KHN’s ‘What The Health?’: Democrats in Array (For Now)

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Democrats have shown a remarkably united front, including on health care, in their socially distant, made-for-TV convention this week. That’s likely due, at least in part, to the physical separation of party members who disagree on issues — this year they cannot chatter on live television — and to the party truly being united in its desire to defeat President Donald Trump in November.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic continues to complicate efforts around the country to get students back to school, from preschool to college. And the Trump administration’s effort to eliminate anti-discrimination protections in health care for transgender people is put on hold by a federal judge.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times, Paige Winfield Cunningham of The Washington Post and Shefali Luthra of The 19th.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Democrats’ online convention has helped make the party seem unified. But on health policy, divisions remain even though Vice President Joe Biden has agreed to broaden some of his plans, such as lowering the eligibility age for Medicare and agreeing to have federal regulators run a public option plan he is advocating. Progressives in the party still hope to move the debate next year back to establishing a “Medicare for All” system.
  • The heated Democratic primary campaign put a good deal of focus on health policy, including whether to support a Medicare for All system and efforts to make health care more affordable. But the convention rhetoric on health hasn’t focused much attention on that and instead has played up issues surrounding the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The emphasis on COVID-19 in recent months has also pushed out much of the debate on the issues of high drug prices and surprise bills.
  • As the question of a mail slowdown has enveloped the country, concerns are being raised about mail delivery of prescription drugs, especially for seniors and veterans. Despite anecdotal reports of missed deliveries, most drug industry experts say problems haven’t been widespread.
  • The controversies about reopening schools — both K through 12 and colleges — point to difficulties with the country’s COVID testing program. It is too hard and too expensive for schools to be able to test enough students to guarantee that the virus isn’t spreading.
  • Schools may want to reconsider which age groups they target for returning to the classroom. Since there is little evidence that younger kids spread the virus widely and since they may need the in-classroom experience more, it could make sense to bring them back to school sooner than older students. Plus, older students generally can better handle online classes.
  • Federal health officials have recently warned that the pandemic is having an impact on mental health for many people, raising levels of depression and anxiety. The physical isolation and the economic stresses are fueling much of that.
  • The Trump administration’s rule overturning an Obama administration rule on transgender protections in the Affordable Care Act has been put on hold by a federal judge. But the Obama-era rule had also been put on hold by another judge. So the question is in limbo until higher courts — perhaps the Supreme Court — take up the case.

Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read, too:

Julie Rovner: The Washington Post’s “Can Dogs Detect the Novel Coronavirus? The Nose Knows,” by Frances Stead Sellers

Margot Sanger-Katz: The Atlantic’s “The Plan That Could Give Us Our Lives Back,” by Robinson Meyer and Alexis C. Madrigal

Paige Winfield Cunningham: Stat News’ “Seven Months Later, What We Know About Covid-19 – And the Pressing Questions That Remain,” by Andrew Joseph, Helen Branswell and Elizabeth Cooney.

Shefali Luthra: KHN’s “Back to the Future: Trump’s History of Promising a Health Plan That Never Comes,” by Victoria Knight

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