KHN’s ‘What The Health?’: Still Seeking A Federal Coronavirus Strategy

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The Trump administration sent its COVID-19 testing strategy plan to Congress, formalizing its policy that most testing responsibilities should remain with individual states. Democrats in Congress complained that the U.S. needs a national strategy, but so far none has emerged.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump, noticing that his popularity among seniors has been falling since the pandemic began, unveiled a plan to lower the cost of insulin for Medicare beneficiaries. However, while diabetes is a major problem for seniors in general and for Medicare's budget, only a small minority takes insulin.

This week's panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Joanne Kenen of Politico, Anna Edney of Bloomberg News and Erin Mershon of STAT News.

Among the takeaways from this week's podcast:

  • The difficulties caused by the lack of a unified federal response to the pandemic can be seen by looking at other countries. Communities around the world face some of the same problems U.S. cities and states do, such as high numbers of cases in nursing homes and other congregate living facilities, and test shortages. But in other countries, the governments have taken the lead in working through the issues.
  • Recent episodes of crowds gathering as states reopen point to a breakdown in public health messaging. That may be partly attributable to the president's ambivalence or a result of the recent cutback in press briefings and other direct communication from federal public health officials. But much of it could also be directly related to political divisiveness, which runs rampant.
  • With a Rose Garden ceremony, Trump announced the deal with drugmakers to limit Medicare beneficiaries' out-of-pocket costs for insulin to $35. That is expected to save those patients on average more than $400 a year. But the announcement is a long way from the promises made by the administration to bring down drug prices for all Americans.
  • Republicans have touted short-term insurance plans as a cheaper alternative to health coverage offered under the Affordable Care Act's marketplaces. But the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted shortcomings of those plans, including that many don't cover prescription medications or experimental treatments.
  • The pandemic has also spotlighted the administration's intent to get more drug manufacturing — which has become concentrated in India and China — to return to the United States. The government recently announced it is starting a project with a Virginia company to add manufacturing capacity stateside.

Also this week, Rovner interviews KHN's Phil Galewitz, who reported the latest KHN-NPR “Bill of the Month” installment about a patient with a suspected case of COVID-19 who did what he was told by his health plan and got billed, anyway. If you have an outrageous medical bill you would like 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: ProPublica's “The Feds Gave a Former White House Official $3 Million to Supply Masks to Navajo Hospitals. Some May Not Work,” by Yeganeh Torbati and Derek Willis

Also, The New York Times' “My Mother Died of the Coronavirus. It's Time She Be Counted,” by Elisabeth Rosenthal

Joanne Kenen: The New Yorker's “The Town That Tested Itself,” by Nathan Heller

Anna Edney: The New York Times' “Wealthiest Hospitals Got Billions in Bailout for Struggling Health Providers,” by Jesse Drucker, Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Sarah Kliff

Erin Mershon: The Washington Post's “Coronavirus May Never Go Away, Even With a Vaccine,” by William Wan and Carolyn Y. Johnson

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