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KFF Health News’ ‘What the Health?’: Congress Kicks the (Budget) Can Down the Road. Again.

The Host

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.

Congress narrowly avoided a federal government shutdown for the second time in as many months, as House Democrats provided the needed votes for new House Republican Speaker Mike Johnson to avoid his first legislative catastrophe of his brief tenure. But funding the federal government won’t get any easier when the latest temporary patches expire in early 2024. It seems House Republicans have not yet accepted that they cannot accomplish the steep spending cuts they want as long as the Senate and the White House are controlled by Democrats.

Meanwhile, a pair of investigations unveiled this week underscored the difficulty of obtaining needed long-term care for seniors. One, from KFF Health News and The New York Times, chronicles the financial toll on families for people who need help for activities of daily living. The other, from Stat, details how some insurance companies are using artificial intelligence algorithms to deny needed rehabilitation care for Medicare patients.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Rachel Cohrs of Stat, Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico Magazine, and Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico.


Rachel Cohrs
Stat News


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Joanne Kenen
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico


Read Joanne’s stories

Alice Miranda Ollstein


Read Alice’s stories

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Congress passed a two-part continuing resolution this week that will prevent the federal government from shutting down when the current CR expires Nov. 18 at 12:01 a.m. The new measure extends some current spending levels, including funding for the FDA, through Jan. 19. The rest of federal agencies, including most of the Department of Health and Human Services, are extended to Feb. 2.
  • House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has said he wants to use the next two months to finish work on individual appropriations bills, none of which have passed both the House and Senate so far. The problem: They would deeply cut many popular federal programs. They also are full of changes to abortion restrictions and transgender policies, highlighting the split between the GOP caucus’ far-right wing and its more moderate members.
  • In the wake of abortion rights successes in passing abortion rights ballot initiatives, new efforts are taking shape in Ohio and Michigan among state lawmakers who are arguing that when Dobbs turned this decision back to states, it meant to the state legislatures — not to the courts or voters. Most experts agree the approach is unlikely to prevail. Still, it highlights continuing efforts to change the rules surrounding this polarized issue.
  • Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) — who was the only remaining Republican presidential candidate pushing for a national, 15-week abortion ban — suspended his campaign last week. He, along with former Vice President Mike Pence, who bowed out of the race at the end of October, were the field’s strongest anti-abortion candidates. This seems to suggest that the 15-week ban is not drawing voter support, even among Republicans. Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump, the GOP’s front-runner by miles, continues to be willing to play both sides of the abortion debate.
  • Amid increasing concern about the use of artificial intelligence in health care, a California class-action lawsuit charges that UnitedHealth Group is using algorithms to deny rehabilitation care to enrollees in its Medicare Advantage program. The suit comes in the wake of an investigation by Stat into insurer requirements that case managers hew to the AI estimates of how long the company would pay for rehabilitation care, regardless of the patient’s actual medical situation.
  • More than 10 million people have lost Medicaid coverage since states began reviewing eligibility earlier in the year. Advocates for Medicaid patients worry that the Biden administration has not done enough to ensure that people who are still eligible for the program — particularly children — are not mistakenly terminated.

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

Julie Rovner: KFF Health News’ “How Lawmakers in Texas and Florida Undermine Covid Vaccination Efforts,” by Amy Maxmen.

Alice Miranda Ollstein: The New York Times’ “They Wanted to Get Sober. They Got a Nightmare Instead,” by Jack Healy.

Rachel Cohrs: Stat’s “UnitedHealth Pushed Employees to Follow an Algorithm to Cut Off Medicare Patients’ Rehab Care,” by Casey Ross and Bob Herman.

Joanne Kenen: ProPublica’s “Mississippi Jailed More Than 800 People Awaiting Psychiatric Treatment in a Year. Just One Jail Meets State Standards,” by Isabelle Taft, Mississippi Today.

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:

KFF Health News’ “Facing Financial Ruin as Costs Soar for Elder Care,” by Reed Abelson, The New York Times, and Jordan Rau.

JAMA Internal Medicine’s “Excess Death Rates for Republican and Democratic Registered Voters in Florida and Ohio During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” by Jacob Wallace, et al.


Zach Dyer
Audio producer

Stephanie Stapleton

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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.


This story can be republished for free (details).

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