KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Kamala Harris on Health

Can’t see the audio player? Click here to listen on SoundCloud. California Sen. Kamala Harris, the

Can’t see the audio player? Click here to listen on SoundCloud.

California Sen. Kamala Harris, the newly named running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, doesn’t have a lot of background in health policy. But that’s unlikely to prevent Republicans from using her on-again, off-again support for “Medicare for All” against her in the fall campaign.

Meanwhile, with talks between Congress and the Trump administration over the next round of COVID-19 relief at a standstill, President Donald Trump is trying to fill the void with executive orders. What’s unclear is whether the president has the authority to do some of what he is proposing — or whether it will work to help people in dire economic and health straits.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Kimberly Leonard of Business Insider, Joanne Kenen of Politico and Mary Agnes Carey of KHN.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Although Harris isn’t closely associated with health care issues, one created problems for her last fall during her failed presidential bid. She was an original co-sponsor of the Medicare for All bill put forward by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt).
  • Trump’s executive order to suspend payroll taxes is causing consternation. It’s not clear if the order applies to both Social Security and Medicare or whether employers will follow the order. There is no indication that Congress would accept the president’s plan — and, if lawmakers don’t, workers and companies would owe the back taxes by the end of the year.
  • The tax suspension also has handed Democrats a club for the fall campaign. They are charging that the lack of revenue would endanger the Social Security and Medicare trust funds and could affect consumer benefits. Trump has replied that money from the federal government’s general fund would be used to fill the gap, but with the pandemic causing an economic upheaval, there’s no guarantee the government could afford that.
  • The president has promised he will shortly issue an executive order to protect coverage for people with medical conditions. The Affordable Care Act, which Trump has repeatedly pledged to abolish, already carries that protection, so this could be an attempt to offer Republicans a shield if the case before the Supreme Court overturns the law or some of its provisions. Previous vows by the president to offer health care plans have largely gone unfulfilled.
  • The administration is seeking to change the U.S. reliance on foreign nations, largely China and India, for prescription drugs and is moving to mandate that the government buy only U.S.-manufactured medications. Although the effort enjoys bipartisan support, it could end up increasing drug prices.
  • The recent announcement that the federal government is offering Kodak a $765 million loan to begin making chemicals that could be used in drug manufacturing triggered new scrutiny of the company. Stock trades made before the announcement, major escalation of the company’s lobbying efforts in Washington and a leak about the pending deal are all being analyzed.
  • The KHN-Guardian spotlight on the deaths of health care workers from COVID-19 points to a longer-term issue: shortages of medical professionals in key care fields.

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

Julie Rovner: The Wall Street Journal’s “Covid-19 Data Reporting System Gets Off to Rocky Start,” by Robbie Whelan

Joanne Kenen: The Texas Tribune and ProPublica’s “ICE Is Making Sure Migrant Kids Don’t Have COVID-19 — Then Expelling Them to ‘Prevent the Spread’ of COVID-19,” by Dara Lind and Lomi Kriel

Kimberly Leonard: The Philadelphia Inquirer’s “Coronavirus Is Changing Childbirth in the Philadelphia Region, Including Boosting Scheduled Inductions,” by Sarah Gantz

Mary Agnes Carey: The New York Times’ “Inside the Fight to Save Houston’s Most Vulnerable,” by Sheri Fink, Emily Rhyne and Erin Schaff

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