KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: ACA in Peril With Ginsburg’s Seat in Play

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The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — and the insistence of President Donald Trump and the GOP-led Senate to fill that vacancy this year — could have major implications for health care. The high court will hear yet another case challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act the week after the November election, and a long list of cases involving women’s reproductive rights, including both abortion and birth control, are working their way through lower federal courts.

Meanwhile, scandals at the Department of Health and Human Services continue to surface, such as the case of a media spokesperson for the National Institutes of Health who criticized his boss’s handling of the pandemic via a conservative website. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to struggle with its credibility, after posting and then taking down another set of guidelines, this one concerning whether the COVID-19 virus is spread through aerosol particles.

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

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • The Supreme Court’s upcoming ACA case was brought by Republican state officials seeking to invalidate the law based Congress’ elimination of the penalty for not having insurance, a provision that the court once used to uphold the law because it was considered part of Congress’ right to impose taxes.
  • Many legal experts believe that even if the high court were to decide that the loss of the penalty invalidates the individual mandate to get insurance, other parts of the law should be able to stand. But it’s not clear conservatives on the court will agree.
  • With so much emphasis on the ACA’s insurance marketplace, the expansion of the Medicaid program for low-income people and protections for people with preexisting conditions, many consumers don’t realize that the law touches nearly all aspects of health care, including guarantees of preventive services, insurance practices and even requirements for calorie counts on restaurant menus.
  • Ginsburg’s death could also influence efforts to undermine abortion rights. Two cases are already before the court, one involving the ability of doctors to remotely prescribe drugs that can end a pregnancy and a Mississippi ban on abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.
  • As the nation marks more than 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus, the “What the Health?” panel looks at problems in the U.S. effort to fight COVID-19, including flip-flops on the need for masks, inconsistent messaging from different parts of government and the politicization of science.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s decision to remove guidance on the coronavirus’s ability to spread through the air created more concerns about the politicization of the federal government’s scientific studies. The controversy over the agency’s work is a stark change from the past, when the CDC was considered among the least politicized parts of the government.
  • It may take years after these coronavirus controversies for the CDC to restore its credibility with the public, no matter who is elected president.
  • Trump has touted his efforts to lower prescription drug prices, and last week The New York Times reported that the administration tried unsuccessfully to get drugmakers to send a $100 gift card to all seniors to help cover the costs of their medicines. The companies objected because, among other reasons, they were worried the move could be seen as an effort to help the Trump campaign.

This week, Rovner also interviews KHN’s Sarah Jane Tribble, whose new podcast, “Where It Hurts,” drops Sept. 29. The podcast chronicles what happens to a small rural community in Kansas after its local hospital closes.

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 “Battle Rages Inside Hospitals Over How COVID Strikes and Kills,” by Robert Lewis and Christina Jewett

Anna Edney: The New Yorker’s “A Young Kennedy, in Kushnerland, Turned Whistle-Blower,” by Jane Mayer

Kimberly Leonard: The Wall Street Journal’s “Medicare Wouldn’t Cover Costs of Administering Coronavirus Vaccine Approved Under Emergency-Use Authorization,” by Stephanie Armour

Mary Ellen McIntire: The New York Times’ “Many Hospitals Charge More Than Twice What Medicare Pays for the Same Care,” by Reed Abelson

Other stories discussed by the panelists this week:

The New York Times’ “A Deal on Drug Prices Undone by White House Insistence on ‘Trump Cards,’” by Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman

The Daily Beast’s “A Notorious COVID Troll Actually Works for Dr. Fauci’s Agency,” by Lachlan Markay

Politico’s “Trump Administration Shakes Up HHS Personal Office After Tumultuous Hires,” by Dan Diamond

The Washington Post’s “Pentagon Used Taxpayer Money Meant for Masks and Swabs to Make Jet Engine Parts and Body Armor,” by Aaron Gregg and Yeganeh Torbati

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

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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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