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The State of the Union Is … Busy

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.

President Joe Biden is working to lay out his health agenda for a second term, even as Congress races to finish its overdue spending bills for the fiscal year that began last October.

Meanwhile, Alabama lawmakers try to reopen the state’s fertility clinics over the protests of abortion opponents, and pharmacy giants CVS and Walgreens announce they are ready to begin federally regulated sales of the abortion pill mifepristone.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, and Sandhya Raman of CQ Roll Call.


Sarah Karlin-Smith
Pink Sheet


Read Sarah’s stories.

Alice Miranda Ollstein


Read Alice’s stories.

Sandhya Raman
CQ Roll Call


Read Sandhya’s stories.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Lawmakers in Washington are completing work on the first batch of spending bills to avert a government shutdown. The package includes a bare-bones health bill, leaving out certain bipartisan proposals that have been in the works on drug prices and pandemic preparedness. Doctors do get some relief in the bill from Medicare cuts that took effect in January, but the pay cuts are not canceled.
  • The White House is floating proposals on drug prices that include expanding Medicare negotiations to more drugs; applying negotiated prices earlier in the market life of drugs; and capping out-of-pocket maximum drug payments at $2,000 for all patients, not just seniors. At least some of the ideas have been proposed before and couldn’t clear even a Democratic-controlled Congress. But they also keep up pressure on the pharmaceutical industry as it challenges the government in court — and as Election Day nears.
  • Many in public health are expressing frustration after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention softened its covid-19 isolation guidance. The change points to the need for a national dialogue about societal support for best practices in public health — especially by expanding access to paid leave and child care.
  • Meanwhile, CVS and Walgreens announced their pharmacies will distribute the abortion pill mifepristone, and enthusiasm is waning for the first over-the-counter birth control pill amid questions about how patients will pay its higher-than-anticipated list price of $20 per month.
  • Alabama’s governor signed a law protecting access to in vitro fertilization, granting providers immunity from the state Supreme Court’s recent “embryonic personhood” decision. But with opposition from conservative groups, is the new law also bound for the Alabama Supreme Court?

Also this week, Rovner interviews White House domestic policy adviser Neera Tanden about Biden’s health agenda.

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

Julie Rovner: NPR’s “How States Giving Rights to Fetuses Could Set Up a National Case on Abortion,” by Regan McCarthy.

Sarah Karlin-Smith: Stat’s  “The War on Recovery,” by Lev Facher.

Alice Miranda Ollstein: KFF Health News’ “Why Even Public Health Experts Have Limited Insight Into Stopping Gun Violence in America,” by Christine Spolar.

Sandhya Raman: The Journal’s “‘My Son Is Not There Anymore’: How Young People With Psychosis Are Falling Through the Cracks,” by Órla Ryan.

Also mentioned on this week’s podcast:


Francis Ying
Audio producer

Emmarie Huetteman

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