KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Hot Covid Summer

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Predictions of a “hot vax summer” that would let Americans who had their covid immunizations celebrate the waning of the pandemic are turning out to have been premature. Covid-19’s delta variant is driving up cases in all 50 states, prompting new recommendations for masks and a growing number of vaccine requirements, including one for most federal workers.

Meanwhile, official Washington celebrated the anniversary of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which sought to guarantee an array of protections, as concerns grow that people with covid aftereffects could dramatically expand the population needing those protections.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Mary Ellen McIntire of CQ Roll Call, Anna Edney of Bloomberg News and Rachana Pradhan of KHN.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • The new CDC recommendation for vaccinated people in areas with high covid transmission rates to wear face masks inside has brought complaints from conservative groups about mixed messaging and overzealous regulators. Public health officials counter that the change in advice is understandable because the virus is evolving.
  • The covid surge is most pronounced in areas where vaccination rates were low and may suggest a failure of the public health message that the vaccines are protective only if enough people get vaccinated.
  • The federal effort to vaccinate the public is slowly gaining important support from conservatives. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is financing public service ads in his home state of Kentucky, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who served as one of former President Donald Trump’s press secretaries and is now running for governor of Arkansas, wrote an op-ed about the value of the vaccine.
  • President Joe Biden has appeared reluctant to endorse vaccine mandates, partly because Republicans have been so adamant about opposing them. Even his expected announcement calling for federal workers to get a shot will have an option to undergo regular testing instead.
  • Employers, however, are growing impatient and many are mandating that workers be inoculated for covid. It had been assumed that they would wait for the Food and Drug Administration to give final approval to the vaccines, but that is taking longer than many businesses want.
  • The Missouri Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state must expand Medicaid, something a majority of voters endorsed last year. The Republican-led legislature refused to fund the expansion and the governor had said he would not expand the program until the legislature funds it.
  • Mississippi officials have filed their brief with the Supreme Court seeking support of a state-passed abortion ban, while House Democrats passed spending bills that get rid of long-standing rules prohibiting the use of federal funds for the procedure. Both sides of the debate seem poised to energize voters.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Samantha Young, who reported the latest KHN-NPR “Bill of the Month” feature about an Olympic cycling hopeful with an Olympic-size medical bill following a bike accident. If you have an outrageous medical bill you’d like to send 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: HBO’s “The Weight of Gold,” by Brett Rapkin, Michael Phelps, Peter Carlisle and Michael O’Hara Lynch

Mary Ellen McIntire: The AP’s “‘OK Not to Be OK’: Mental Health Takes Top Role at Olympics,” by Jenna Fryer

Anna Edney: The New York Times’ “Erin Gilmer, Disability Rights Activist, Dies at 38,” by Clay Risen

Rachana Pradhan: The Tennessean’s “Tennessee to Restart Nearly All Vaccine Outreach Paused Amid GOP Pressure, Says Health Commissioner,” by Brett Kelman

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