Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ Health On The Hill

As the start of the fiscal year draws near — along with pivotal midterm elections — Congress is picking up its pace on legislation. This week alone the Senate passed a comprehensive bill aimed at curbing the opioid epidemic and a nearly final bill to fund the Department of Health and Human Services.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled draft legislation aimed at helping patients who receive “surprise” medical bills after inadvertently receiving medical care outside their insurance carrier’s network.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Rebecca Adams of CQ Roll Call, Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times and Joanne Kenen of Politico.

On Sept. 27, the podcast will tape in front of a live audience at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin, Texas. Details are here. Also on Sept. 27, KHN is hosting a live event to discuss medical overtreatment and its health consequences. More information on that event is here.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Legislation to combat the opioid epidemic is expected to move through Congress quickly because both Republicans and Democrats are eager to show voters they are addressing what is a nationwide public health crisis.
  • That opioid package won’t provide a solution to one of the most vexing problems of the epidemic: The majority of deaths come from the use of an extremely powerful drug, fentanyl, that is often mixed with illegal opioids.
  • For the first time in years, Congress is likely to pass a bill to fund HHS before the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1. The bill is known for triggering “culture war” debates, especially on issues dealing with abortion, but lawmakers have largely avoided that this year.
  • Opponents of abortion sought to use the HHS appropriations bill to defund Planned Parenthood. But both Republicans and Democrats worked to stop any poison pills that might have held up the bill. Also, the bill needs 60 votes to pass the Senate, so Democrats had to be accommodated in order to get it through.
  • Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) headed a bipartisan group of senators who unveiled a bill this week that would squelch surprise medical bills that patients get from out-of-network hospitals or doctors, a process known as “balance billing.” The initiative isn’t expected to pass this year, but it is an issue that Cassidy will likely bring up again next year when the new Congress meets.

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

Julie Rovner: Politico’s “Obamacare Lawsuit Boosts Democrats in State AG Races,” by Alice Ollstein

Rebecca Adams: The Wall Street Journal’s “Behind Your Rising Health-Care Bills: Secret Hospital Deals That Squelch Competition,” by Anna Wilde Mathews

Joanne Kenen: The New York Times’ “23andMe Said He Would Lose His Mind. Ancestry Said The Opposite. Which Was Right?” by Laura Hercher

Margot Sanger-Katz: The New York Times’ “Manchin Counts on Health Care to Stave Off Republican Tide in West Virginia,” by Trip Gabriel

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