September 26, 2022
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KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Taking a Shot at Gun Control

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The House passed a package of bills to restrict the availability of assault weapons to minors and other measures to curb gun violence, but talks in the Senate have yet to produce breakthroughs on what has been a legislative stalemate for years.

Meanwhile, as inflation continues to be a top-tier issue for voters, the Federal Trade Commission is looking into the practices of pharmacy benefit managers and hospitals in an attempt to preserve what price competition there is in the bloated U.S. health system.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Anna Edney of Bloomberg News, and Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Senators are meeting to try to find compromise measures on gun safety that can draw at least 10 Republican votes needed to clear a filibuster. The question around town is whether Democrats are willing to settle for something that has been narrowed enough to get GOP votes. If not, this could become another example of gun safety negotiations imploding.
  • The Biden administration’s efforts to bring in infant formula from other countries appear to be helping provide supplies to desperate families. Some data analyses suggest the country is coming out of a shortage peak. But that hasn’t dampened frustration with the FDA’s delay in dealing with the shortages and the contamination issues at a key U.S. formula manufacturing plant in Michigan that was forced to close. That plant reopened this week, but it will be several more weeks before formula made there will start reaching store shelves.
  • Democratic lawmakers, who fear that the Supreme Court is set to overturn its Roe v. Wade decision that guaranteed the right to abortion, are asking the Biden administration to take action to help minimize the impact. But even if executive orders were issued by the president, their effects would be limited. That’s because a court move to overturn Roe would leave abortion rules primarily up to the states.
  • Abortion opponents are already talking about their next goal, suggesting they would like to see a national ban on abortion. But that creates a messaging problem since they have for years argued that abortion should be a state issue.
  • Employers are beginning to feel pressure on this issue, and a number of large companies have said they will offer employees benefits to help them get abortions out of state if their state bans the procedure. For many workers, though, abortion is a private decision; they may not want to let their employers know they are considering one. The companies’ initiatives may also play to consumers looking to know more about the politics of companies they deal with.
  • The Federal Trade Commission announced it will look at pharmacy benefit managers, the facilitators who negotiate drug prices for health plans. Critics have argued that the consolidation between health plans and PBMs may help drive up prices. The commission also sued to block several hospital mergers recently, arguing they could hurt competition and increase prices.
  • Congress remains at an impasse on a bill to fund federal efforts to prepare for another surge in the covid pandemic. Democrats have raised concerns about whether the country will have adequate vaccine and testing resources in the fall if new variants cause an increase in cases, but Republicans have said that other federal funds could be tapped.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Cori Uccello of the American Academy of Actuaries about the latest report from Medicare’s trustees board and why policymakers need to act before the program runs out of money.

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

Julie Rovner: KHN’s “Misinformation Clouds America’s Most Popular Emergency Contraception,” by Sarah Varney

Alice Miranda Ollstein: Politico’s “How Many Covid Deaths Are Acceptable? Some Biden Officials Tried to Guess,” by Rachael Levy

Anna Edney: The 19th’s “Florida Could Be a Critical Access Point for Abortion, but the State’s Own Battle Is Just Starting,” by Shefali Luthra

Joanne Kenen: The Trace’s “In 2019, Congress Pledged Millions to Study Gun Violence. The Results Are Nearly Here,” by Chip Brownlee

Also discussed on this week’s podcast:

The Washington Post’s “Even if Roe Is Overturned, Congress Must Act to Protect the Unborn,” by Robert B. George and Josh Craddock

Health Affairs’ “The Association Between COVID-19 Mortality and the County-Level Partisan Divide in the United States,” by Neil Jay Sehgal, Dahai Yue, Elle Pope, Ren Hao Wang, and Dylan H. Roby

Bloomberg Law’s “Companies Urged to Review Abortion Coverage With Roe in Balance,” by Sara Hansard

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to KHN’s What the Health? on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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