KHN’s ‘What The Health?’: SCOTUS Decides An ACA Case. No, Not THAT Case.

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The Supreme Court this week rejected the efforts of a Republican-controlled Congress in 2014 to cut off funding to insurance companies under a provision of the Affordable Care Act. In an 8-1 decision, the high court ruled that insurers must be paid the roughly $12 billion they are owed under the law’s “risk corridor” program.

Meanwhile, the efforts to address the COVID-19 health and economic impact are becoming more partisan, with Democrats pushing to provide more funding to states and localities and Republicans urging liability waivers for employers whose workers get sick after being summoned back to the workplace.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Caitlin Owens of Axios and Mary Ellen McIntire of CQ Roll Call.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • The Supreme Court’s 8-1 ruling in the ACA “risk corridor” case may suggest that the court could overturn other actions taken by Republicans to weaken the ACA, such as President Donald Trump’s decision to deny payments to insurers to help cover out-of-pocket costs that the companies are forced to cover for very low-income customers. Still, it may not signal the end of perceived partisanship on the bench when it comes to the ACA. That will be tested in a case the court will take up this fall that could overturn the entire law.
  • States are beginning the long process of restarting their economies, but the diversity in efforts points to the politics that has pervaded the U.S. coronavirus response. Past public health crises have not been laden with such partisanship, which is fostered by the vast economic devastation from coronavirus.
  • Although the president has been hesitant to use his powers under the Defense Production Act to compel industries to help with the coronavirus fight, he quickly moved this week to implement it to force meatpacking plants to stay open or reopen, even after their work crews were hit hard by the outbreak. That was in large part because of fears of food shortages and the effects they could have on consumers.
  • The uplifting news that preliminary studies suggest an experimental drug — remdesivir — can help fight the coronavirus may have confused consumers. The drug still needs more testing, and even the promising results show only a small effect in helping patients recover.
  • The House will not return to Washington next week because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in the nation’s capital region — but the Senate will. Some Democrats are complaining that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling them back not to deal with the pandemic crisis but to push through more judicial nominees.
  • Rumors swirling about the potential ouster of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar represent still more evidence that the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic is not well organized. Trump officials are caught between trying not to anger the boss and dealing with officials in other agencies who may not play well together.

Also this week, Rovner interviews KHN’s Carmen Heredia Rodriguez, who reported the latest KHN-NPR “Bill of the Month” installment about a patient who got what should have been a free COVID-19 test and ended up with a hefty bill. If you have an outrageous medical bill to share with us, you can do that here.

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

Julie Rovner: NPR’s “What Would It Take to Bring More Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Back to the U.S.?” by Sydney Lupkin

Caitlin Owens: Axios’ “Why the Coronavirus Feels So Risky,” by Bryan Walsh

Mary Ellen McIntire: CQ Roll Call’s “Amazon Workers Tally Virus Cases, Voice Alarm About Risks,” by Emily Kopp

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