that its maker, Biogen, knew the impact its price could have on the Medicare program, and still rated it high. The report also raises big questions about the FDA’s decision-making process in approving the drug and what some officials were willing to do to make it happen.
  • And in price transparency news, insurers are now required to provide patients with cost-estimating tools designed to make more than 500 non-emergency services “affordable.” But it’s unclear whether insurance companies are willing to help consumers access and use that information.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Mark Kreidler, who wrote NPR-KHN’s latest “Bill of the Month,” about two patients with the same name and an incorrect bill. If you have an outrageous or exorbitant medical bill you’d like to share with us, you can do so here.

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

Julie Rovner: “The FDA Now Says It Clearly: Morning-After Pills Are Not Abortion Pills” New York Times, by Pam Belluck

Joan From: “Racist Doctors and Organ Thieves: Why So Many Black People Distrust the Healthcare System” by Politico Magazine, by Joanne Kenen and Elaine Batchlor

Rachel Cohrs: “‘Major Trustee, Please Prioritize’: How NYU’s ER Favors the Rich” by The New York Times, by Sarah Kliff and Jessica Silver-Greenberg

Rachel Rubien: KHN: “Hundreds of hospitals are suing patients or threatening their credit, according to a KHN survey. Yours?” by Noam N. Levey

Also mentioned in this week’s podcast:

“Stat’s ‘Rife With Irregularities’: Congressional Investigation Reveals FDA Approval of Aduhelm Marred by Secret Discussions and Protocol Violations,” by Rachel Cohrs

KHN “Want a clue on health care costs up front? The new tools try”, by Julie Appleby

“Stat’s Congress Reaches Important Health Policy Agreement on Medicare, Medicaid, and Pandemic Preparedness,” by Rachel Cohrs and Sarah Owermohle

USA Today’s “Half of Ambulance Trips” Produce Surprise Medical Bills. What is being done to protect people? by Ken Alltucker

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