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KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Picking Up the Pace of Undoing Trump Policies


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The Biden administration is speeding up the pace of efforts to undo Trump administration health policies.

The two most recent: overturning a ban on fetal tissue research funded by the National Institutes of Health and canceling a last-minute extension of a Medicaid waiver for Texas. (KHN is tracking changes to Trump health policies with an interactive tool you can see here.)

Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are complaining about hospitals’ efforts to evade a Trump-era health policy the Biden administration has elected to keep: requiring that hospital prices be made publicly available.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Anna Edney of Bloomberg News, Rachel Cohrs of Stat and Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • The Biden administration’s reversal last week of a 2019 rule that severely restricted the use of fetal tissue in medical research disbands the panel set up by the Trump administration to determine which research could go forward. That panel — dominated by abortion opponents — had denied most requests.
  • Past fetal tissue research played a role in helping to develop monoclonal antibodies and some of the vaccines used against covid-19.
  • The administration didn’t herald its decision on fetal tissue. The announcement was put out rather quietly, much as officials have done on other rule changes on reproductive health. That may reflect a sense that President Joe Biden doesn’t want to lead on these issues but does feel the need to meet the demands of key Democratic constituencies who favor the right to an abortion and the use of fetal tissue.
  • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services this week opted to pull back a 10-year extension of federal hospital funding for uncompensated care under Medicaid. The new administration said it did not think that extension had been properly handled and wanted to reevaluate it. But many people think this is part of Biden’s efforts to get conservative states to move to expand Medicaid to provide health care for many uninsured residents.
  • That decision did not sit well with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who threatened to delay a vote on Biden’s nominee to head CMS, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. That threat seemingly influenced Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee, and none of them voted to approve her nomination. Since the committee vote was tied, Senate Democratic leaders will have to take special measures to get her nomination to the floor.
  • When the covid vaccination effort began, concerns arose about whether minority communities would accept the vaccine. That has not turned out to be as much of a problem as anticipated, but public health officials are concerned about white conservatives, especially in Southern states and rural areas, who appear hesitant to get the shots.
  • The problems with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine do not appear to have raised extensive concerns among the public, polling suggests.
  • One strategy the Biden administration hopes will increase vaccinations is to provide federal funding to small businesses so they can pay their workers when they need to take time off to get a shot or recover from side effects.
  • One Trump administration policy getting bipartisan support is the effort for more transparency in hospital pricing. As of January, hospitals were required to post their prices, but many have still made the information difficult for the public to find. A group of House Democratic and Republican leaders is pressing the Health and Human Services Department to better enforce the new requirement.

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

Julie Rovner: KHN’s “UVA Health Will Wipe Out Tens of Thousands of Lawsuits Against Patients,” by Jay Hancock

Anna Edney: The New York Times’ “Vaccines Won’t Protect Millions of Patients With Weakened Immune Systems,” by Apoorva Mandavilli

Alice Miranda Ollstein: Vox.com’s “The Pandemic Playbook,” by Dylan Scott, German Lopez, Julia Belluz, Jen Kirby and Dylan Matthews

Rachel Cohrs: Politico’s “Border Fiasco Spurs a Blame Game Inside Biden World,” by Adam Cancryn, Anita Kumar and Sabrina Rodriguez

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to What the Health? on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify, or Pocket Casts.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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