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KFF Health News’ ‘What the Health?’: Welcome Back, Congress. Now Get to Work. 

The Host

Julie Rovner
KFF Health News


Read Julie’s stories.

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 returns from its August recess with a long list of things to do and not a lot of time to do them. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30, and it’s possible that lawmakers will fail to finish work not only on the annual appropriations bills, but also on any short-term spending bill to keep the government open.

Meanwhile, Medicare has announced the first 10 drugs whose prices will be negotiated under the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. Exactly how the program will work remains a question, however. Even how the process will begin is uncertain, as drugmakers and other groups have filed lawsuits to stop it.

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, and Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico.


Rachel Cohrs
Stat News


Read Rachel’s stories

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:

  • Hard-line Republicans are refusing to back even a temporary government spending bill, suggesting a government shutdown looms — with repercussions for health programs. While the Senate and House have come to intra-chamber agreements on subjects like community health center funding or even have passed spending bills, Congress as a whole has been unable to broker an overarching deal.
  • A coalition of House Republicans is falsely claiming that global HIV/AIDS funding through PEPFAR promotes abortion and is battling efforts to extend the program’s funding. PEPFAR is a bipartisan effort spearheaded by then-President George W. Bush and credited with saving millions of lives.
  • The PEPFAR fight underscores the dysfunction of the current Congress, which is struggling to fund even a highly regarded, lifesaving program. Another example is the months-long blockade of military promotions by a freshman Republican senator, Alabama’s Tommy Tuberville, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. His objections over an abortion-related Pentagon policy have placed him at odds with top military leaders, who recently warned that his heavy-handed approach is weakening military readiness.
  • The Biden administration recently announced new staffing requirements for nursing homes, as a way to get more nurses into such facilities. But how long will compliance take, considering ongoing nursing shortages? And the drug industry is reacting to the news of which 10 drugs will be up first for Medicare negotiation, with much left to be sorted out.
  • In abortion news, a Texas effort to block patients seeking abortions from using the state’s roads is spreading town to town — and, despite being dubiously enforceable, it could still have a chilling effect.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Meena Seshamani, who leads the federal Medicare program, about the plan to start negotiating drug prices.

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

Julie Rovner: JAMA Health Forum’s “Health Systems and Social Services — A Bridge Too Far?” by Sherry Glied and Thomas D’Aunno.

Alice Miranda Ollstein: The Washington Post’s “Heat’s Hidden Risk,” by Shannon Osaka, Erin Patrick O’Connor, and John Muyskens.

Rachel Cohrs: The Wall Street Journal’s “How Novartis’s CEO Learned From His Mistakes and Got Help From an Unlikely Quarter,” by Jared S. Hopkins.

Joanne Kenen: Politico’s “How to Wage War on Conspiracy Theories,” by Joanne Kenen, and “Court Revives Doctors’ Lawsuit Saying FDA Overstepped Its Authority With Anti-Ivermectin Campaign,” by Kevin McGill.

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:


Francis Ying
Audio producer

Emmarie Huetteman

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to KFF Health News’ “What the Health?” on SpotifyApple PodcastsPocket Casts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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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