KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Biden Social-Spending ‘Framework’ Pulls Back on Key Health Pledges

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President Joe Biden unveiled a purported compromise on his social-spending plan shortly before taking off for a series of meetings in Europe. But it remains unclear whether the proposal — which jettisons some of the president’s health priorities — will win the support of enough Democrats to push it over the finish line.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on Monday will hear oral arguments in a case brought by the Biden administration trying to strike down the Texas law that has stopped most abortions in the state since it took effect in September.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Joanne Kenen of Politico and Johns Hopkins, Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet and Rachana Pradhan of KHN.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • The framework announced by the White House provides few details about health care provisions. But the White House may have pushed this forward because the president wanted to show progress on climate provisions as he heads to an international climate meeting next week and figured that the health issues could be resolved later.
  • Despite Democrats’ longtime push for bringing down Medicare drug prices, the framework announced by the White House includes only one fairly small provision that would affect that spending. It would overturn a Trump administration effort to make sure discounts offered by drugmakers to insurers be passed on to consumers. In the byzantine world of federal budgeting, that measure was going to cost the government money and jettisoning the policy will provide savings that lawmakers can use for other benefits they want to put into the overall spending bill.
  • Progressives in the Democratic Party have been pushing hard for an expansion of Medicare benefits to cover hearing, vision and dental services. But the framework includes only some hearing coverage.
  • The framework also dramatically reduces a proposal to improve home health services.
  • The Supreme Court arguments next week are in a suit seeking to overturn a Texas abortion law that bans the procedure after fetal cardiac activity can be detected — usually at about six weeks of pregnancy. Although conservatives are hoping the justices will use the case to overturn Roe v. Wade, much of the case could revolve around other issues, including the law’s unusual enforcement mechanism that allows individuals — not the state — to bring civil cases against people who help women get an abortion.
  • If the high court were to overturn Roe, it’s possible abortion could become a voting issue for progressives. But it’s not likely to mobilize enough people in deeply red states to change the conservative culture or leadership.
  • The Food and Drug Administration was expected to announce this week that one of the covid-19 vaccines can be used safely in children ages 5 to 11. After that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will offer its assessment. Health experts will be watching to see whether the CDC says all children in that age group need the vaccine or the agency sets up different criteria among groups of kids.
  • The FDA last week said Cyltezo, a biosimilar drug that treats some inflammatory diseases, can be used interchangeably with the expensive biologic drug Humira. That means pharmacies can substitute the drug without a doctor’s approval. But it doesn’t mean prices will fall immediately; it often takes several drug alternatives to bring down costs.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog about the upcoming Supreme Court arguments over Texas’ controversial abortion law.

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

Julie Rovner: Rewire News Group’s “When a Miscarriage Becomes a Jail Sentence,” by Caroline Reilly.

Joanne Kenen: Nature’s “COVID Vaccine Makers Brace for a Variant Worse Than Delta,” by Emily Waltz.

Rachana Pradhan: KHN’s “3 States Limit Nursing Home Profits in Bid to Improve Care,” by Susan Jaffe.

Sarah Karlin-Smith: KHN’s “‘Down to My Last Diaper’: The Anxiety of Parenting in Poverty,” by Jenny Gold.

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