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KFF Health News’ ‘What the Health?’: All About the (Government) Funding

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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.

As this election year begins in earnest, making it harder for Congress to pass bills, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are still struggling to fund the government for the fiscal year that began last October. And many health priorities hang in the balance.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is again wading into the abortion debate, accepting a case out of Idaho that pits a federal law requiring emergency care, including for pregnant women, against the state’s strict abortion ban.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet, Tami Luhby of CNN, and Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico.


Sarah Karlin-Smith
Pink Sheet


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Tami Luhby


Read Tami’s stories

Alice Miranda Ollstein


Read Alice’s stories

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • In Washington, lawmakers have reportedly reached a deal that could pave the way for passing necessary government spending bills. But it is unlikely they will pass a full package before the current extensions end, leaving many federal health programs hanging. And ahead of next week’s Iowa caucuses, it bears asking what Republicans would do in health if the party reclaims the White House.
  • The Supreme Court is again stepping into the fray over abortion rights, choosing to review the conflict between Idaho’s abortion ban and a federal law requiring emergency medical care. It is notable that justices did not have to take this case and, by swooping in now, are setting up another major abortion ruling before the 2024 election.
  • The Biden administration announced it will scale back so-called conscience protections for health providers that the Trump administration sought to beef up. The back-and-forth over the policy — which was created during the George W. Bush administration — reinforces the importance of pressing presidential candidates about what they would do administratively on abortion policy, rather than asking what bills they might sign into law.
  • News out of Florida this week: Newly introduced legislation there would, among other things, classify abortion as a felony and penalize those outside the state involved in the sale or distribution of abortion pills if they are “likely to be used in Florida” — a concerning example of a state effort to regulate access to abortion nationwide.
  • And the FDA approved Florida’s request to import drugs from Canada, a change for which Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is taking credit — though both President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump could also claim some of that credit. But there are a lot of hurdles left before the state receives its first shipments, and due to the way the policy will be implemented, it may not save the state much money anyway.

“This Week in Health Misinformation” highlights Olympic gold medalist and medical crowdfunding beneficiary Mary Lou Retton, who said this week she could not afford health insurance before her headline-grabbing bout of pneumonia because her preexisting conditions made having insurance too expensive. But a decade into the existence of the Affordable Care Act, the fact is that patients can no longer be penalized on the insurance market for preexisting conditions — and, as the record 20 million Americans who enrolled in ACA coverage this year may attest, there are plenty of federal subsidies available to help afford insurance, too.

Also this week, Rovner interviews American Medical Association President Jesse Ehrenfeld, whose focus is helping the nation’s physicians navigate a rapidly changing health care system.

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

Julie Rovner: CNN’s “Bottled Water Contains Thousands of Nanoplastics So Small They Can Invade the Body’s Cells, Study Says,” by Sandee LaMotte. Also, ScienceAlert’s “It Turns Out Paper Straws Might Pose a Serious Problem Too,” by Carly Cassella. Also, The Washington Post’s “How Plastic Hides in Supposedly Eco-Friendly Laundry Products,” by Michael J. Coren.

Tami Luhby: KFF Health News’ “Most People Dropped in Medicaid ‘Unwinding’ Never Tried to Renew Coverage, Utah Finds,” by Phil Galewitz.

Alice Miranda Ollstein: Stat’s “Texas Taxpayers Wanted to Help the Poor Get Health Care. Instead They’re Funding a Medical School at a Wealthy University,” by Rachel Cohrs.

Sarah Karlin-Smith: The New York Times’ “The F.D.A. Warned an Asthma Drug Could Induce Despair. Many Were Never Told,” by Christina Jewett and Benjamin Mueller.


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. 

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