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Debt Deal Leaves Health Programs (Mostly) Intact

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Julie Rovner
KFF Health News


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Julie Rovner is chief Washington correspondent and host of KFF Health News’ weekly health policy news podcast, “What the Health?” A noted expert on health policy issues, Julie is the author of the critically praised reference book “Health Care Politics and Policy A to Z,” now in its third edition.

A final deal cut between President Joe Biden and House Republicans extends the U.S. debt ceiling deadline to 2025 and reins in some spending. The bill signed into law by the president will preserve many programs at their current funding levels, and Democrats were able to prevent any changes to the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Still, millions of Americans are likely to lose their Medicaid coverage this year as states are once again allowed to redetermine who is eligible and who is not; Medicaid rolls were frozen for three years due to the pandemic. Data from states that have begun to disenroll people suggests that the vast majority of those losing insurance are not those who are no longer eligible, but instead people who failed to complete required paperwork — if they received it in the first place.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico, Lauren Weber of The Washington Post, and Jessie Hellmann of CQ Roll Call.


Jessie Hellmann
CQ Roll Call


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Joanne Kenen
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico


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Lauren Weber
The Washington Post


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Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Lawmakers and White House officials spared health programs from substantial spending cuts in a last-minute agreement to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. And Biden named Mandy Cohen, a former North Carolina health director who worked in the Obama administration, to be the next director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though she lacks academic credentials in infectious diseases, Cohen enters the job with a reputation as someone who can listen and be listened to by both Democrats and Republicans.
  • The removal of many Americans from the Medicaid program, post-public health emergency, is going as expected: With hundreds of thousands already stripped from the rolls, most have been deemed ineligible not because they don’t meet the criteria, but because they failed to file the proper paperwork in time. Nearly 95 million people were on Medicaid before the unwinding began.
  • Eastern and now southern parts of the United States are experiencing hazardous air quality conditions as wildfire smoke drifts from Canada, raising the urgency surrounding conversations about the health effects of climate change.
  • The drugmaker Merck & Co. sued the federal government this week, challenging its ability to press drugmakers into negotiations over what Medicare will pay for some of the most expensive drugs. Experts predict Merck’s coercion argument could fall flat because drugmakers voluntarily choose to participate in Medicare, though it is unlikely this will be the last lawsuit over the issue.
  • In abortion news, some doctors are pushing back against the Indiana medical board’s decision to reprimand and fine an OB-GYN who spoke out about providing an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio. The doctors argue the decision could set a bad precedent and suppress doctors’ efforts to communicate with the public about health issues.

Also this week, Rovner interviews KFF Health News senior correspondent Sarah Jane Tribble, who reported the latest KFF Health News-NPR “Bill of the Month” feature, about a patient with Swiss health insurance who experienced the sticker shock of the U.S. health care system after an emergency appendectomy. If you have an outrageous or exorbitant medical bill you want to share with us, you can do that here.

Plus, for “extra credit,” the panelists suggest health policy stories they read this week that they think you should read, too:

Julie Rovner: The New York Times’ “This Nonprofit Health System Cuts Off Patients With Medical Debt,” by Sarah Kliff and Jessica Silver-Greenberg.

Jessie Hellmann: MLive’s “During the Darkest Days of COVID, Some Michigan Hospitals Made 100s of Millions,” by Matthew Miller and Danielle Salisbury.

Joanne Kenen: Politico Magazine’s “Can Hospitals Turn Into Climate Change Fighting Machines?” by Joanne Kenen.

Lauren Weber: The Washington Post’s “Smoke Brings a Warning: There’s No Escaping Climate’s Threat to Health,” by Dan Diamond, Joshua Partlow, Brady Dennis, and Emmanuel Felton.

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:

KFF Health News’ “As Medicaid Purge Begins, ‘Staggering Numbers’ of Americans Lose Coverage,” by Hannah Recht.


Francis Ying
Audio producer

Emmarie Huetteman

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This article was produced by KFF Health News, formerly known as Kaiser Health News (KHN), a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF — the independent source for health policy research, polling, and journalism. 

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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