Trump Places Obamacare Repeal Again on Agenda


The Host

Julie Rovner
KFF Well being Information


Learn Julie’s tales.

Julie Rovner is chief Washington correspondent and host of KFF Well being Information’ weekly well being coverage information podcast, “What the Well being?” A famous skilled on well being coverage points, Julie is the writer of the critically praised reference e-book “Well being Care Politics and Coverage A to Z,” now in its third version.

Former president and present 2024 Republican front-runner Donald Trump is aiming to place a repeal of the Reasonably priced Care Act again on the political agenda, a lot to the delight of Democrats, who level to the well being regulation’s rising recognition.

In the meantime, in Texas, the all-Republican state Supreme Courtroom this week took up a lawsuit filed by greater than two dozen girls who mentioned their lives had been endangered once they skilled being pregnant problems because of the obscure wording of the state’s near-total abortion ban.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Well being Information, Joanne Kenen of Johns Hopkins College and Politico Journal, Victoria Knight of Axios, and Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet.


Joanne Kenen
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Faculty of Public Well being and Politico


Learn Joanne’s tales

Victoria Knight


Learn Victoria’s tales

Sarah Karlin-Smith
Pink Sheet


Learn Sarah’s tales

Among the many takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • The FDA not too long ago authorized one other promising weight reduction drug, providing an alternative choice to fulfill the massive demand for such medication that promise notable well being advantages. However Medicare and personal insurers stay cautious of paying the tab for these very costly medication.
  • Talking of pricey medication, the courts are weighing in on using so-called copay accumulators supplied by drug firms and others to scale back the price of expensive prescription drugs for sufferers. The most recent ruling referred to as the federal authorities’s guidelines on the topic inconsistent and tied using copay accumulators to the provision of cheaper, generic options.
  • Congress will revisit authorities spending in January, however that isn’t quickly sufficient to deal with the end-of-the-year coverage modifications for some well being packages, corresponding to pending cuts to Medicare funds for medical doctors.
  • “This Week in Medical Misinformation” highlights a information by the employees of Stat to assist lay individuals decipher whether or not medical examine outcomes really signify a “breakthrough” or not.

Additionally this week, Rovner interviews KFF Well being Information’ Rachana Pradhan, who reported and wrote the newest “Invoice of the Month” characteristic, a few lady who visited a hospital lab for primary prenatal checks and ended up owing virtually $2,400. When you have an outrageous or baffling medical invoice you’d prefer to share with us, you are able to do that right here.

Plus, for “additional credit score,” the panelists counsel well being coverage tales they learn this week that they suppose you need to learn, too:

Julie Rovner: KFF Well being Information’ “Medicaid ‘Unwinding’ Makes Different Public Help Tougher to Get,” by Katheryn Houghton, Rachana Pradhan, and Samantha Liss.

Joanne Kenen: KFF Well being Information’ “She As soon as Suggested the President on Growing old Points. Now, She’s Battling Critical Incapacity and Melancholy,” by Judith Graham.  

Victoria Knight: Enterprise Insider’s “Washington’s Secret Weapon Is a Beloved Gen Z Power Drink With Extra Caffeine Than God,” by Lauren Vespoli.

Sarah Karlin-Smith: ProPublica’s “Insurance coverage Executives Refused to Pay for the Most cancers Remedy That May Have Saved Him. This Is How They Did It,” by Maya Miller and Robin Fields.

Additionally talked about on this week’s episode:

click on to open the transcript

Transcript: Trump Places Obamacare Repeal Again on Agenda

KFF Well being Information’ ‘What the Well being?’Episode Title: Trump Places Obamacare Repeal Again on AgendaEpisode Quantity: 324Printed: Nov. 30, 2023

[Editor’s note: This transcript was generated using both transcription software and a human’s light touch. It has been edited for style and clarity.]

Julie Rovner: Good day, and welcome again to “What the Well being?” I’m Julie Rovner, chief Washington correspondent for KFF Well being Information, and I’m joined by a number of the finest and smartest well being reporters in Washington. We’re taping this week on Thursday, Nov. 30, at 10 a.m. As all the time, information occurs quick, and issues may’ve modified by the point you hear this. So, right here we go.

We’re joined at present through video convention by Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet.

Sarah Karlin-Smith: Hello, Julie.

Rovner: Victoria Knight of Axios Information.

Victoria Knight: Good day, everybody.

Rovner: And Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins College and Politico Journal.

Joanne Kenen: Hello, all people.

Rovner: Later on this episode we’ll have my interview with my colleague Rachana Pradhan in regards to the newest KFF Well being Information-NPR “Invoice of the Month.” This month’s affected person fell into an all-too-common lure of utilizing a lab prompt by her physician’s workplace for routine bloodwork with out realizing she could be left on the hook for 1000’s of {dollars}. However first, this week’s information — and final week’s, too, as a result of we had been off.

As a result of nothing is ever gone for good, the hassle to repeal and substitute Obamacare is again within the information, and it’s coming primarily from the possible Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump. Simply to remind you, in case you’ve forgotten, Trump, throughout his presidency, even within the two years that Republicans managed the Home and the Senate, was unable to engineer a repeal of the Reasonably priced Care Act, nor did his administration even handle to unveil an alternate. So what attainable motive may he have for pondering that that is going to assist him politically now?

Knight: My takeaway is that I feel it’s a private grudge that former President Trump nonetheless has, that he failed at this. And I feel, whenever you speak to individuals, he’s nonetheless mad that Sen. John McCain did his well-known thumbs-down when the remainder of the Republican Social gathering was on board. So I’m unsure that there’s a lot political technique apart from wanting to simply make it occur lastly, as a result of upset it didn’t occur.

Rovner: Is that this a part of his revenge tour?

Knight: I imply, I feel considerably. As a result of if you happen to ask Home Freedom Caucus individuals, they are going to say, “Yeah, we must always repeal it.” However if you happen to ask some extra reasonable Republican members, they’re like, “We’ve already been by means of that. We don’t need to do it once more.” So I don’t suppose the Republican Social gathering on the Hill has an urge for food to try this, even when Congress goes to Republicans in each chambers.

Kenen: Trump by no means got here up with a well being plan and repeal died within the Senate, however bear in mind, it was a wrestle to even get something by means of the Home, and what the Home Republicans lastly voted for, they didn’t even like. So I don’t know if you happen to name this a revenge tour, but it surely’s checking a field. However I feel it’s essential to keep in mind that if you happen to look intently at what Republican insurance policies are, they don’t name it repeal, they don’t say, “We’re going to repeal it.” That didn’t go so nicely for them, and it in all probability price them an election.

However they nonetheless do have plenty of coverage concepts that might water down or de facto repeal many key provisions of Obamacare. So that they haven’t tried to go that route, and I’m unsure they’d ever attempt a full-out repeal, however there are many different issues they may do, a few of which might have technical names: group ranking and issues like that, that voters won’t fairly perceive what they had been doing, that would actually undermine the protections of Obamacare.

Rovner: Yeah, I imply, I used to be going to say the Republican Social gathering, typically, this has been the operating joke since they began “repeal and substitute” in 2010, is that they haven’t had the “substitute” a part of “repeal and substitute” in any respect. Trump stored saying he was going to have an amazing plan, it’s coming in two weeks, and, after all, now he’s saying he’s going to have an amazing plan. We’ve by no means seen this nice plan as a result of the Republicans have by no means been capable of agree on what ought to come subsequent. Apart from, as Joanne says, tinkering round with the Reasonably priced Care Act.

Kenen: A few of that tinkering can be vital.

Rovner: It may very well be.

Kenen: I imply there are issues that they may tinker that wouldn’t be referred to as repeal, however would truly actually make the ACA not work very nicely.

Rovner: However a lot of the issues that the Republicans wished to do to the ACA have already been performed, like repealing the person mandate, eliminating plenty of the industry-specific taxes that they didn’t like.

Kenen: Proper. So that they ended up eliminating the spinach they usually find yourself with the stuff that even Republicans, they won’t say they just like the ACA, however they’re being protected by it. And the person mandate was the single-most unpopular, contentious a part of the regulation and even plenty of Democrats didn’t prefer it. And so that focus on of the animus is gone. So by killing a part of it, additionally they made it more durable to do issues sooner or later. They might do injury, although.

Rovner: Yeah. Or they may tackle entitlements which, after all, is the place the true cash is. However we’ll get to that in a minute. Sarah, we now have not seen you shortly, so we have to atone for a bunch of issues which are FDA-related. First, a few fee gadgets because you had been final right here. The FDA has, as anticipated, authorized a weight reduction model of the diabetes drug Mounjaro that seems to be much more efficient than the burden loss model of Ozempic. However insurers are nonetheless very reluctant to pay for these medication, which aren’t solely very costly, they seem to should be consumed very long-term, if not endlessly. Medicare has up to now resisted calls to cowl the medication, regardless of some stress from members of Congress, however that could be about to alter.

Karlin-Smith: I feel Medicare is getting plenty of stress. They’re going to need to in all probability re-look at it in some unspecified time in the future. What I discovered attention-grabbing is not too long ago CMS [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] regulates different varieties of well being plans as nicely, and within the ACA area they appear to be pushing for protection of those weight problems medication. And I feel they’re pondering round that. They observe that the non-coverage allowance for these ACA plans was based mostly on … they had been following what Medicare was doing and there’s some acknowledgment that possibly the non-Medicare inhabitants is totally different from the Medicare inhabitants. However I feel it’s additionally price enthusiastic about a few of their different reasoning for protection there, together with that these medication are totally different than a number of the older weight reduction medication that offered extra minimal weight reduction, had worse unintended effects, and it got here at a time when weight reduction was seen as extra of a beauty subject. So if that ACA provision rule goes by means of, I feel that does assist the case for individuals pushing for protection in Medicare Half D of those medication.

Rovner: Yeah, I imply this appears to be one in every of these “between a rock and a tough place” … that the demand for these medication is large. The proof means that they work very nicely and that they work not simply to assist individuals drop a few pounds, however maybe once they drop a few pounds to be much less prone to have coronary heart assaults and strokes and all that different stuff that you just don’t need individuals to have. Then again, in the mean time, they’re tremendous costly and would bankrupt insurance coverage firms and Medicare.

Karlin-Smith: Proper. I imply, we’ve seen this earlier than the place individuals fear there’s a brand new class of pricey medication that lots of people appear to be they are going to want and it’s going to bankrupt the nation, and oftentimes that doesn’t occur even whether or not it’s, in principle, extra protection to some extent. We noticed that with hep C. There was a brand new class of ldl cholesterol medication that got here out a couple of years in the past that simply haven’t taken off in the way in which individuals fearful they’d. A few of these weight problems medication, they do work very well, not all people actually tolerates them in addition to you’d suppose. So there’s questions on whether or not that demand is actually there. Sen. [Bill] Cassidy [R-La.] has made some attention-grabbing factors about “Is there a means to make use of these medication initially for individuals after which give you one thing extra for weight upkeep that wouldn’t be as costly?”

Rovner: We should always level out that Sen. Cassidy is a medical physician.

Karlin-Smith: However I feel the stress is approaching the federal government. Not too long ago, I obtained to listen to the top of OPM [Office of Personnel Management], who offers with the insurance coverage protection for federal authorities staff, they usually have a very permissible protection of weight problems medication. Mainly, they require all their medical insurance plans to cowl one in every of these GLP-1 medication, they usually have some actually attention-grabbing language I’ve seen utilized by pharmaceutical firms to say, “Look, this a part of the federal authorities has mentioned weight problems is a illness. It must be handled,” and so forth. So I don’t suppose the federal authorities goes to have the ability to use this argument of, “This isn’t a medical situation, and these are costly, we’re not going to cowl it.” However there’s undoubtedly going to be tensions there by way of prices.

Rovner: Properly, undoubtedly extra to come back right here. In the meantime, CMS can be taking a look at altering the principles, once more, for some pharmacy copay help packages, which declare to help sufferers however extra typically appear to complement drug firms and payers. What is that this one about? And might you clarify it in English? As a result of I’m unsure I perceive it.

Karlin-Smith: So most individuals, whenever you get a prescription for a drug, have some quantity of copay, so your insurance coverage firm pays the majority of the fee and also you pay possibly $10, $20, $30 whenever you decide up your prescription. For actually high-cost medication, pharmaceutical firms and typically third-party charities typically supply copay help, the place they are going to truly pay your copay for you.

The criticism of those charities and pharma help is that it lets the businesses maintain the costs increased. As a result of as soon as you are taking away the affected person feeling the burden of the value, they will nonetheless maintain that increased proportion that goes to your well being plan and into your premiums that you just don’t take into consideration. And so medical insurance firms have mentioned, “OK, nicely we’re not going to really depend this coupon cash in direction of your copay, your out-of-pocket max for the yr, since you’re not truly paying it.”

In order that doesn’t find yourself doing the affected person a lot good in the long run as a result of, when you may get the drug totally free the primary a part of the yr, finally you find yourself having to pay the cash. The courts have weighed in, and the newest ruling was that the impact of it was basically telling CMS, “You want to re-look at your guidelines. We don’t suppose your logic is constant,” they usually appear to doubtlessly counsel that CMS ought to solely permit copay accumulators if there’s a less expensive drug a affected person may take.

So, principally, they’re saying it’s unfair to place this burden on sufferers and never allow them to profit from the coupons if that is the one drug they will take. But when there’s a generic drug they need to be taking, that’s the equal then, OK, insurance coverage firm, you may penalize them there. However apparently, CMS has principally pushed again on the court docket ruling. They’re asking them for principally extra details about what they’re precisely directing them to do and signaling that they need to maintain their broader interpretation of the regulation.

It’s a difficult scenario, I feel, policy-wise, as a result of there’s this stress of, sure, the drug costs are actually excessive. The insurance coverage firms have some extent of how these coupons create these perverse incentives within the system, and, alternatively, the person who will get caught within the center, the affected person just isn’t actually the truthful pawn on this sport. And when speaking a few related subject with someone not too long ago, they introduced up what occurred with shock billing they usually made this parallel of we’d like to consider it as, OK, you large company entities want to determine learn how to duke out this drawback, however cease placing the affected person within the center as a result of they’re the one which will get harm. And that’s what occurred in shock billing. I’m unsure if there’s fairly that resolution of how you could possibly do this on this pharmaceutical area although.

Rovner: I used to be simply going to say that this sounds precisely like shock billing, however for pharmaceuticals. Properly, whereas we’re speaking about Capitol Hill, let’s flip to Capitol Hill, the place the massive information of the week is that Home Republican conservatives, the so-called Freedom Caucus, have apparently agreed to abide by the deal they agreed to abide by earlier this yr. No less than that’s with regards to the general whole for the annual spending payments. Then-Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy’s try to stick to that deal is without doubt one of the issues that led to his ouster. The conservatives had wished to chop spending way more deeply than the deal that was lower, I feel it was in Might. Though I really feel compelled so as to add: Chopping the appropriations payments, which is what we’re speaking about right here, doesn’t actually do very a lot to assist the federal finances deficit. Many of the cash that the federal authorities spends doesn’t undergo the appropriations course of. It’s automated, like Social Safety and Medicare.

However I digress. Victoria, what prompted the Freedom Caucus to alter their minds and what does that portend for truly getting a few of these spending payments performed earlier than the subsequent cutoff deadline, which is mid-January?

Knight: I imply, I feel it’s the Freedom Caucus simply dealing with actuality and that it’s actually onerous to do finances cuts, and plenty of these payments, the cuts are very deep. For the Labor-HHS invoice, which is the invoice that funds the Division of Well being and Human Companies, the lower is eighteen%. To the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], 12% to the division itself. These are actually large cuts. And all of the payments, you take a look at them, all of them have actually deep cuts.

The agriculture invoice has deep cuts to the Division of Agriculture that some reasonable Republicans don’t like. So the entire payments have these points, and so I feel they’re realizing it’s simply not attainable to get what they need. A few of them didn’t vote for the Fiscal Accountability Act, which was the deal that former Speaker McCarthy did with the debt restrict that set funding ranges. So that they’re not essentially going again on one thing that they voted for.

Rovner: They’re going again on one thing that the Home voted for.

Knight: Yeah. So yeah, I feel they’re simply realizing the appropriations course of, it’s tough to make these deep spending cuts. I’ve additionally heard rumors that there may nonetheless be a giant omnibus spending invoice in January. Regardless of all this speak of doing the person appropriations payments, I’ve heard that it could find yourself, regardless of all of the efforts of the Republican Caucus, it could finish the place they’ve to simply do a giant invoice as a result of that is the best factor to do after which transfer on to the remainder of the enterprise of Congress for the subsequent yr. So we’ll see if that occurs. However I’ve heard some rumors already swirling round that.

Rovner: I imply the thought they’ve now “agreed” to a spending restrict that ought to have been performed within the finances in April, which might’ve given them a number of months to work on the appropriations payments coming in beneath that stage. And, after all, now we’re virtually three months into the brand new fiscal yr, so I imply they’re going to be late beginning subsequent yr except they resolve this gorgeous quickly. However within the meantime, one factor that received’t occur is that we received’t get a giant omnibus invoice earlier than Christmas as a result of the deadline is no longer till January, and that’s essential for a bunch of well being points as a result of we now have plenty of insurance policies which are going to finish on the finish of the yr. Issues like pushing aside cuts in Medicare funds to medical doctors, which lots of people care about, together with, clearly, all of the medical doctors. Is there an opportunity that a few of these “extender provisions” will discover their means onto one thing else, possibly the protection authorization invoice that I feel they do need to end earlier than Christmas?

Knight: Yeah, I feel that’s undoubtedly attainable. I’ve additionally heard they will retroactively do this, so even when they miss the deadline, it would in all probability be mounted. So it doesn’t appear to be too large a fear,

Rovner: Though these physician cuts, I imply, what occurs is that CMS pens the claims, they don’t pay the claims till it’s been mounted retroactively. They’ve performed it earlier than, it’s a multitude.

Kenen: And it’s unhealthy for the medical doctors as a result of they don’t receives a commission. It takes even longer to receives a commission as a result of they’re put in a maintain pile, which will get reasonably giant.

Rovner: It does. Not that the protection invoice doesn’t have its personal points round protection, however whereas we’re with regards to protection, it appears to be like like Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville could be able to throw within the towel now on the greater than 400 army promotions he’s been blocking to protest the Biden administration’s coverage permitting members of active-duty army and their dependents to journey to different states for an abortion if it’s banned the place they’re stationed. This has been occurring since February. My impression is that it’s his fellow Republicans who’re getting fearful about this.

Kenen: Yeah. They’re as fed up because the Democrats are actually. Not 100% of them are, however there’s a quantity who’ve come out in public and principally advised him to chop it out. After which there are others who aren’t saying it in public, however there are clearly indicators that they’re not loopy about this both. However we maintain listening to it’s about to interrupt. We’ve been listening to for a number of weeks it’s about to be resolved, and till it’s resolved, it’s not resolved. So I feel clearly there’s motion as a result of the stress has ramped up from his fellow Republicans.

Rovner: Properly, to get actually technical, I feel that the Senate Guidelines Committee handed a decision that would get round this entire thing-

Kenen: However they don’t actually need to, I imply the Republicans would reasonably not confront him by means of a vote. They’d reasonably simply stare him down and get him to faux that he received and transfer on. And that’s what we’re ready to see. Is it a proper motion by the Senate or is there some negotiated option to transfer ahead with no less than a lot of these held-up nominations.

Rovner: It’s the George Santos-Bob Menendez well being subject. In different phrases, they want him to step down himself reasonably than need to vote to take it down, however they’d undoubtedly like him to again off.

Kenen: I imply, not complicated anyone however they’re not speaking about expelling her from the Senate. They’re [inaudible] speaking about “Lower this out and let these individuals get their promotions,” as a result of a few of them are very critical. These are main positions which are unfilled.

Rovner: Sure, I imply it’s backing up your complete army system as a result of individuals can’t transfer on to the place they’re alleged to go and the people who find themselves going to take their place can’t transfer on to the place they’re alleged to go, and it’s not nice for the Division of Protection. All proper, nicely, whereas we’re with regards to abortion, no less than tangentially, the Texas Supreme Courtroom this week heard that case filed by girls who had critical being pregnant problems for which they had been unable to get medical care as a result of their medical doctors had been afraid that Texas’ abortion ban can be used to take their medical licenses and/or put them in jail.

Kenen: For 99 years!

Rovner: Yeah, the Texas officers defending in opposition to the lawsuit say the ladies shouldn’t be suing the state. They need to be suing their medical doctors. So what can we count on to occur right here? This listening to isn’t even actually on the deserves. It’s simply on whether or not the exceptions the decrease court docket got here up with shall be allowed to take impact, which in the mean time they’re not.

Kenen: The exception-by-exception coverage, the place issues get written in, is problematic as a result of it’s onerous to put in writing a regulation permitting each attainable medical scenario that would come up after which that might open it to all different litigation as a result of individuals would disagree about is that this near loss of life or not? So the plaintiffs desire a broader, clearer exception the place it’s as much as the medical doctors to do what they suppose is right for his or her sufferers’ well being, all kinds of issues can go incorrect with individuals’s our bodies.

It’s onerous to legislate, which is OK and which isn’t. So the thought of suing your physician, I imply, that’s simply not going to go wherever. I imply, the court docket is both going to make clear it or not make clear it. Both means, it’ll get appealed. These points aren’t going away. There’s many, many, many documented circumstances of individuals not with the ability to get normal of care. Being pregnant problems are uncommon, however they’re critical and the state legislatures have been actually resistant up to now to broadening these exemptions.

Rovner: It’s not simply Texas. ProPublica revealed an investigation this week that discovered that not one of the dozen states with the strictest abortion bans broadened exceptions even after girls and their medical doctors complained that they had been being put at grave danger, as Joanne simply identified. After we take a look at elections and polls, it feels just like the abortion rights aspect very a lot has the higher hand, however the reverse appears to be the case in precise state legislatures. I imply, it appears to be like just like the anti-abortion forces who need as few exceptions as attainable are nonetheless getting their means. No less than that’s what ProPublica discovered.

Kenen: Proper. One of many different factors that the ProPublica piece made was many of those legal guidelines had been set off legal guidelines. They had been written earlier than Roe was toppled. They had been written as simply in case, if the Supreme Courtroom lets us do that, we’ll do it. So that they had been symbolic they usually weren’t essentially written with plenty of medical enter. And so they had been written by activists, not physicians or obstetricians.

And the resistance to altering them is coming from the identical curiosity teams that need no abortions, who say it’s simply not ever medically mandatory or so not often medically mandatory, and it’s medically mandatory at occasions. I imply, there are individuals who, and this line saying, “Properly, if you happen to’re in hassle, you may’t have an abortion. However if you happen to’re near loss of life you may,” that may occur in break up seconds. You will be in hassle after which actually be in actual hassle. You may’t predict the course of a person, and it’s tying the fingers for physicians to do what must be performed till it could be too late.

Knight: I feel plenty of them don’t notice, till it begins taking place, what number of occasions it’s typically medically mandatory. It’s not even {that a} lady essentially needs to get an abortion, it’s simply one thing occurs, and it’s safer for her to try this as a way to save her life.

Karlin-Smith: And also you’ve seen in a few of these states, typically Republican girls prominently popping out and pushing for this and making an attempt to elucidate why it’s mandatory. In some circumstances, additionally they have made the argument, too, that typically to protect a lady’s fertility, these procedures are mandatory given the present conditions they face.

Kenen: There was a quote in that ProPublica story, and it’s not essentially all people on the anti-abortion rights aspect, however this particular person was quoted as saying that the child’s life is extra essential than the mom’s life. In order that’s a judgment {that a} politician or activist is making. Plus, if the mom dies, the fetus can die too. So it doesn’t even make sense. It’s not even selecting one. I imply, in lots of circumstances if the pregnant particular person dies, the fetus will die.

Rovner: Properly, lastly this week, I need to give a shout-out to a narrative by my KFF Well being Information colleague Darius Tahir, who, by the way in which, grew to become a father this week. Congratulations, Darius. The story’s a few group referred to as the Progressive Anti-Abortion Rebellion that purports to be each anti-abortion and progressively leftist and feminist. One in all its objectives seems to be to get courts to overturn the federal regulation that restricts protests in entrance of abortion clinics. The Freedom of Entry to Clinic Entrances Act, often known as FACE, is I feel the one explicitly abortion rights laws that grew to become regulation in your complete Nineties, which makes you marvel if this group is actually as leftist and feminist because it says it’s, or if it’s only a entrance to attempt to go after this explicit regulation.

Kenen: It units limits of the place individuals will be and tries to police it considerably. However in Darius’ story, his reporting confirmed that they did, no less than a few of them, had ties to right-wing teams. In order that they’re calling themselves leftist and progressive … it’s not so clear how correct that’s for everyone concerned.

Rovner: Yeah, it was an attention-grabbing story that we’ll hyperlink to within the present notes. All proper, now it’s time for “This Week in Well being Misinformation,” and it’s excellent news for a change. I selected a narrative from Stat Information referred to as “The way to Spot When Drug Corporations Spin Medical Trial Outcomes.” It’s truly an replace of a 2020 information that STAT did to interpret medical trial outcomes, and it’s principally a glossary to assist perceive firm jargon and crimson flags, significantly in press releases, to assist decide if that new medical “breakthrough” actually is or not. It’s actually tremendous useful if you happen to’re a layperson making an attempt to make sense of this.

OK that’s this week’s information, and I now will play my “Invoice of the Month” interview with Rachana Pradhan, after which we’ll come again with our additional credit.

I’m happy to welcome again to the podcast my colleague Rachana Pradhan, who reported and wrote the newest KFF Well being Information-NPR “Invoice of the Month” installment. All the time nice to see you, Rachana.

Rachana Pradhan: Thanks for having me, Julie.

Rovner: So this month’s affected person fell into what’s an all-too-common lure. She went to a lab for routine bloodwork prompt by her physician with out realizing she may very well be subjected to 1000’s of {dollars} in payments she’s anticipated to pay. Inform us who she is and the way she managed to rack up such a giant invoice for issues that ought to not have price that a lot.

Pradhan: So our affected person is Reesha Ahmed. She lives in Texas, simply in a suburb of the Dallas-Fort Value space, and what occurred to Reesha is she discovered she was pregnant and she or he went to a health care provider’s workplace that she had by no means gone to earlier than for the standard prenatal checkup, and she or he additionally had medical insurance. I need to underscore that that is a crucial element on this story. So the nurse really helpful that Reesha get routine blood checks simply down the corridor in a lab that was within the adjoining hospital. And it was routine. There was nothing uncommon in regards to the blood checks that Reesha acquired. So what she was suggested to do is after her checkup, she was advised, “Properly, right here’s the bloodwork you want, and simply go down the hallway right here, into the hospital,” to get her blood drawn.

Rovner: How handy, they’ve their very own lab.

Pradhan: Precisely. And Reesha did what she was advised. She obtained bloodwork performed. After which, quickly after that, she began getting payments. And so they first had been small quantities, like there was a invoice for $17, and she or he thought, “OK, nicely that’s not so unhealthy.” Then she obtained a invoice for over $300 and thought, “That’s uncommon. Why would I get billed this?” Then got here the massive one. It was over $2,000. In whole, Reesha’s total lab work payments had been near $2,400 for, once more, normal bloodwork that each pregnant lady will get once they discover out that they’re pregnant. And so she, for sure, was shocked and instantly truly began making an attempt to research herself as to the way it was attainable for her to get billed such astronomical quantities.

Rovner: And so what did she handle to seek out out?

Pradhan: She tried taking it up with the hospital and her insurance coverage firm. And he or she simply obtained handed round again and again. She appealed to her insurance coverage. They denied her attraction saying that, “Properly, this bloodwork was diagnostic and never preventive, so it was coded accurately based mostly on the declare that was submitted to us,” and the hospital even despatched her to collections for this bloodwork. Sadly for Reesha, this being pregnant led to a miscarriage, and so it was significantly tough. She was coping with all of the emotional, bodily ramifications of that, after which on high of that, having to take care of this billing nightmare is only a lot for anyone particular person to deal with. It’s an excessive amount of, actually.

Rovner: So we, the specialists on this, what did we uncover about why she obtained billed a lot?

Pradhan: You may get bloodwork at a number of locations in our well being system. You could possibly get it possibly inside a lab simply in your physician’s workplace. You may go to an out of doors lab, like an impartial business one, to get bloodwork performed and you’ll typically get labs inside a hospital constructing. They could not look any totally different whenever you’re truly in there, however there’s an enormous distinction as to how a lot they are going to cost you.

Analysis has proven that if a affected person is getting blood checks performed, issues which are comparatively routine and simply as a standalone service, hospital outpatient division labs cost a lot, way more. There’s analysis that we cite within the story about Reesha that … she lives in Texas … bloodwork in Texas, if it’s performed in a hospital outpatient division is no less than six occasions as costly in comparison with if you happen to get those self same checks in a health care provider’s workplace or in an impartial business lab.

Rovner: To be clear, I might say it’s not simply bloodwork. It’s any routine checks that you just get in a hospital outpatient division.

Pradhan: That analysis, specifically, was taking a look at blood checks truly, specifically, simply any lab work that you just may get performed. So the conclusion of that’s actually that there’s no significant high quality distinction. There’s actually no distinction in any respect whenever you get them in a health care provider’s workplace versus a hospital or a lab, and but the costs you pay will fluctuate dramatically.

Rovner: Yeah, there ought to be a giant signal on the door that claims: “This can be extra handy, however if you happen to go someplace else, you may pay lots much less and so will your insurance coverage.” What finally occurred with Reesha’s invoice?

Pradhan: Properly, finally, the costs had been waived and zeroed out and she or he was advised that she wouldn’t need to pay something and all of the accounts can be zeroed out to nothing.

Rovner: Finally, after we began asking questions?

Pradhan: Sure. It was a day after I had despatched a litany of questions on her billing that they gave her a name and mentioned, “You now received’t need to pay something.” So it’s a giant aid for her.

Rovner: Clearly this was not her fault. She did what was really helpful by the nurse in her physician’s workplace, however there are efforts to make this extra clear.

Pradhan: Yeah. I feel in well being care coverage world, the problem that she skilled is a mirrored image of one thing referred to as site-neutral fee, which basically means if fee is site-neutral for a well being care supplier, it implies that you get a service and no matter the place you get that service, there is no such thing as a distinction within the quantity that you’re paying. There are efforts in Congress and even in state legislatures to institute site-neutral pay for sure providers.

Bloodwork is one that isn’t essentially being focused, no less than in Congress. However I’ll say, I feel one of many large takeaways about what sufferers can do is that if they do get paperwork out of your physician’s workplace saying, “OK, you should get some blood checks performed,” you may all the time take that bloodwork request and get it performed at an impartial lab the place the costs shall be far, far lower than in a hospital-based lab, to keep away from these expenses.

Rovner: Consider it like a prescription.

Pradhan: Precisely. It won’t be as handy in that second. You might need to drive someplace, you may’t simply stroll down a hallway and get your blood checks and labs performed, however I feel you’ll doubtlessly keep away from exorbitant prices, particularly for bloodwork that could be very normal and isn’t expensive.

Rovner: One more cautionary story. Rachana Pradhan, thanks very a lot.

Pradhan: Thanks for having me, Julie.

Rovner: OK. We’re again and it’s time for our extra-credit section. That’s after we every suggest a narrative we learn this week we predict you need to learn, too. As all the time, don’t fear if you happen to miss it. We are going to put up the hyperlinks on the podcast web page at and in our present notes in your cellphone or different cell gadget. Sarah, you supplied up the primary additional credit score this week. Why don’t you go first?

Karlin-Smith: Positive. I took a take a look at a ProPublica piece by Maya Miller and Robin Fields, “Insurance coverage Executives Refused to Pay for the Most cancers Remedy That May Have Saved Him. This Is How They Did It.” And it tells the story of a Michigan man who had most cancers, and the final resort remedy for him was CAR-T, which is a mobile remedy the place they principally take a few of your cells, reengineer them, and put them again into your physique, and it’s fairly costly and it might include plenty of costly unintended effects as nicely.

FDA considers it a drug, and Michigan state regulation requires most cancers medication be lined. The insurance coverage firm of this man, principally on a technicality, denied it, describing it as a gene remedy, and he did die earlier than he was capable of absolutely push this battle with the insurance coverage firm and get entry to the remedy and so forth. However I feel the piece raises these broader points about [how] few states are capable of proactively monitor whether or not insurance policy are correctly implementing the legal guidelines round what is meant to be lined and never lined.

Few individuals actually have the information or ability set, significantly whenever you’re coping with devastating ailments like most cancers, that are simply taking your entire vitality simply to undergo the remedy, to determine learn how to combat the system. And it actually demonstrates the massive energy imbalances individuals face in getting well being care, even when there are legal guidelines that, in principle, appear to be they’re alleged to be protected.

I additionally thought there’s some actually attention-grabbing statistics within the story about, sure, despite the fact that the value tag for these merchandise are actually costly, that the medical insurance firm truly crunched the numbers and located that in the event that they shifted the fee to premiums of their policyholders, it could result in, like, 17 cents a month per premium. So I believed that was attention-grabbing, as nicely, as a result of it provides you a way of, once more, the place their motivation is coming from whenever you boil it right down to how the prices truly add up.

Rovner: And we’ll, I promise, speak in regards to the rising backlash in opposition to insurance coverage firm conduct subsequent week. Victoria.

Knight: So my extra-credit article is a Enterprise Insider story through which I’m quoted, however the title is “Washington’s Secret Weapon Is a Beloved Gen Z Power Drink With Extra Caffeine Than God.” And it principally talks in regards to the phenomenon of Celsius popping up across the Hill. So it’s an vitality drink that incorporates 200 milligrams of caffeine. It tastes like glowing water, it’s fruity, but it surely’s not like Monster or Crimson Bull. It tastes means higher than them, which I feel is partly why it’s develop into so standard.

However anyhow, I’ve solely been on the Hill reporting for a few yr and prior to now couple months it has actually popped up all over the place. It’s throughout within the totally different little shops throughout the Capitol complicated, there’s machines dedicated to it. So it talks about how that occurred. And I personally drink virtually one Celsius a day. I’m making an attempt to be higher about it, however the Hill is a tough place to work, and also you’re operating round on a regular basis, and it simply will get you as a lot caffeine as you want in a fast hit. However the FDA does suggest about 400 milligrams a day. So if you happen to drink two, then you definately’re not going over the advice.

Rovner: Properly, you may’t drink anything with caffeine if you happen to drink two.

Knight: That’s true. And I do drink espresso within the morning, but it surely has some humorous quotes to our members of Congress and chiefs of employees and reporters about how all of us depend on this vitality drink to get by means of engaged on the Hill.

Rovner: I simply cherished this story as a result of, endlessly, individuals marvel how these items occur in the course of the evening. It’s not the members, it’s the employees who’re going 16 and 20 hours a day, they usually’ve all the time needed to depend on one thing. So, no less than now, it’s one thing that tastes higher.

Knight: It does style higher.

Rovner: That’s why it amused me, as a result of it’s been ever thus that you just can not work the way in which Capitol Hill works with out some synthetic assist, let’s say. Joanne.

Kenen: We used to simply depend what number of pizza packing containers had been being delivered to know the way lengthy an evening it was going to be. I assume now you depend what number of empty cans of Celsius.

Knight: Precisely.

Rovner: I personally ran extra on sugar than caffeine.

Kenen: OK. This can be a piece by Judy Graham of KFF Well being Information, and the headline is “A Life-Altering Damage Reworked an Professional’s View on Incapacity Companies.” And it’s a few lady many people know, truly Julie and I each know: Nora Tremendous. I’ve identified her for a very long time. She’s an skilled on growing old. She ran one of many White Home growing old conferences. She labored at Milken for a very long time. She labored at AARP for some time.

She’s in her late 50s now, and in midlife, she began having actually extreme episodes of melancholy, and she or he grew to become very open about it, she grew to become an advocate. Final summer season, she had one other episode and she or he couldn’t get an appointment for the remedy she wanted shortly sufficient. And whereas she was ready, which is the story of American well being care proper now, and whereas she was ready for it, she did attempt to take her personal life. She survived, however she now has no sensation from the waist down.

And her husband is a well being economist, and I ought to disclose, my former boss at one level, I labored for and with Len for 2 years, Len Nichols. So it is a story about how she has now develop into an advocate for incapacity. And it is a couple with plenty of sources. I imply each information, connections, they usually’re not gazillionaires, however they’ve sources, and the way onerous it has been for them even with their sources and connections. And so now Nora who, when she’s nicely, she’s this effervescent pressure of nature, and that is how she is popping — her prognosis, it may get higher, they don’t know but — however clearly an awfully tough time. And he or she has now taken this chance to develop into not simply an advocate for the growing old and never simply an advocate for individuals with extreme melancholy, however now an advocate for individuals with extreme incapacity.

Rovner: Yeah, I imply, it’s all the things that’s incorrect with the American well being care system, and I’ll say that plenty of what I’ve discovered about well being coverage over very a few years got here from each Len Nichols and Nora, his spouse. So that they do know lots. And I feel what shocked me in regards to the story is simply how costly a number of the issues are that they want. And, once more, it is a couple who ought to be nicely sufficient off to help themselves, however these are prices that principally no person may or ought to need to bear.

Kenen: Even … it was only a carry to get her into their automotive, simply that alone was $6,500. And there are various, many, many issues like that. After which one other factor that they identified within the article is that almost all physicians don’t have a means of getting someone from a wheelchair onto the analyzing desk apart from having her 70-year-old husband hoist her. In order that was one of many many small revelations on this story. Clearly, it’s heartbreaking as a result of I do know and like her, but it surely’s additionally one other indictment of why we simply don’t do issues proper.

Rovner: Sure. The place we’re. Properly, my story is one more indictment of not doing issues proper. It’s by my colleagues Katheryn Houghton, Rachana Pradhan, who you simply heard, and Samantha Liss, and it’s referred to as “Medicaid ‘Unwinding’ Makes Different Public Help Tougher to Get.” And it’s simply an infuriating story stating that all the things we’ve talked about all yr with state opinions of Medicaid eligibility, the infinite waits on maintain with name facilities, misplaced purposes, and different bureaucratic holdups, goes for extra than simply medical insurance. The identical overworked and under-resourced individuals who decide Medicaid eligibility are additionally the gatekeepers for different packages like meals stamps and money welfare help, and people who find themselves eligible for these packages are additionally getting wrongly denied advantages.

Among the many individuals quoted within the story was DeAnna Marchand of Missoula, Montana, who’s making an attempt to recertify herself and her grandson for each Medicaid and SNAP (meals stamps), however wasn’t certain what she wanted to current to show that eligibility. So she waited to talk to somebody and choosing up from the story, “After half an hour, she adopted prompts to schedule a callback, however an automatic voice introduced slots had been full and instructed her to attend on maintain once more. An hour later, the decision was dropped.” It’s probably not the fault of those staff. They can’t presumably do what must be performed, and, as soon as once more, it’s the sufferers who’re paying the value.

All proper, that’s our present. As all the time, if you happen to benefit from the podcast, you may subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We’d respect it if you happen to left us a evaluation; that helps different individuals discover us, too. Particular thanks this week to Zach Dyer for filling in as our technical guru whereas Francis [Ying] takes some much-deserved time without work. Additionally, as all the time, you may electronic mail us your questions or feedback. We’re at [email protected]. Or you may nonetheless discover me at X, for now, @jrovner, or @julierovner at Bluesky and Threads. Joanne.

Kenen: I’m largely at Threads, @joannekenen1. Sometimes I’m nonetheless on X, however not fairly often, that’s @JoanneKenen.

Rovner: Sarah.

Karlin-Smith: I’m @SarahKarlin, or @sarahkarlin-smith, relying on the platform.

Rovner: Victoria.

Knight: I’m @victoriaregisk [on X and Threads]. Nonetheless totally on X, but additionally on Threads on the similar identify.

Rovner: We’re all making an attempt to department out. We shall be again in your feed subsequent week. Till then, be wholesome.


Zach Dyer
Audio producer

Emmarie Huetteman

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