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KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: The Midterm Shake-Up

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The predicted Republican “red wave” was a no-show in this week’s midterm elections, but the margins in both the U.S. House and Senate are so small that the GOP could still wrest control from the Democrats as the last few “too close to call” races are settled. Whichever party holds the majority starting in 2023 will also influence how much Congress tries to finish during its lame-duck session that starts Nov. 14.

Meanwhile, supporters of abortion rights won big. Voters in three states (Michigan, California, and Vermont) approved ballot measures to make abortion rights part of their state constitutions, while two other states (Montana and Kentucky) defeated efforts to further restrict abortion.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Rachel Cohrs of Stat, and Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • If Republicans take control of the House, expect some tough oversight hearings on the Biden administration’s policies and decisions. Among those who might be called before Republican-controlled committees is Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is expected to be grilled for decisions on handling the pandemic and the shutdown of schools and other key elements of the economy.
  • The GOP’s focus on legislative matters is murkier. Much of what Republicans can push through Congress will depend on what margin they have in the House and whether they end up taking control of the Senate.
  • In the meantime, Congress comes back to Washington next week to finish business for this year. Several top-ranking Republican senators are retiring, and they are expected to promote health measures, including more public health initiatives, pandemic preparations, and reforms at the FDA.
  • That lame-duck congressional session will also consider funding for the government and ways to avoid a scheduled cut in Medicare reimbursements to health care providers.
  • Voters in South Dakota on Tuesday approved a ballot measure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. It is the seventh state where voters overruled conservative Republican leaders who had opposed an expansion.
  • Officials in several populous states, including Texas, Florida, and Georgia, continue to block an expansion. Some health care advocates in Florida have floated the idea of trying to get a ballot initiative going there too, but it would likely cost millions of dollars to organize.
  • Doctors and consumers are warning of recent medication shortages, including a common children’s antibiotic. This points to a long-term problem with drug shortages that often goes overlooked.
  • A recent Wall Street Journal article focused on the damaging impact of covid-19 and long covid on productivity in the country. Although patient advocates and public health officials have long been ringing this alarm, the issue has not gotten much attention from political leaders. With Republicans likely gaining more power in the next Congress — and their opposition to more funding for covid prevention — it does not appear likely that the long-term economic effects will gain much support in the coming year.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Carolee Lee, a former jewelry magnate, about her efforts to boost gender equity in medical research.

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

Julie Rovner: Columbia Journalism Review’s “How Much Coverage Are You Worth?” by Kyle Pope

Alice Miranda Ollstein: PBS NewsHour’s “Study Reveals Stark Number of Alcohol-Related Deaths Among Young Americans,” by John Yang and Dorothy Hastings

Sarah Karlin-Smith: The Washington Post’s “Clock Runs Out on Efforts to Make Daylight Saving Time Permanent,” by Dan Diamond

Rachel Cohrs: ESPN’s “Review Shows Favre-Backed Drug Companies Overstated Benefits, Connections,” by Mark Fainaru-Wada

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:

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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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