The Health Law Archives - California Healthline Wed, 06 Dec 2023 00:07:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 161476318 Biden Wants States to Ensure Obamacare Plans Cover Enough Doctors and Hospitals Wed, 06 Dec 2023 10:00:00 +0000 The Biden administration plans to push states to boost oversight of the number of doctors, hospitals, and other health providers insurers cover in Obamacare plans, under rules proposed in November.

The annual regulatory proposal, known as the payment parameters rule, also seeks to expand access to adult dental coverage in Affordable Care Act marketplaces and would require states to hold open enrollment periods for Obamacare plans at the same time of year. It’s likely one of the last major ACA policy efforts of President Joe Biden’s first term — and, if he loses reelection, could represent his final touches on the landmark health program created when he was vice president.

Biden has been a staunch supporter of Obamacare and has taken steps during his own first term in the White House to expand the program through rules and legislation, including measures that increased premium subsidies. In part because of those subsidies, enrollment has increased steadily and hit records under his watch.

The proposal for 2025 would continue administration efforts to expand coverage, making it easier for states to offer plans that include adult dental care. The rules also set additional guardrails on the growing number of states that have chosen to run their own ACA marketplaces.

The rules need to be finalized in the spring and would affect plans starting in January 2025, not long before Inauguration Day.

So expect some controversy.

Already, the ACA has entered the political debate, with the current GOP front-runner, former President Donald Trump, taking to his Truth Social site on Thanksgiving weekend to call the failure of the GOP to repeal the ACA “a low point for the Republican Party.”

Trump also said he was “seriously” considering alternatives, which harked back to his presidency when he frequently promised an Obamacare replacement was soon to be revealed. It never was.

Biden quickly seized on Trump’s comments, saying on Nov. 27 that “my predecessor has once again — God love him — called for cuts that could rip away health insurance for tens of millions of Americans.”

Many of the changes made during Biden’s term, especially to rules that spell out how the law is to be implemented, could be altered if a Republican wins the White House — just as occurred in the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump term and, again, when Biden took office.

When Trump came into office, for example, he made a number of moves to roll back ACA rules set by the program’s namesake, President Barack Obama, including sharply reducing funding for enrollment assistance, shortening the annual sign-up period, and allowing less expensive but less protective short-term plans to cover longer periods of time. Biden’s team, in turn, expanded funding for enrollment, added special enrollment periods, and has a proposal awaiting final approval that would restore restrictions on short-term plans, which don’t cover many of the benefits included in ACA plans and are often called “junk insurance” by critics.

“If the past is any guide, and the next administration is different, the first thing they will do is roll things back,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor and co-director of the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University.

Politics may be one reason the administration’s latest proposal doesn’t include larger changes to the ACA. Doing anything more aggressive in an election year “might disrupt a program that Biden fully supports,” said Joseph Antos, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank.

But the proposal from the Department of Health and Human Services does respond to concerns about “network adequacy,” or whether insurers’ doctor and hospital networks are large enough to meet demand. The rules would require states to set numerical standards, such as a maximum “time and distance” that patients must travel to access in-network care, that are at least as rigorous as federal limits that kicked in this year.

The proposal would affect the 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, that run their own ACA marketplaces.

While many of them already set some network parameters, the standards vary. The administration’s latest proposal notes that 25% of existing state rules fail to set any quantitative requirements, such as how long or far a patient might have to drive to find a participating provider, or the acceptable ratio of the number of enrollees in a plan to the number of covered medical providers.

Requiring standards at least as tough as federal exchange rules across all states “would enhance consumer access to quality, affordable care,” the document says.

Some states “may not be doing enough to ensure compliance,” said Corlette. “States will have to step up their game.”

States would also have to review insurer networks to see if they meet the standards before giving the go-ahead to sell their plans. While the federal marketplace will, beginning in 2025, require insurers to meet new rules aimed at limiting patients’ wait times for appointments, especially for primary care and behavioral health, state marketplaces won’t yet have to impose similar standards.

More prescriptive state requirements for ACA insurers might draw some pushback during the public comment period for the rules, which runs through Jan. 8. They could also be a target for change if the GOP wins the White House, said Chris Condeluci, a health law attorney who worked as counsel to the Senate Finance Committee when the ACA was drafted.

“On the one hand, it makes sense to have standardized rules so everyone is working off the same song sheet,” said Condeluci. But he said there’s support for the idea that state marketplaces were not “to be nationally run or overly prescriptive from a federal government regulatory perspective.”

The HHS proposal also seeks to expand access to routine adult dental coverage by eliminating a prohibition against states including the care as an “essential health benefit” in their benchmark plans. The rules would also standardize open enrollment periods across all states, requiring them to begin Nov. 1 and run through at least Jan. 15. Most states already do that, although Idaho’s period currently begins Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 15, and New York’s begins Nov. 16 and ends Jan. 31.

The payment parameter notices, though dryly named, are a big deal not only for insurers, who plan their benefits and set their rates based in part on such rules, but also for consumers.

The ACA marketplaces “cover millions of people and it’s very important to make sure they are working and people understand what they are buying,” said Bethany Lilly, executive director of public policy at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

This article was produced by KFF Health News, formerly known as Kaiser Health News (KHN), a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF — the independent source for health policy research, polling, and journalism. 

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


This story can be republished for free (details).

FTC Chief Gears Up for a Showdown With Private Equity Thu, 30 Nov 2023 10:00:00 +0000 A recent Federal Trade Commission civil lawsuit accusing one of the nation’s largest anesthesiology groups of monopolistic practices that sharply drove up prices is a warning to private equity investors that could temper their big push to snap up physician groups.

Over the past three years, FTC and Department of Justice officials have signaled they would apply more scrutiny to private equity acquisitions in health care, including roll-up deals in which larger provider groups buy smaller groups in a local market.

Nothing happened until September, when the FTC sued U.S. Anesthesia Partners and the private equity firm Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe in federal court in Houston, alleging they had rolled up nearly all large anesthesiology practices in Texas. In the first FTC legal challenge against a private equity purchase of medical practices, the federal agency targeted one of the most aggressive private equity firms involved in building large, market-dominating medical groups.

In an interview, FTC Chair Lina Khan confirmed that her agency wants to send a message with this suit. Welsh Carson and USAP “bought up the largest anesthesiology practices, then jacked up prices and entered into price-setting and market-allocation schemes,” said Khan, who was appointed by President Joe Biden in 2021 to head the antitrust enforcement agency, with a mandate to combat health care consolidation. “This action puts the market on notice that we will scrutinize roll-up schemes.”

The large and growing volume of private equity acquisitions of physician groups in recent years has raised mounting concerns about the impact on health costs, quality of care, and providers’ clinical autonomy. A JAMA Internal Medicine study published last year found that prices charged by anesthesiology groups increased 26% after they were acquired by private equity firms.

“Now we’re seeing that scrutiny with this suit,” said Ambar La Forgia, an assistant professor of business management at the University of California-Berkeley, who co-authored the JAMA article. “This suit will cause companies to be more careful not to create too much local market power.”

The FTC’s lawsuit alleges that USAP and Welsh Carson engaged in an anti-competitive scheme to gain market power and drive up prices for hospital anesthesiology services. The FTC also accuses USAP and Welsh Carson — which established the medical group in 2012 and has expanded it to eight states — of cutting deals with competing anesthesiology groups to raise prices and stay out of one another’s markets.

USAP now controls 60% of Texas’ hospital anesthesia market, and its prices are double the median rates of other anesthesia providers in the state, according to the lawsuit. Learning that USAP would boost rates following one acquisition, a USAP executive wrote, “Awesome! Cha-ching,” the civil complaint said.

In a written statement, Welsh Carson, which also holds sizable ownership shares in radiology, orthopedic, and primary care groups, called the FTC lawsuit “without merit in fact or law.” It said USAP’s commercial rates “have not exceeded the rate of medical cost inflation for close to 10 years.”

The New York firm also said its investment in USAP “has allowed independent anesthesiologists to deliver superior clinical outcomes to underserved populations” and that the FTC’s action will harm clinicians and patients. Welsh Carson declined a request for interviews with its executives.

“This is a pretty common roll-up strategy, and some of the big private equity companies must be wondering if more FTC complaints are coming,” said Loren Adler, associate director of the Brookings Schaeffer Initiative on Health Policy. “If the FTC is successful in court, it will have a chilling effect.”

Since the FTC filed the USAP lawsuit, Khan said, the agency has received information from people in other health fields about roll-ups it should scrutinize. “We have limited resources, but it’s an area we are interested in,” she said. “We want to focus on where we see the most significant harm.”

In physician acquisition deals, PE firms typically use mostly borrowed money to acquire a controlling interest in a large medical group, pay the physician owners a substantial upfront sum in exchange for sharply cutting their future compensation, and install a management team. Then they seek to acquire smaller groups in the same geographic market and bolt them onto the original medical group for more bargaining clout and operating efficiencies.

The PE firm’s goal is to garner at least 20% dividends a year and then sell the group to another investor for at least three times the purchase price in three to seven years. Critics say this short-term investment model spurs the investors and medical groups to boost prices and cut staffing to generate large profits as fast as possible.

“Private equity is trying to extract value quickly and sell the company for a profit, so there’s a lot more incentive to increase prices quickly and extract higher revenue,” La Forgia said.

In the two years after a sale, PE-owned practices in dermatology, gastroenterology, and ophthalmology charged insurers 20% more per claim on average than did practices not owned by private equity, according to a JAMA study published last year.

There are similar concerns about hospital systems acquiring physician practices, which also have raised prices. “The evidence shows that both private equity and hospital acquisitions of physician practices are bad for consumers, and scrutiny should be applied to all acquirers,” Adler said.

Critics warn that private equity roll-ups of medical groups can jeopardize quality of care, too. Chris Strouse, a Denver anesthesiologist who served on USAP’s national board of directors but left the company’s Colorado group out of disapproval in 2020, cited patient safety issues arising from short staffing and mismanagement. He said USAP would schedule shifts so that three or four providers would hand off to each other a single surgical procedure, which he said is risky. In addition, USAP frequently asked anesthesiologists to work the day after working a 24-hour on-call shift, he said. “The literature shows that’s outside the safety range,” he said. As a result, many providers have left USAP, he added.

The FTC has long been lax in monitoring roll-ups of physician groups, in part because federal law does not require public reporting of these deals unless they exceed $111.4 million in value, a threshold adjusted over time. Lowering the threshold would require congressional action. As a result, regulators may be unaware of many deals that lead to gradual market concentration, which allows providers to demand higher prices from insurers and employer health plans.

Recognizing that problem, the FTC proposed in June to beef up its reporting requirements for companies planning mergers, in hopes of spotting previous acquisitions of smaller groups that could lead to excessive market power and higher prices. In addition, in a draft of their merger review guidelines, issued in July, the FTC and the Department of Justice said they would consider the cumulative effect of a series of smaller acquisitions.

“The ways PE firms are making serial acquisitions, each individual acquisition is under the radar, but in aggregate they roll up the whole market,” Khan said. “Between the merger reporting form and the new merger guidelines, we want to be able to better catch unlawful roll-up schemes. … This would enable us to stop roll-ups earlier.”

But Brian Concklin, a lawyer with the law firm Clifford Chance, whose clients include private equity firms, said the FTC’s proposed reporting requirements would hamper many legitimate mergers. “The notion that they need all that information to catch deals that lessen competition seems overblown and false, given that the vast majority of these deals do not lessen competition,” he said. “It will be a substantial burden on most if not all clients to comply.”

Researchers and employer groups, however, were encouraged by the FTC’s action, though they fear it’s too little, too late, because consolidation already has reduced competition sharply. Some even say the market has failed and price regulation is needed.

“Providers have been able to extort higher prices on services with no improvement in quality or value or access,” said Mike Thompson, CEO of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions. “The FTC stepping up its game is a good thing. But this horse is out of the barn. If we don’t have better enforcement, we won’t have a marketplace.”

This article was produced by KFF Health News, formerly known as Kaiser Health News (KHN), a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF — the independent source for health policy research, polling, and journalism. 

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


This story can be republished for free (details).

Health Care Is Front and Center as DeSantis and Newsom Go Mano a Mano Mon, 27 Nov 2023 10:00:00 +0000 Florida

Gov. Ron DeSantisAge: 45Florida population: 22.2 million


Gov. Gavin NewsomAge: 56California population: 39 million

Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis and Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom — political rivals from opposite coasts and proxies for red and blue America — are set to square off for a first-of-its-kind debate Nov. 30 in Georgia.

Newsom, a liberal firebrand in his second term as governor of California, isn’t running for president in 2024. But he goaded DeSantis, in his second term as governor of Florida, to go mano a mano. “I’ll bring my hair gel. You bring your hairspray,” he taunted on social media.

The matchup promises to be a heated brawl between rising political stars who lead two of the nation’s most populous and diverse states. And it will mark the first time the politicians meet in person even as they have very publicly traded barbs and insults, in recent weeks attacking each other in fundraising videos and campaign ads.

Front and center will be homelessness and health care, top priorities for voters — and issues that have largely defined the governors’ policies and leadership styles. From abortion to covid-19 vaccines, Newsom and DeSantis could not be further apart.

Earlier this year, DeSantis blasted California for being too generous with public benefit programs, such as Medicaid, which the Golden State has expanded to all eligible residents regardless of immigration status. That sweeping policy takes effect in January and goes well beyond the optional expansion of Medicaid that the Affordable Care Act offered states. In Florida, one of 10 states that have refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, DeSantis wears the state’s 11% rate of uninsured residents as a badge of honor.

“We’re not going to be like California and have massive numbers of people on government programs without work requirements,” DeSantis said at a presidential primary debate in Southern California earlier this year.

DeSantis has led his state to restrict abortion and gender-affirming care and to ban covid-related mask and vaccine mandates.

Newsom, a slick and brash surrogate for Democratic President Joe Biden, has slammed DeSantis for putting Floridians in danger and stripping them of their rights.

“Join us in California, where we still believe in freedom,” Newsom said in a political ad earlier this year.

Newsom has earned the moniker of “health care governor” by catapulting the issue to the top of his policy priorities. He made California an abortion sanctuary and is dramatically expanding health care benefits. He had promised to bring single-payer health care to the nation’s most populous state while campaigning for his first term, but that idea hit stiff political opposition early in his tenure. And now Newsom boasts about bringing the state’s uninsured rate to an all-time low of 6.5% by expanding coverage in other ways.

These issues are expected to take center stage during the nationally televised 90-minute debate on Fox News, which could have major reverberations for the presidential contest next year and could even help shape the 2028 field of White House contenders.

In advance of the showdown, KFF Health News analyzed 10 of the governors’ top health care positions and how their policies have improved — or hindered — the health of the residents they represent.



DeSantis has refused to expand Medicaid eligibility to more people under the Affordable Care Act. Partly as a result, more than 3 million Floridians had coverage through the federal Obamacare exchange as of February, more than any other state. Florida does not have a state-based exchange or offer state-sponsored subsidies.


The state has enthusiastically embraced the Affordable Care Act, expanding Medicaid while setting up its own insurance exchange, Covered California. Under Newsom, it has also gone well beyond the provisions of Obamacare and created a state requirement for Californians to have health insurance after the federal mandate was eliminated.



DeSantis approved legislation in April banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. However, the Florida Supreme Court has taken up a challenge to the 15-week ban introduced in 2022, which will determine if the six-week ban can take effect.


Newsom spearheaded the effort in 2022 to amend the state constitution to enshrine the right to abortion and birth control. He also approved $60 million to help uninsured patients and people from out of state pay for abortions in California, and signed reproductive health care laws, including one protecting doctors who mail abortion pills to other states.

Transgender Care


Under DeSantis, Florida passed a law this year banning gender-affirming health care for trans minors and mandating that adult patients sign informed consent forms before starting or continuing hormone treatment. The law also restricts who can order hormone therapy to physicians and prohibits the use of telehealth for new prescriptions. A federal lawsuit challenging the law is set to go to trial in mid-December.


Newsom and other state leaders have amended state law to ensure all California adults and children are entitled to gender-affirming health care services. And insurance companies doing business in California must include information on in-network providers for gender-affirming services by 2025. State health care agencies are designing “enforceable quality standards” to ensure trans patients have access to comprehensive care.



DeSantis has not declared homelessness a priority. In a video filmed on the streets of San Francisco and posted to social media in June, DeSantis used the topic as a campaign cudgel to criticize what he called “leftist policies” in California. Florida is experimenting with using Medicaid funds to address homelessness, but the program is limited. Nearly 26,000 people are homeless in Florida, or 12 of every 10,000 residents.


Newsom has plowed more than $20 billion into the homelessness crisis, with billions more for health and social services. For example, some homeless Californians can get social services through the state’s Medicaid program, such as money for rental security deposits, utility payments, and first and last month’s rent. Newsom also led a new state initiative that could force some homeless people into mental health or addiction treatment. More than 171,000 people are homeless in California, or 44 of every 10,000 residents.

Mental Health


DeSantis has kept his pledge to advocate for mental health treatment programs as governor, although Florida still ranks 43rd nationally in access to mental health care and has the fourth-highest rate of adults with mental illness who are uninsured, according to the Miami Center for Mental Health and Recovery. Under DeSantis, Florida has increased state funding for mental health programs in schools and peer-to-peer mental health services for first responders, and directed funding to suicide prevention.


Newsom in 2020 signed one of the nation’s strongest mental health parity laws, which requires insurance companies to cover mental health and substance use disorders just as they would physical health conditions. He is funding a $4.7 billion initiative to provide mental health treatment in schools. Newsom is also leading the campaign for a statewide, $6.4 billion bond measure in 2024 to revamp and expand community-based behavioral health programs, including thousands of new treatment beds.



Florida’s drug overdose death rate was 37.5 per 100,000 people in 2021. In August, DeSantis announced a new statewide addiction recovery program billed as a “first of its kind” in the United States, using peer counselors, medication-assisted treatment, and a coordinated network of support services. DeSantis also authorized Florida counties to adopt needle exchange programs in 2019 to reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases and encourage addiction treatment.


California’s drug overdose rate was 26.6 per 100,000 people in 2021. Newsom is sending the state Highway Patrol and National Guard into San Francisco to combat the open-air fentanyl trade and is boosting addiction recovery programs statewide. But he vetoed legislation last year that would have allowed Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland to establish safe injection sites.

Prescription Drugs


A DeSantis proposal submitted to the FDA in 2020 includes allowing imported medications from Canada. A new state law also sets price limits for pharmacy benefit managers — intermediaries between insurers, pharmacies, and manufacturers — and creates new rules for them around pricing transparency. The law also requires pharmaceutical companies to disclose significant price hikes.


Newsom is spearheading a $100 million, first-in-the-nation initiative that puts California in the generic drugmaking business, beginning with insulin and the opioid reversal drug naloxone. California already had a pricing transparency law when Newsom took office. This year, he signed a law that tightens state regulations for pharmacy benefit managers.

Health Care Affordability


In 2019, DeSantis signed the Patient Savings Act, which allows health insurers to share cost savings with enrollees who shop for health care services, such as imaging and diagnostic tests. Under his leadership, Florida lawmakers have also allowed short-term health plans lasting less than a year and direct health care agreements between a patient and a health care provider that are not considered insurance and are not subject to Florida’s insurance code.


One of Newsom’s first health care initiatives was to fund state-financed health insurance subsidies for low- and middle-income residents who purchase insurance through Covered California. Newsom this year also agreed to lower copays and get rid of some deductibles for plans sold through the exchange. California’s newly created Office of Health Care Affordability is capping industry cost increases and could potentially regulate health industry consolidation. California bans short-term health plans.

Public Health


DeSantis signed legislation in 2021 banning government, schools, and private employers from requiring covid vaccinations. In 2023, he pushed legislators to adopt laws prohibiting certain vaccine and mask requirements. He also formed a Public Health Integrity Committee led by his hand-picked surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo, whose official guidance on covid vaccines contradicts the CDC’s recommendations. The Sunshine State’s covid-19 vaccine booster rate for residents age 5 and older is 12.4%.


Newsom became the first U.S. governor to issue a statewide stay-at-home order at the start of the covid-19 pandemic. He pushed strong vaccination and mask mandates and accused DeSantis of being weak on public health. Newsom has also signed laws strengthening childhood vaccination mandates, including a measure that cracks down on bogus medical exemptions granted by doctors. The Golden State’s covid-19 vaccine booster rate for residents ages 5 and older is 21.9%.

Immigrant Health Care


With DeSantis making immigration a priority, legislators passed a state law requiring all Florida hospitals to ask on their admission forms whether a patient is a U.S. citizen or lawfully present in the country. Doctors, nurses, and health policy experts say the law targets marginalized people who already have difficulty navigating the health care system and will further deter them from seeking care.


Beginning in January, all immigrants who meet income qualifications will be eligible for the state’s Medicaid program. Before Newsom took office, California had already expanded eligibility to immigrant children through age 18 living in the state without authorization. Newsom then signed laws expanding the program to young adults up to age 26, adults 50 and older, and, later, immigrants of any age who otherwise meet eligibility requirements.

This article was produced by KFF Health News, formerly known as Kaiser Health News (KHN), a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF — the independent source for health policy research, polling, and journalism. 

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


This story can be republished for free (details).

La atención de salud, en el centro del debate entre DeSantis y Newsom Mon, 27 Nov 2023 10:00:00 +0000 Florida

Gobernador Ron DeSantisEdad: 45Población de Florida: 22.2 million


Gobernador Gavin NewsomEdad: 56Población de California: 39 million

El candidato presidencial republicano Ron DeSantis y el gobernador demócrata Gavin Newsom —rivales políticos y representantes de la América roja y azul— se enfrentarán en un debate sin precedentes el 30 de noviembre en Georgia.

Newsom, un agitador liberal en su segundo mandato como gobernador de California, no se presenta a las elecciones presidenciales de 2024. Pero incitó a DeSantis, en su segundo mandato como gobernador de Florida, a un cara a cara. “Yo llevaré mi gomina. Tú trae tu laca”, bromeó en las redes sociales.

El enfrentamiento promete ser una acalorada pelea entre estrellas políticas en ascenso que lideran dos de los estados más poblados y diversos del país. Y será la primera vez que los políticos se vean las caras, a pesar de que en las últimas semanas han intercambiado insultos en videos para recaudar fondos y anuncios de campaña.

Los temas principales serán la falta de vivienda y la salud, prioridades de los votantes y cuestiones que han definido, en gran medida, las políticas y los estilos de liderazgo de los gobernadores. Desde el aborto hasta las vacunas contra covid-19, Newsom y DeSantis no podrían ser más opuestos.

A principios de este año, DeSantis criticó a California por ser demasiado generosa con los programas públicos como Medicaid, que el Estado Dorado ha ampliado a todos los residentes elegibles, independientemente de su estatus migratorio. Esa política de gran alcance entra en vigencia en enero y va mucho más allá de la expansión opcional de Medicaid que la Ley de Cuidado de Salud a Bajo Precio (ACA) ofreció a los estados. En Florida, uno de los 10 estados que se ha negado a ampliar Medicaid bajo ACA o Obamacare, DeSantis alardea de la tasa de residentes del estado sin seguro de salud, que es del 11%, como si fuera una medalla de honor.

“No vamos a ser como California y tener un número masivo de personas en programas gubernamentales sin requisitos de trabajo”, dijo DeSantis en un debate de primarias presidenciales en el sur de California a principios de este año.

DeSantis ha llevado a su estado a restringir el aborto y la atención médica de afirmación de género, y a prohibir las máscaras relacionadas con covid y los mandatos de vacunación.

Newsom, un hábil e impetuoso sustituto del presidente demócrata Joe Biden, ha arremetido contra DeSantis por poner a los floridanos en peligro y despojarlos de sus derechos.

“Únete a nosotros en California, donde todavía creemos en la libertad”, expresó Newsom en un anuncio político a principios de este año.

Newsom se ha ganado el apodo de “gobernador de la atención de salud” al catapultar este asunto a lo más alto de sus prioridades políticas. Ha hecho de California un santuario del aborto y está ampliando drásticamente las prestaciones de salud. Durante su primera campaña, prometió estabecer el sistema de salud de pagador único al estado más poblado del país, pero esa idea encontró una dura oposición política al principio de su mandato. Y ahora Newsom se jacta de haber conseguido que la tasa de personas sin seguro en el estado haya alcanzado un mínimo histórico del 6,5% al ampliar la cobertura de otras maneras.

Se espera que estas cuestiones sean el centro del debate de 90 minutos televisado a todo el país por Fox News. Un debate que podría tener importantes repercusiones en la contienda presidencial del próximo año, e incluso ayudar a conformar el grupo de aspirantes a la Casa Blanca en 2028.

Con miras al debate, KFF Health News analizó 10 de las principales posiciones de los gobernadores en materia de salud y cómo sus políticas han mejorado —o perjudicado— la salud de los residentes a los que representan.



DeSantis se ha negado a ampliar la elegibilidad de Medicaid a más personas bajo la Ley de Cuidado de Salud a Bajo Precio (ACA). Una de las consecuencias es que, hacia febrero, más de 3 millones de floridanos tenían cobertura a través del mercado de seguros federal del Obamacare, más que cualquier otro estado. Florida no cuenta con un mercado estatal, ni ofrece subsidios patrocinados por el estado.


El estado ha adoptado con entusiasmo la Ley de Cuidado de Salud a Bajo Precio (ACA), ampliando Medicaid y creando su propio mercado de seguros, Covered California. Con Newsom, se ha ido mucho más allá de las disposiciones del Obamacare y se ha creado un requisito estatal que obliga a los californianos a tener un seguro de salud, después de que se eliminara el mandato federal.



DeSantis aprobó en abril una ley que prohíbe los abortos después de las seis semanas de embarazo. Sin embargo, la Corte Suprema de Florida ha tomado un recurso de apelación sobre la prohibición de las 15 semanas introducida en 2022, lo que determinará si la prohibición de las seis semanas puede entrar en vigencia.


Newsom encabezó en 2022 la iniciativa de enmendar la constitución estatal para consagrar el derecho al aborto y al control de la natalidad. También aprobó $60 millones para ayudar a pacientes sin seguro y a personas de fuera del estado a pagar abortos en California, y firmó leyes de atención a la salud reproductiva, incluida una que protege a los médicos que envían píldoras abortivas por correo a otros estados.

Atención transgénero


Bajo DeSantis, Florida aprobó este año una ley que prohíbe la atención médica de afirmación de género para menores trans y obliga a los pacientes adultos a firmar formularios de consentimiento informado antes de iniciar o continuar un tratamiento hormonal. La ley también limita la capacidad de los médicos para ordenar la terapia hormonal y prohíbe el uso de la telesalud para nuevas recetas. Está previsto que a mediados de diciembre se celebre un juicio por una demanda federal contra esta ley.


Newsom y otros líderes estatales han modificado la ley estatal para garantizar que todos los adultos y niños de California tengan derecho a servicios de atención médica de afirmación de género. Y las compañías de seguros que operan en California deben incluir información sobre los proveedores de la red de servicios de afirmación de género para 2025. Las agencias de salud estatales diseñan “normas de calidad aplicables” para garantizar que los pacientes trans tengan acceso a una atención integral.



DeSantis no ha declarado que la falta de vivienda sea una prioridad. En un video grabado en las calles de San Francisco, y publicado en redes sociales en junio, utilizó el tema como un arma de campaña para criticar lo que llamó “políticas de izquierda” en California. Florida experimenta con el uso de fondos de Medicaid para hacer frente a la falta de vivienda, pero el programa es limitado. Casi 26,000 personas carecen de hogar en Florida, es decir, 12 de cada 10,000 residentes.


Newsom ha destinado más de $20,000 millones a la crisis de los sin techo, y miles de millones más a servicios sociales y de salud. Por ejemplo, algunos californianos sin hogar pueden obtener servicios sociales a través del programa estatal de Medicaid, como dinero para depósitos de alquileres, pagos para servicios públicos, y para el primer y último mes de alquiler. Newsom también lideró una nueva iniciativa estatal que podría obligar a algunas personas sin hogar a someterse a tratamientos de salud mental o de adicciones. En California hay más de 171,000 personas sin hogar, es decir, 44 de cada 10,000 residentes.

Salud mental


DeSantis ha reiterado su promesa de abogar por programas de tratamiento de salud mental como gobernador, aunque Florida todavía ocupa el puesto 43 a nivel nacional en el acceso a la atención de salud mental y tiene la cuarta tasa más alta de adultos con enfermedades mentales sin seguro, según el Miami Center for Mental Health and Recovery. Con DeSantis, Florida ha aumentado la financiación estatal para programas de salud mental en las escuelas y servicios de salud mental entre pares para personal de primeros auxilios, y ha canalizado fondos para la prevención del suicidio.


Newsom firmó en 2020 una de las leyes de paridad en salud mental más estrictas del país, que obliga a las compañías de seguros a cubrir los trastornos mentales y las adicciones de la misma forma que lo harían con las afecciones físicas. Financia una iniciativa de $4,700 millones para proporcionar tratamiento de salud mental en las escuelas. Newsom también lidera en 2024 la campaña a favor de una medida de bonos estatales de $6,400 millones para renovar y ampliar los programas comunitarios de salud mental, incluidas miles de nuevas camas para tratamientos.



La tasa de muertes por sobredosis de drogas en Florida fue de 37,5 por cada 100,000 personas en 2021. En agosto, DeSantis anunció un nuevo programa estatal para recuperarse de las adicciones, calificado como “el primero de su tipo” en Estados Unidos, que utiliza consejeros pares, tratamiento asistido con medicamentos y una red coordinada de servicios de apoyo. DeSantis también autorizó a los condados de Florida a adoptar programas de intercambio de agujas en 2019 para reducir la propagación de enfermedades por transmisión sanguínea y fomentar el tratamiento de adicciones.


La tasa de muertes por sobredosis de drogas en California fue de 26,6 por cada 100, 000 habitantes en 2021. Newsom ha enviado a la Patrulla de Carreteras del estado y a la Guardia Nacional a San Francisco para combatir el comercio de fentanilo al aire libre e impulsa programas de recuperación de adicciones en todo el estado. Pero el año pasado vetó una ley que habría permitido a Los Angeles, San Francisco y Oakland establecer sitios seguros para inyectarse.

Medicamentos recetados


Una propuesta de DeSantis, presentada a la FDA en 2020, incluye permitir la importación de medicamentos de Canadá. Una nueva ley estatal también establece límites de precios para los administradores de beneficios farmacéuticos —intermediarios entre aseguradoras, farmacias y fabricantes— y crea nuevas normas para ellos en torno a la transparencia de precios. La ley también obliga a las farmacéuticas a revelar aumentos de precios significativos.


Newsom encabeza una iniciativa de $100 millones, la primera en el país, que sitúa a California en el negocio de la fabricación de medicamentos genéricos, empezando por la insulina y la naloxona, un fármaco para revertir el efecto de los opioides. California ya contaba con una ley de transparencia de precios cuando Newsom asumió el cargo. Este año, firmó una ley que endurece la normativa estatal para los administradores de beneficios farmacéuticos.

Cuidado de salud asequible


En 2019, DeSantis firmó la Ley de Ahorro del Paciente, que permite a las aseguradoras de salud compartir los ahorros de costos con los afiliados que compran servicios de atención médica, como imágenes y pruebas de diagnóstico. Bajo su liderazgo, los legisladores de Florida también han permitido planes de salud a corto plazo, que duran menos de un año, y acuerdos de atención médica directa entre un paciente y un proveedor de salud que no se consideran seguros, y no están sujetos al código de seguros de Florida.


Una de las primeras iniciativas de Newsom en materia de salud consistió en financiar subvenciones estatales al seguro médico para residentes ingresos bajos y medios que contraten un seguro a través de Covered California. También acordó este año reducir los copagos y eliminar algunos deducibles de los planes vendidos a través del mercado. La recién creada Office of Health Care Affordability de California limita los aumentos de costos del sector y podría regular la consolidación de la industria de la salud. California prohíbe los planes de salud a corto plazo.

Salud Pública


DeSantis firmó una ley en 2021 que prohíbe al gobierno, las escuelas y los empleadores privados exigir la vacunación contra covid. En 2023, presionó a los legisladores para que aprobaran leyes que prohibieran ciertos requisitos de vacunas y uso de máscaras. También estableció un Comité de Integridad de Salud Pública dirigido por su cirujano general elegido a dedo, Joseph Ladapo, cuya orientación oficial sobre las vacunas de covid contradice las recomendaciones de los CDC. La tasa de vacunación de refuerzo contra covid-19 en el Estado del Sol para los residentes de 5 años en adelante es del 12,4%.


Newsom fue el primer gobernador de Estados Unidos en emitir una orden para permanecer en casa en todo el estado al comienzo de la pandemia de covid-19. Impulsó fuertes mandatos de vacunación y máscaras, y acusó a DeSantis de ser débil en materia de salud pública. Newsom también ha firmado leyes que refuerzan los mandatos de vacunación infantil, incluida una severa medida contra las falsas exenciones médicas concedidas por los doctores. La tasa de vacunación de refuerzo contra covid-19 en el Estado Dorado para los residentes de 5 años en adelante es del 21,9%.

Atención de salud del inmigrante


Al tener DeSantis la inmigración como una prioridad, los legisladores aprobaron una ley estatal que obliga a todos los hospitales de Florida a preguntar en sus formularios de admisión si un paciente es ciudadano estadounidense o se encuentra legalmente en el país. Médicos, enfermeras y expertos en políticas de salud afirman que la ley afecta a personas marginadas, que ya tienen dificultades para desenvolverse en el sistema de salud, y que los disuadirá aún más de buscar atención médica.


A partir de enero, todos los inmigrantes que cumplan los requisitos de ingresos podrán acogerse al programa estatal de Medicaid. Antes que Newsom asumiera el cargo, California ya había ampliado la elegibilidad a los niños inmigrantes indocumentados hasta los 18 años. Newsom firmó luego leyes que ampliaron el programa a adultos jóvenes hasta los 26 años, a adultos mayores de 50 años y, más tarde, a los inmigrantes de cualquier edad que cumplieran con los requisitos de elegibilidad.

Esta historia fue producida por KFF Health News, conocido antes como Kaiser Health News (KHN), una redacción nacional que produce periodismo en profundidad sobre temas de salud y es uno de los principales programas operativos de KFF, la fuente independiente de investigación de políticas de salud, encuestas y periodismo. 

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


This story can be republished for free (details).

Backlash to Affirmative Action Hits Pioneering Maternal Health Program for Black Women Fri, 24 Nov 2023 10:00:00 +0000 For Briana Jones, a young Black mother in San Francisco, a city program called the Abundant Birth Project has been a godsend.

Designed to counter the “obstetric racism” that researchers say leads a disproportionate number of African American mothers to die from childbirth, the project has provided 150 pregnant Black and Pacific Islander San Franciscans a $1,000 monthly stipend.

The money enabled Jones, 20, to pay for gas to drive to prenatal clinics, buy fresh fruits and vegetables for her toddler son and herself, and remain healthy as she prepared for the birth of her second child last year.

But the future of the Abundant Birth Project is clouded by a lawsuit alleging that the program, the first of its kind in the nation, illegally discriminates by giving the stipend only to people of a specific race. The lawsuit also targets San Francisco guaranteed-income programs serving artists, transgender people, and Black young adults.

The litigation is part of a growing national effort by conservative groups to eliminate racial preferences in a wide range of institutions following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found race-conscious admissions to colleges and universities to be unconstitutional.

In health care, legal actions threaten efforts to provide scholarships to minority medical school students and other initiatives to create a physician workforce that looks more like the nation.

The lawsuits also endanger other measures designed to reduce well-documented racial disparities. Black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die in labor or from related complications in the U.S., and Black infants are twice as likely as white infants to be born prematurely and to die before their first birthdays. Racial and ethnic minorities also are more likely to die from diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, and heart disease than their white counterparts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A handful of activist nonprofit groups and law firms are leading the charge. Do No Harm, a nonprofit formed in 2022, has sued health commissions, pharmaceutical companies, and public health journals to try to stop them from choosing applicants based on race. Do No Harm claims more than 6,000 members worldwide and partners with nonprofit legal organizations, most notably the Pacific Legal Foundation, which garnered national attention when it defended California’s same-sex marriage ban.

Another nonprofit, the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, together with a Dallas-based law firm called the American Civil Rights Project, filed the lawsuit against the city of San Francisco and the state of California over the Abundant Birth Project, alleging the program violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment by granting money exclusively to Black and Pacific Islander women. The 14th Amendment was passed after the Civil War to give rights to formerly enslaved Black people.

The lawsuit calls public money used for the project and the three other guaranteed-income programs “discriminatory giveaways” that are “illegal, wasteful, and injurious.”

“The city and county of San Francisco crafted the Abundant Birth Project with the express intention of picking beneficiaries based on race,” Dan Morenoff, executive director of the American Civil Rights Project, said in a phone interview. “It’s unconstitutional. They can’t legally do it, and we are optimistic that the courts will not allow them to continue to do it.”

San Francisco and state officials declined to discuss the case because of the pending litigation, but the city defended the program in its initial response to the lawsuit. The Abundant Birth Project started in June 2021 and plans to make a second round of grants to pregnant mothers this fall, the response says.

The project strives to improve maternal and infant health outcomes by easing the economic stress on pregnant Black and Pacific Islander San Franciscans. People in those groups face some of the worst outcomes in the U.S., where more women die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth than in other high-income nations. The state of California last year awarded $5 million to expand the program to include Black mothers in four other counties.

But Khiara Bridges, a Berkeley law professor and anthropologist who has talked to beneficiaries of the Abundant Birth Project but is not directly involved with it, said the Supreme Court ruling on college affirmative action could actually support the argument that the program is legal.

The court struck down affirmative action in part because the majority said Harvard and the University of North Carolina failed to show measurable outcomes justifying race consciousness in college admissions. While statistics on potential benefits from the Abundant Birth Project are not publicly available, Bridges and others familiar with the program expect researchers to demonstrate it saves and improves lives by comparing the health outcomes of families who received the stipend with those of families who did not. The outcomes could justify employing race to choose program participants, Bridges said.

Bridges also drew another distinction between the role of race in college admissions and the role of race in health disparities.

“If you don’t get into Harvard, there’s always Princeton or Columbia or Cornell,” she said. “Maternal death — the stakes are a little bit higher.”

In California, a voter initiative, Proposition 209, has prohibited race-based selection in public education and employment since 1996. California Assembly member Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) has co-authored a pending bill that would amend the proposition to allow municipalities to grant benefits to specific groups of vulnerable people if they use research-based measures that can reduce health and other disparities.

Bonta, a law school graduate, told California Healthline that the litigation against the Abundant Birth Project is the result of “conservative groups who want to exist in a world that doesn’t exist, where communities of color have not had to suffer the generational harm that comes from structural racism.”

Bonta has more than once been a victim of medical racism herself.

When she went to the hospital with a serious back injury, she was interrogated by a doctor who appeared to believe she was faking pain so she could obtain drugs.

“But for the intervention of my husband, who happened to be there and moved into health advocacy mode, I, as a Black Latina woman, would not have received the care that I needed,” she said. Bonta’s husband, Rob Bonta, is also a lawyer and is now California’s attorney general.

Briana Jones experiences racism every day, she said.

She was 15 when she gave birth to her first child in a San Francisco hospital. Terrified and in agonizing pain, she did what laboring mothers have always done and screamed.

A nurse ordered her to “shut up.”

In the U.S., Black women are far more likely than white women to report that health care providers scolded, threatened, or shouted at them during childbirth, research shows. They also face other forms of obstetric racism, including barriers to quality care and cumulative stress from lifelong discrimination.

Growing up Black in predominantly white and Asian San Francisco has been a struggle for Jones. But, while carrying her second baby last year, she learned from her mother of the Abundant Birth Project, and within a month, her race and address in Bayview Hunters Point, where some of the city’s poorest residents live, qualified her as one of nearly 150 women to receive the $1,000 a month during her pregnancy and for six months postpartum.

“I really did feel like it was God helping me,” she said.

For Morenoff, though, it’s just another form of discrimination, and he says the city must either open the Abundant Birth Project to all pregnant women or close it down. “The whole point of the 14th Amendment is to require America to treat all Americans as Americans with the same equal rights,” he said.

Jones had high blood pressure, leading to swollen ankles and dizziness, during both her pregnancies. In her more recent one, the birth project stipend helped enable her to quit couch surfing and move into an apartment, and she gave birth to a healthy boy named Adonis.

“It’s known that people of color struggle way harder than other races,” Jones said. “Where I live, it’s nothing but struggle here, people trying to make ends meet.”

“For them to try to take this program away from us,” she said, “it’s wrong.”

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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US Military Says National Security Depends on ‘Forever Chemicals’ Mon, 20 Nov 2023 10:00:00 +0000 The Department of Defense relies on hundreds, if not thousands, of weapons and products such as uniforms, batteries, and microelectronics that contain PFAS, a family of chemicals linked to serious health conditions.

Now, as regulators propose restrictions on their use or manufacturing, Pentagon officials have told Congress that eliminating the chemicals would undermine military readiness.

PFAS, known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment and can build up in the human body, have been associated with such health problems as cancer. In July, a new federal study showed a direct link between testicular cancer and PFOS, a PFAS chemical that has been found in the blood of thousands of military personnel.

Congress has pressured the Defense Department to clean up U.S. military sites and take health concerns more seriously. Under the fiscal 2023 James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act, the Pentagon was required to assess the ubiquity of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in products and equipment used by the military.

In a report delivered to Congress in August, Defense Department officials pushed back against health concerns raised by environmental groups and regulators. “DoD is reliant on the critically important chemical and physical properties of PFAS to provide required performance for the technologies and consumable items and articles which enable military readiness and sustainment,” the authors said.

Further, they wrote: “Losing access to PFAS due to overly broad regulations or severe market contractions would greatly impact national security and DoD’s ability to fulfill its mission.”

According to the report, most major weapons systems, their components, microelectronic chips, lithium-ion batteries, and other products contain PFAS chemicals. These include helicopters, airplanes, submarines, missiles, torpedoes, tanks, and assault vehicles; munitions; semiconductors and microelectronics; and metalworking, cooling, and fire suppression systems — the latter especially aboard Navy ships.

PFAS are also present in textiles such as uniforms, footwear, tents, and duffel bags, for which the chemicals help repel water and oil and increase durability, as well as nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare protective gear, the report says.

The Pentagon’s report to Congress was released last month by the American Chemistry Council.

Defending a Tradition of Defense

Military officials’ defense of PFAS use comes as concerns mount over the health risks associated with the chemicals. Beyond cancer, some types of PFAS have been linked to low birth weight, developmental delays in children, thyroid dysfunction, and reduced response to immunizations. Health concerns grew with the release of the study definitively linking testicular cancer in military firefighters to a foam retardant containing PFAS.

But that wasn’t the first time U.S. military officials were warned about the potential health threat. In the 1970s, Air Force researchers found that firefighting foam containing PFAS was poisonous to fish and, by the 1980s, to mice.

In 1991, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told Fort Carson, Colorado, to stop using firefighting retardants containing PFAS because they were “considered hazardous material in a number of states.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to determine whether there are acceptable levels of PFAS in drinking water supplies, given the existence of hundreds of varieties of these chemicals. But in March, the EPA did propose federal limits on the levels of PFAS in drinking water supplies.

The regulation would dramatically reduce limits on six types of the chemicals, with caps on the most common compounds, known as PFOA and PFOS, at 4 parts per trillion. Currently, the Defense Department’s threshold for drinking water is 70 parts per trillion based on a 2016 EPA advisory. As part of a widespread testing program, if levels are found on installations or in communities above that amount, the military furnishes alternative drinking water supplies.

The Defense Department has used PFAS-laced firefighting foam along with other products containing the chemicals for more than a half-century, leading to the contamination of at least 359 military sites or nearby communities, with an additional 248 under investigation, according to the department.

In its report, however, the Department of Defense did not address the health concerns and noted that there is “no consensus definition of PFAS as a chemical class.” Further, it said that the broad term, which addresses thousands of man-made chemical chains, “does not inform whether a compound is harmful or not.”

Researchers with the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group that focuses on PFAS contamination nationwide, said the report lacked acknowledgment of the health risks or concerns posed by PFAS and ignored the availability of PFAS-free replacements for material, tents, and duffel bags.

The military report also did not address possible solutions or research on non-PFAS alternatives or address replacement costs, noted EWG’s Jared Hayes, a senior policy analyst, and David Andrews, a senior scientist.

“It’s kind of like that report you turn in at school,” Andrews said, “when you get a comment back that you did the minimum amount possible.”

Andrews added that the report fell short in effort and scope.

The Defense Department announced this year it would stop buying firefighting foam containing PFAS by year’s end and phase it out altogether in 2024. It stopped using the foam for training in 2020, by order of Congress.

The report noted, however, that while new Navy ships are being designed with alternative fire suppression systems such as water mists, “limited use of [PFAS-containing systems] remains for those spaces where the alternatives are not appropriate,” such as existing ships where there is no alternative foam that could be swapped into current systems.

According to the report, “the safety and survivability of naval ships and crew” from fires on ships depends on current PFAS-based firefighting foams and their use will continue until a capable alternative is found.

Pervasive Yet Elusive

Commercially, PFAS chemicals are used in food packaging, nonstick cookware, stain repellents, cosmetics, and other consumer products.

The fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act also required the Defense Department to identify consumer products containing PFAS and stop purchasing them, including nonstick cookware and utensils in dining facilities and ship galleys as well as stain-repellent upholstered furniture, carpeting, and rugs.

But in a briefing to Congress in August accompanying the report on essential uses, Pentagon officials said they couldn’t comply with the law’s deadline of April 1, 2023, because manufacturers don’t usually disclose the levels of PFAS in their products and no federal laws require them to do so.

Come Jan. 1, however, makers of these chemicals and products containing them will be required to identify these chemicals and notify “downstream” manufacturers of other products of the levels of PFAS contained in such products and ingredients, even in low concentrations, according to a federal rule published Oct. 31 by the EPA.

This would include household items like shampoo, dental floss, and food containers.

Officials reiterated that the Defense Department is committed to phasing out nonessential and noncritical products containing PFAS, including those named above as well as food packaging and personal protective firefighting equipment.

And it is “developing an approach” to remove items containing PFAS from military stores, known as exchanges, also required by the fiscal 2023 NDAA.

Risk-Benefit Assessments

In terms of “mission critical PFAS uses,” however, the Pentagon said the chemicals provide “significant benefits to the framework of U.S. critical infrastructure and national and economic security.”

Andrews of EWG noted that the industry is stepping up production of the chemicals due to market demand and added that the federal government has not proposed banning PFAS chemicals, as the Defense Department alluded to when it emphasized the critical role these substances play in national security and warned against “overly broad regulations.”

“The statements are completely unsubstantiated, and it’s almost a fear-mongering statement,” Andrews said. “I think the statement is really going beyond anything that’s even being considered in the regulatory space.”

“There haven’t been realistic proposals policy-wise of a complete ban on PFAS,” his colleague Hayes added. “What people have been pushing for and talking about are certain categories of products where there are viable alternatives, where there is a PFAS-free option. But to ban it outright? I haven’t really seen that as a realistic policy proposal.”

Kevin Fay, executive director of the Sustainable PFAS Action Network, a coalition of corporations, industry advocates, and researchers who support the use and management of PFAS compounds, said the Defense Department has a point and it is up to federal regulators to “responsibly manage” these chemicals and their use to strike a balance among environmental, health, and industrial needs.

“The U.S. Department of Defense’s report on critical PFAS uses is crystal clear: regulating PFAS through a one-size fits all approach will gravely harm national security and economic competitiveness,” Fay wrote in an email to KFF Health News.

Adding that not all PFAS compounds are the same and arguing that not all are harmful to human health, Fay said risk-based categorization and control is vital to the continued use of the chemicals.

But, he added, in locations where the chemicals pose a risk to human health, the government should act.

“The federal government should implement plans to identify and remediate contaminated sites, properly identify risk profiles of the many types of PFAS compounds, and encourage innovation by clearing the regulatory path for viable alternatives to specific dangerous compounds,” Fay wrote.

Assessments are completed or underway at 714 active and former military installations, National Guard facilities, and other former defense sites to determine the extent of contamination in groundwater, soil, and the water supply to these locations and nearby communities.

Last year, the Pentagon issued a temporary moratorium on burning materials containing PFAS. Studies have shown that the practice can release toxic gases. But on July 11, the Defense Department lifted the moratorium on incineration, along with interim guidance on PFAS disposal.

Military personnel who were exposed to PFAS — including through firefighting foam — say they live in fear that they or their family members will develop cancer as a result of their service.

“I’ve got more of some of those materials in my system than 90-plus percent of those on the planet. This is bad. It doesn’t go away,” said Christian Jacobs, who served in the Army for four years and worked as a civilian Defense Department firefighter for nearly three decades. “It keeps me up at night.”

KFF Health News visual reporter Hannah Norman contributed to this report.

This article was produced by KFF Health News, formerly known as Kaiser Health News (KHN), a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF — the independent source for health policy research, polling, and journalism. 

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


This story can be republished for free (details).

Comienza la inscripción para los seguros de salud del Obamacare Tue, 31 Oct 2023 09:01:00 +0000 Para millones de personas que compran su propio seguro de salud a través del mercado establecido por la Ley de Cuidado de Salud a Bajo Precio (ACA, popularmente conocida como Obamacare), el final del año trae un ajuste de cuentas: es el momento de comparar beneficios y precios, cambiar a un nuevo plan o inscribirse por primera vez.

La inscripción abierta comienza el 1 de noviembre para el mercado federal,, y los mercados estatales. Los consumidores pueden ir en línea, llamar o buscar ayuda de un corredor, o un navegador, para conocer sus opciones de cobertura para 2024, calcular sus posibles subsidios o cambiar de plan.

En la mayoría de los estados, la inscripción abierta dura hasta el 15 de enero, aunque algunos tienen períodos diferentes. El de California, por ejemplo, es más largo, hasta el 31 de enero, pero el de Idaho va desde el 15 de octubre hasta el 15 de diciembre.

En general, la inscripción debe realizarse antes del 15 de diciembre para obtener cobertura que comience el 1 de enero. Si el plan se adquiere en enero, entrará en vigencia el 1 de febrero.

Expertos en política de salud y corredores recomiendan que todos los titulares de pólizas de ACA al menos revisen las opciones del próximo año, porque los precios, y los médicos y hospitales en las redes de los planes, pueden haber cambiado.

Podría ser otro año récord. Ahora estos planes están bien establecidos: se estima que más de 16.3 millones de personas se inscribieron el año pasado. Y este año podrían ser aún más. Se mejoró la ayuda disponible, cambios que se aprobaron en el apogeo de la pandemia de COVID-19 que siguen vigentes, y algunos estados han aumentado la ayuda financiera de otras maneras.

Además, millones de personas en todo el país están perdiendo la cobertura de Medicaid a medida que los estados reevalúan la elegibilidad de los afiliados por primera vez desde el inicio de la pandemia.

Muchas de las personas excluidas podrían ser elegibles para un plan de ACA. Pueden inscribirse tan pronto como sepan que están perdiendo la cobertura de Medicaid, incluso fuera de la temporada de inscripción abierta.

Una advertencia importante: no esperes hasta el último minuto, especialmente si estás buscando ayuda de un corredor. Este año, se les pedirá a los consumidores que certifiquen que acordaron voluntariamente la ayuda de los corredores y que la información sobre sus ingresos y otros datos proporcionada por los corredores es precisa.

“Es una buena protección para ambas partes”, dijo el corredor Joshua Brooker, fundador de PA Health Advocates en Pennsylvania. Pero los corredores están preocupados de que este requisito pueda causar demoras, especialmente si los clientes esperan hasta último momento para buscar un plan médico.

Las primas están cambiando. Mientras que algunos planes de salud están reduciendo las primas (el pago mensual por la cobertura) para el próximo año, muchos las están aumentando, generalmente entre un 2% y un 10%, según una revisión inicial de las solicitudes de tarifas de Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker. El aumento medio es del 6%.

Las primas, ya sea que suban o bajen, varían ampliamente por región y por aseguradora.

Expertos dicen que esa es una gran razón para iniciar una sesión en el sitio web federal,, en los 32 estados que lo utilizan, o en el mercado de seguros para uno de los 18 estados y el Distrito de Columbia que administran sus propias plataformas. Cambiar de aseguradora podría significar una prima más baja.

“Todo es muy localizado”, dijo Sabrina Corlette, profesora de investigación y co-directora del Centro de Reformas de Seguros de Salud en la Universidad de Georgetown. “La gente debería comprar para maximizar su subsidio, aunque eso podría requerir no solo cambiar a un nuevo plan, sino también a una nueva red de proveedores”.

La mayoría de las personas que compran su propia cobertura califican para créditos fiscales, que es un subsidio para compensar parte o incluso la totalidad de la prima mensual.

Los subsidios se basan en parte en la prima del segundo plan de nivel de Plata de precio más bajo en una región. Cuando estas primas suben o bajan, posiblemente porque una nueva aseguradora entra en el mercado con tarifas iniciales bajas, afecta la cantidad del subsidio.

Los ingresos del hogar también son un factor. Los subsidios se calculan en una escala móvil basada en los ingresos.

Los subsidios aumentaron durante la pandemia, para que más inscriptos pudieran recibirlos y para permitir que más familias calificaran. Esas mejoras se extendieron hasta 2025 por la Ley de Reducción de la Inflación del presidente Joe Biden, aprobada el año pasado.

Las calculadoras en línea, incluida una en, pueden proporcionar estimaciones de subsidios.

Es posible que califiques para deducibles y copagos más bajos. Además de los subsidios para las primas, la mayoría de los inscritos en estos planes califican para deducibles reducidos, copagos y otros tipos de costos compartidos si sus ingresos no superan 2.5 veces el nivel federal de pobreza, o alrededor de $75,000 para una familia de cuatro personas.

Los planes de ACA se agrupan en niveles de colores: Bronce, Plata, Oro y Platino, en gran parte según cuánto requieran de costos compartidos. Los planes de Bronce ofrecen las primas más bajas, pero generalmente los copagos y deducibles más altos. Los planes de Platino tienen las primas más altas, pero gastos de bolsillo más bajos para la atención médica

Las reducciones en los costos compartidos solo están disponibles en planes de nivel de Plata y son más generosas para aquellos en el extremo inferior de la escala de ingresos. Una novedad de este año: para ayudar a más personas a calificar, el mercado federal cambiará automáticamente a las personas elegibles a un plan de Plata para el próximo año si actualmente están inscritas en un plan de Bronce, siempre y cuando el inscrito no haya hecho un ajuste en la cobertura por sí mismo.

Hay salvaguardias incorporadas, dijo Louise Norris, experta en seguros y corredora, para que las personas sean inscritas automáticamente en un plan con la misma red de proveedores médicos y una prima similar o más baja. Además, nueve de los estados que administran sus propios mercados, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nueva Jersey, Nuevo México, Vermont y Washington, han mejorado sus programas de reducción de costos compartidos al extender la elegibilidad o aumentar los beneficios.

Algunos jóvenes de 26 años podrán permanecer en los planes de sus padres por más tiempo. Algunos que tienen cobertura a través de sus padres podrán permanecer en ella hasta el final del año calendario en el que cumplen 26 años, en lugar de perder la cobertura el mismo día de su cumpleaños 26. Esto se ha convertido en regulación.

Los estados que administran sus propios mercados pueden establecer reglas similares, y algunos ya permiten períodos más largos en el plan de los padres.

Las redes pueden seguir siendo pequeñas. A menudo, los planes de salud intentan reducir las primas asociándose con un conjunto limitado de médicos, hospitales y otros proveedores. Esos pueden cambiar de un año a otro, por lo que expertos en seguros como Norris dicen que los inscritos siempre deben verificar sus planes durante la inscripción abierta para asegurarse de que sus médicos y hospitales preferidos estén incluidos en la red. También es una buena idea observar detenidamente los cambios en la cobertura de medicamentos recetados o en los copagos, agregó.

“El mensaje general es no asumir nada y asegurarse de verificar quién está en la red”, enfatizó Norris.

El año pasado, la administración Biden estableció reglas que requerían que los planes de salud tuvieran suficientes proveedores en la red para cumplir con estándares específicos de tiempo de viaje y distancia. Una propuesta para limitar cuánto tiempo esperan los pacientes para una cita de rutina se ha retrasado hasta 2025.

Lo que todavía no sabemos. Hay algunas cosas inciertas a medida que se acerca el final del año. Por ejemplo, la administración Biden propuso este verano revertir una regla de la era Trump que permitía la venta de planes de corto plazo para períodos de cobertura de hasta un año.

Los planes de corto plazo no cumplen con los requisitos de ACA, y muchos tienen menos beneficios y pueden establecer restricciones en la cobertura, incluido no permitir que los adquieran personas con afecciones preexistentes como diabetes o colesterol alto. Como resultado, son mucho menos costosos que los planes del mercado. La propuesta de Biden los limitaría a períodos de cobertura de cuatro meses, pero la regla aún no es definitiva.

También está pendiente una regla final que permitiría a las personas inscribirse en la cobertura de ACA si fueron traídas a Estados Unidos por sus padres cuando eran pequeños, sin estatus legal permanente, el grupo conocido como “Dreamers”.

Esta historia fue producida por KFF Health News, conocido antes como Kaiser Health News (KHN), una redacción nacional que produce periodismo en profundidad sobre temas de salud y es uno de los principales programas operativos de KFF, la fuente independiente de investigación de políticas de salud, encuestas y periodismo. 

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


This story can be republished for free (details).

Start Shopping: Enrollment Begins Nov. 1 for Most Obamacare Insurance Plans Tue, 31 Oct 2023 09:00:00 +0000 For millions of Americans who buy their own health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace, the end of the year brings a day of reckoning: It’s time to compare benefits and prices and change to a new plan or enroll for the first time.

Open enrollment starts Nov. 1 for the ACA’s federal and state exchanges. Consumers can go online, call, or seek help from a broker or other assister to learn their 2024 coverage options, calculate their potential subsidies, or change plans.

In most states, open enrollment lasts through Jan. 15, although some states have different time periods. California’s, for example, is longer, open until Jan. 31, but Idaho’s runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 15. In most states enrollment must occur by Dec. 15 to get coverage that begins Jan. 1.

Health policy experts and brokers recommend all ACA policyholders at least look at next year’s options, because prices — and the doctors and hospitals in plans’ networks — may have changed.

It Could Be Another Record Year

ACA plans are now well entrenched — an estimated 16.3 million people signed up during open enrollment last year. This year may see even larger numbers. Enhanced subsidies first approved during the height of the covid pandemic remain available, and some states have boosted financial help in other ways.

In addition, millions of people nationwide are losing Medicaid coverage as states reassess their eligibility for the first time since early in the pandemic. Many of those ousted could be eligible for an ACA plan. They can sign up as soon as they know they’re losing Medicaid coverage — even outside of the open enrollment season.

Another important caution: Don’t wait until the last minute, especially if you are seeking help from a broker. Consumers this year will be asked to certify that they voluntarily agreed to brokers’ assistance and that their income and other information provided by brokers is accurate.

It’s a good protection for both parties, said broker Joshua Brooker, founder of PA Health Advocates in Pennsylvania. But brokers are concerned the requirement could cause delays, especially if clients wait until right before the end of open enrollment to apply.

“Brokers will need to stop what they are doing right at the end before they click ‘submit’ and wait for the consumer to sign a statement saying they reviewed the policy,” Brooker said.

Premiums Are Changing

While some health plans are lowering premiums for next year, many are increasing them, often by 2% to 10%, according to a Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker initial review of rate requests. The median increase, based on a weighted average across its plans for each insurer, was 6%. 

Premiums, and whether they go up or down, vary widely by region and insurer. 

Experts say that’s a big reason to log on to the federal website,, in the 32 states that use it, or on to the insurance marketplace for one of the 18 states and the District of Columbia that run their own. Changing insurers might mean a lower premium.

“It’s very localized,” said Sabrina Corlette, research professor and co-director of the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University. “People should shop to maximize their premium tax credit, although that might require not only changing to a new insurance plan, but potentially also a new network of providers.”

Most people buying their own coverage qualify for the tax credit, which is a subsidy to offset some, or even all, of their monthly premium. Subsidies are based partly on the premium of the second-lowest-priced silver-level plan in a region. When those go up or down, possibly from a new insurer entering the market with low initial rates, it affects the subsidy amount.

Household income is also a factor. Subsidies are on a sliding scale based on income.

Subsidies were enhanced during the pandemic, both to increase the amount enrollees could receive and to allow more families to qualify. Those enhancements were extended through 2025 by President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, passed last year.

Online calculators, including one at, can provide subsidy estimates.

You May Qualify for Lower Deductibles and Copays

In addition to the premium subsidies, most ACA enrollees qualify for reduced deductibles, copayments, and other types of cost sharing if their income is no more than 2.5 times the federal poverty level, or about $75,000 for a family of four or $36,450 for a single-person household.

ACA plans are grouped into colored tiers — bronze, silver, gold, and platinum — based largely on how much cost sharing they require. Bronze plans offer the lowest premiums but usually the highest copayments and deductibles. Platinum plans carry the highest premiums but the lowest out-of-pocket expenses for care.

Cost-sharing reductions are available only in silver-level plans and are more generous for those on the lower end of the income scale. New this year: To help more people qualify, the federal marketplace will automatically switch eligible people to a silver plan for next year if they are currently enrolled in a bronze plan, as long as the enrollee has not made an adjustment in coverage themselves.

There are safeguards built in, said insurance expert and broker Louise Norris, so that people are auto-enrolled in a plan with the same network of medical providers and a similar or lower premium. Additionally, nine of the states that run their own marketplaces — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, and Washington — have enhanced their cost-sharing reduction programs by extending eligibility or increasing benefits.

California, for example, enhanced benefits for those below 2.5 times the federal poverty level, eliminating deductibles entirely. Some plans will also lower primary care visit copays from $50 to $35 and reduce the cost for generic drugs from $19 to $15. Some enrollees will also have their out-of-pocket spending capped at $6,100, down from $7,550. The cost reductions in plans on Covered California, the state exchange, come on top of existing federal subsidies and were made possible using proceeds from a state fine on the uninsured.

Some 26-Year-Olds Will Get to Stay on Parents’ Plans Longer

Happy birthday! Existing federal marketplace rules allowing adult children to stay on their parents’ plans though the calendar year in which they turn 26, rather than lose coverage on their 26th birthday, were codified into regulation.

States that run their own markets can set similar rules, and some already allow for longer periods on a parent’s plan.

Networks May Still Be Small

Insurance plans often try to reduce premiums by partnering with a limited set of doctors, hospitals, and other providers. Those can change year to year, which is why insurance experts like Norris say enrollees should always check their plans during open enrollment to ensure their preferred physicians and medical centers are included in the network.

It’s also a good idea, Norris said, to look closely for changes in prescription drug coverage or copayments.

“The general message is, don’t assume anything and make sure you check to see who is in the network,” Norris said.

Last year, the Biden administration set rules requiring health plans to have enough in-network providers to meet specific driving time and distance standards. A proposal to limit how long patients wait for a routine appointment has been delayed until 2025.

What We Still Don’t Know

A few things remain uncertain as the end of the year approaches. For example, the Biden administration proposed this summer to reverse a Trump-era rule that allowed short-term insurance plans to be sold for coverage periods of up to a year.

Short-term plans are not ACA-compliant, and many have fewer benefits and can set restrictions on coverage, including barring people with health conditions from purchasing them. As a result, they are far less expensive than ACA plans. The Biden proposal would restrict them to coverage periods of four months, but the rule isn’t final.

Also pending: a final rule that would allow people to sign up for ACA coverage if they were brought to the U.S. as children by parents lacking permanent legal status — a group known as “Dreamers.”

This article was produced by KFF Health News, formerly known as Kaiser Health News (KHN), a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF — the independent source for health policy research, polling, and journalism. 

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


This story can be republished for free (details).

KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': A Not-So-Health-y GOP Debate Thu, 24 Aug 2023 18:40:00 +0000 The Host Julie Rovner KFF Health News @jrovner Read Julie's stories. Julie Rovner is chief Washington correspondent and host of KFF Health News’ weekly health policy news podcast, “What the Health?” A noted expert on health policy issues, Julie is the author of the critically praised reference book “Health Care Politics and Policy A to Z,” now in its third edition.

For the first time since 2004, it appears health insurance coverage will not be a central issue in the presidential campaign, at least judging from the first GOP candidate debate in Milwaukee Wednesday night. The eight candidates who shared the stage (not including absent front-runner Donald Trump) had major disagreements over how far to extend abortion restrictions, but there was not even a mention of the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have tried unsuccessfully to repeal since it was passed in 2010.

Meanwhile, a new poll from KFF finds that health misinformation is not only rampant but that significant minorities of the public believe things that are false, such as that more people have died from the covid vaccine than from the covid-19 virus.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico, Victoria Knight of Axios, and Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times.


Joanne Kenen Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico @JoanneKenen Read Joanne's stories Victoria Knight Axios @victoriaregisk Read Victoria's stories Margot Sanger-Katz The New York Times @sangerkatz Read Margot's stories

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • The first Republican presidential debate of the 2024 cycle included a spirited back-and-forth about abortion, but little else about health care — and that wasn’t a surprise. During the primary, Republican presidential candidates don’t really want to talk about health insurance and health care. It’s not a high priority for their base.
  • The candidates were badly split on abortion between those who feel decisions should be left to the states and those who support a national ban of some sort. Former Vice President Mike Pence took a strong position favoring a national ban. The rest revealed some public disagreement over leaving the question completely to states to decide or advancing a uniform national policy.
  • Earlier this summer, Stanford University’s Hoover Institute unveiled a new, conservative, free-market health care proposal. It is the latest sign that Republicans have moved past the idea of repealing and replacing Obamacare and have shifted to trying to calibrate and adjust it to make health insurance a more market-based system. The fact that such plans are more incremental makes them seem more possible. Republicans would still like to see things like association health plans and other “consumer-directed” insurance options. Focusing on health care cost transparency could also offer an opportunity for a bipartisan moment.
  • In a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, two Florida families allege their Medicaid coverage was terminated by the state without proper notice or opportunity to appeal. It seems to be the first such legal case to emerge since the Medicaid “unwinding” began in April. During covid, Medicaid beneficiaries did not have to go through any kind of renewal process. That protection has now ended. So far, the result is that an estimated 5 million people have lost their coverage, many because of paperwork issues, as states reassess the eligibility of everyone on their rolls. It seems likely that more pushback like this is to come.
  • A new survey released by KFF this week on medical misinformation found that the pandemic seems to have accelerated the trend of people not trusting public health and other institutions. It’s not just health care. It’s a distrust of expertise. In addition, it showed that though there are people on both ends — the extremes — there is also a muddled middle.
  • Legislation in Texas that was recently signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott hasn’t gotten a lot of notice. But maybe it should, because it softens some of the state’s anti-abortion restrictions. Its focus is on care for pregnant patients; it gives doctors some leeway to provide abortion when a patient’s water breaks too early and for ectopic pregnancies; and it was drafted without including the word “abortion.” It bears notice because it may offer a path for other states that have adopted strict bans and abortion limits to follow.

Plus, for “extra credit,” the panelists suggest health policy stories they read this week they think you should read, too:

Julie Rovner: KFF Health News’ “Doctors and Patients Try to Shame Insurers Online to Reverse Prior Authorization Denials,” by Lauren Sausser.

Margot Sanger-Katz: KFF Health News’ “Life in a Rural ‘Ambulance Desert’ Means Sometimes Help Isn’t on the Way,” by Taylor Sisk.

Joanne Kenen: The Atlantic’s “A Simple Marketing Technique Could Make America Healthier,” by Lola Butcher.

Victoria Knight: The New York Times’ “The Next Frontier for Corporate Benefits: Menopause,” by Alisha Haridasani Gupta.

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:

Click to open the transcript Transcript: A Not-So-Health-y GOP Debate

[Editor’s note: This transcript, generated using transcription software, has been edited for style and clarity.]

Julie Rovner: Hello and welcome back to “What the Health?” I’m Julie Rovner, chief Washington correspondent for KFF Health News. And I’m joined by some of the best and smartest health reporters in Washington. We’re taping this week on Thursday, Aug. 24, at 10 a.m. As always, news happens fast, and things might have changed by the time you hear this. So, here we go. We are joined today via video conference by Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times.

Margot Sanger-Katz: Good morning.

Rovner: Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico.

Joanne Kenen: Hi, everybody.

Rovner: And Victoria Knight of Axios News.

Victoria Knight: Hello, everyone.

Rovner: No interview this week, but we’ll have an entire interview episode next week. More on that later. First, we will get to this week’s news. Well, Wednesday night saw the first Republican presidential debate of the 2024 cycle, minus front-runner Donald Trump, in what could only be called a melee, on Fox News Channel. And while there was a spirited debate about abortion, which we’ll get to in a minute, I didn’t hear a single word about anything else health-related — not Medicare or Medicaid, nor any mention of the Affordable Care Act. Was anybody surprised by that? For the record, I wasn’t. I wasn’t really expecting anything except abortion.

Kenen: Well, somebody, I think it was [former New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie actually pointed out that nobody was talking about it.

Knight: Mike Pence. It was [former Vice President] Mike Pence, actually.

Kenen: Oh, Pence. OK. “Nobody’s talking about Medicare and Social Security.” And then he didn’t talk about it, and nobody mentioned the ACA.

Rovner: Is the ACA really gone as a Republican issue, for this cycle, do we think?

Kenen: Well, I think it’s become, like, a guerrilla warfare. Like, they’re still trying to undermine it. They’re not trying to repeal it, but they’re looking at its sort of soft underbelly, so to speak, and trying to figure out where they can put more market forces on, which we can sort of come back to later. But they spent 10 years trying to repeal it, and they just figured out what they’ve got to do now is pretend it’s not there. Right now, abortion is their topic.

Rovner: Well, let us turn to that.

Sanger-Katz: Yeah, I was just going to say that we’ve been seeing this happen a little bit over the last couple of cycles. In the 2020 race — I went through the transcripts of all of the speakers during the Republican National Convention and was really staggered by how few mentions of Obamacare there were relative to the way that the issue had been discussed in the past. But I think — just a note, that this is the Republican debate. Republicans don’t really want to be talking about health insurance and health care, because they don’t really have affirmative plans to put forward and because I think that they see that there are some real political liabilities in staking out a strong position on these issues. But in a general election, I think it will be impossible for them to avoid it, because, I think, Joe Biden has a lot of things that he wants to say. I think he is very committed to, in particular, broadcasting that he wants to protect Medicare. I think he’s quite proud of the expansions that he’s made of the Affordable Care Act. And so, this is a little bit of a weird moment in the race because, you know, we really only have one party that’s having a primary, and its leading candidate is not participating in the debates. And so, I think these candidates are trying to focus elsewhere. But it is — I will say, as someone who’s covered a couple of these now — it is a weird experience to have health care and health policy feel like a second-tier issue, because it was so central — Obamacare, in particular — was just so central to so many of these election cycles and such an animating and unifying issue among Republican voters, that this kind of post-failure-of “repeal and replace” era feels very different.

Kenen: One really quick thing is, they’re going to hit Biden on inflation. Economically, it’s his most vulnerable point, and health care costs are a burden. And I was a little surprised, without going into Obamacare and repeal and all that stuff, they mentioned the price of food, the price of gas, they mentioned interest rates and housing. It would have been really easy, and I expect that at some point they will start doing it, to talk about the cost of health care, because Biden’s done a huge amount on coverage and making insurance more affordable and accessible. But the cost of health care, as we all know, is still high in America.

Rovner: And at very least, the cost of prescription drugs, which has been a bipartisan issue going back many, many years. All right. Well, the one health issue that, not surprisingly, did get a lot of attention last night was abortion. With the exception of Mike Pence, who has been an anti-abortion absolutist for his entire tenure in Congress, as governor of Indiana, and as vice president, everyone else looked pretty uncomfortable trying to walk the line between the very anti-abortion base of the party and the recognition that anti-abortion absolutism has been a losing electoral strategy since the Supreme Court overturned Roe last year. What does this portend for the rest of the presidential race and for the rest of the down-ballot next year? Rather than trying to bury the fact that they all disagree, they all just publicly disagreed?

Knight: And I think they also, like, if you listened, [former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations] Nikki Haley kind of skirted around how she would address it. She talked about some other things, like contraception and saying that there just weren’t enough votes in the Senate to pass any kind of national abortion ban. [Florida Gov.] Ron DeSantis also, similarly, said he was proud of his six-week bill but didn’t quite want to answer about a national abortion ban. There were the few that did say, like, Hey, we’re into that. And some said, You know, it needs to go back to the states. So there definitely was kind of this slew of reactions on the stage, which I think just shows that the Republican Party is figuring out what message, and they don’t have a unified one on abortion, for sure.

Rovner: I do want to talk about Nikki Haley for a second, because this is what she’s been saying for a long time that she thinks that there’s a middle ground on abortion. And, you know, bless her heart. I’ve been covering this for almost 40 years and there has never been a middle ground. And she says, well, everybody should be for contraception. Well, guess what? There’s a lot of anti-abortion stalwarts who think that many forms of contraception are abortion. So there isn’t even a consensus on contraception. Might she be able to convince people that there could be a middle ground here?

Sanger-Katz: Oh, what I found sort of interesting about her answers: I think on their face they were kind of evasive. They were like, I don’t need to answer this question because there’s not a political consensus to do these things. But I do think it was sort of revealing of where the political consensus is and isn’t that I think she’s right. Like, realistically, there aren’t the votes to totally ban abortion; there aren’t the votes to renew the Roe standard. And I think she was in some ways very honestly articulating the bind that Republicans find themselves in, where they, and I think a lot of their voters, have these very strong pro-life values. At the same time, they recognize that getting into discussions about total abortion bans gives no favors politically and also isn’t going to happen in the near future. So, I felt like, as a journalist, you know, thinking about how I would feel having asked her that question, I felt very dissatisfied by her answer, because she really didn’t answer what she would like to do. But I do think she channeled the internal debate that all these candidates are facing, which is, like, is it worth it to go all the way out there with a policy that I know will alienate a lot of American voters when I know that it cannot be achieved?

Rovner: I was actually glad that she said that because I’ve been saying the opposite is true also — everybody says, well, why didn’t, you know, Congress enshrine abortion rights when they could have? The fact is, they never could have. There have never been 60 votes in the Senate for either side of this debate. That’s why they tried early after Roe to do national bans and then a constitutional amendment. They could never get enough votes. And they tried to do the Freedom of Choice Act and other abortion rights bills, and they couldn’t get those through either. And this is where I get to remind everybody, for the 11,000th time, the family planning law, the Title X, the federal Family Planning [Services and Public Research] Act, hasn’t been reauthorized since 1984 because neither side has been able to muster the votes even to do that. Sorry, Joanne, you wanted to say something.

Kenen: No, I thought Haley’s response on abortion was actually really pretty interesting on two points, right? She didn’t technically answer the question, but she also said this question is a fantasy — you know, face it. And, you know, she said that, and then she mentioned the word contraception. She did not dwell on it. She sort of said it sort of quickly. She missed an opportunity, maybe, just for one or two more sentences. You know, she said we need to make sure that contraception … she’s the only woman on that stage. She’s a mother; she’s got two kids. And, you know, there is uncertainty. After Dobbs there were advocacy groups saying, you know, they’re going to ban contraception tomorrow, and that didn’t happen. And we still don’t know how that fight will play out and what types of contraception will be debated. But I noticed that she said that on a stage full of Republicans, and I noticed that nobody else — all men — didn’t pick up on it.

Rovner: The big divide seemed to be, do you want to leave it completely to the states or do you want to have some kind of national floor of a ban? And they seemed, yeah —

Kenen: Yeah, and the moderators didn’t pick up on that. I mean, there was such a huge brouhaha on the stage. You know, the moderators had a lot of trouble moderating last night. It wouldn’t have been easy for them to get off of abortion and follow up on contraception. But I thought it was just sort of an interesting thing that she noted it.

Sanger-Katz: I will say also, and I agree with Julie: With the possible exception of Mike Pence, even the candidates that were endorsing some kind of national abortion policy, we’re talking about a 15-week gestational limit. There really wasn’t anyone who was coming out and saying, “Let’s ban all abortions. Let’s even go to six weeks,” which many of the states, including Florida, have done. So I do think, again, like, even the candidates that were more willing to take an aggressive stand on whether the federal government should get involved in this issue were moderating the position that you might have expected for them before Dobbs.

Kenen: But even 15 weeks shows how the parameters of this conversation have changed, because what the Republicans had been doing pre-Dobbs was 20 weeks, with their so-called fetal-pain bills. So 15 weeks, which would have sounded extremely radical two years ago — compared to six weeks, 15 sounds like, oh, you know, this huge opportunity for the pro-choice people. And it is another sign of how this space has shrunk.

Sanger-Katz: Yeah, no, I don’t mean that it’s a huge opportunity for the pro-choice people, but I think it reflects that even the candidates who were willing to go the most out on the limb in wanting to enforce a national abortion restriction understand the politics do not permit them to openly advocate going all the way towards a full ban.

Rovner: While we are on the subject of Republicans and health, there actually is a new Republican plan to overhaul the health system. Sort of. It’s from the Hoover Institution at Stanford, from which a lot of conservative policy proposals emanate. And it’s premised on the concept that consumers should have better control of the money spent on their health care and a better idea of what things cost. Now, this has basically been the theme of Republican health plans for as long as I can remember. And the lead author of this plan is Lanhee Chen, who worked for Republicans in the Senate and then led presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s policy shop, and whose name has been on a lot of conservative proposals. But I find this one notable more for its timing. Republicans, as we mentioned, appear to have internalized the idea that the only thing they can agree on when it comes to health care is that they don’t like the Affordable Care Act. Is that changing or is this just sort of hope from the Republican side of the policy wonk shop?

Sanger-Katz: I think this is connected to the discussion that we had about the debate, but it feels to me like we are in a bit of a post Obamacare era where the fights about “Are we going to continue to have Obamacare or not?” have sort of faded from the mainstream of the discussion. But there’s still plenty of discussion to be had about the details. The Democrats clearly want to expand Obamacare in various ways. Some of those they have done in a temporary fashion. Others are still on the wish list. And I think this feels very much like the kind of calibration adjustment, you know, small changes, tinkers on the Republican side to try to make the health insurance market a little bit more market-based. But this is not a big overhaul kind of plan. This is not a repeal-and-replace plan. This is not a plan that is changing the basic architecture of how most Americans get their insurance and how it is paid for. This is a plan that is making small changes to the regulation of insurance and to the way that the federal government finances certain types of insurance. That said, I think the fact that it’s more incremental makes it feel like these are things that are more likely to potentially happen because they feel like there are things that you could do without having a huge disruptive effect and a big political backlash and that you could maybe develop some political consensus around.

Rovner: It does, although I do feel like, you know, this is a very 2005 plan. This is the kind of thing that we would have seen 15 years ago. But as Democrats have gotten the Affordable Care Act and discovered that the details make it difficult, Republicans have actually gotten a lot on the transparency side and, you know, helping people understand what things cost. And that hasn’t worked very well either. So there’s a long way to go, I think, on both sides to actually make some of these things work. Victoria, did you want to add something?

Knight: Yeah, I’ve been talking to Republicans a lot, trying to figure out like what is their next go-to going to be. And I think they’re pretty understanding that ACA is set in place, but they still don’t want to give up that there are alternative types of health insurance that they want to put out there. And I think that seems that’s kind of what they realize they can accomplish if they get another Republican president and they’re going to try to do association health plans again. They’re going to try to expand some of these what they call health reimbursement arrangements, things like that, to just like kind of try to add some other types of health insurance options, because I think they know that ACA is just too entrenched and that there’s not much else they can do outside of that. And then, yeah, I think focus a little more on the transparency and cost because they know that’s a winning message and that is the one thing in Congress right now on the health care end that seems to have bipartisan momentum for the most part.

Rovner: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. Well, another issue that could have come up in last night’s debate but didn’t was the unwinding of Medicaid coverage from the pandemic. The news this week is that the first lawsuit has been filed accusing a state of mistreating Medicaid beneficiaries. The suit filed against Florida by the National Health Law Program and other groups is on behalf of two kids, one with a disability, and a mom who recently gave birth. All would seem to still be eligible, and the mom says she was never told how to contest the eligibility determination that she was no longer eligible, and that she was cut off when she tried to call and complain. State officials say their materials have been approved by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which they have, and that Florida, in fact, has a lower procedural disenrollment rate than the average state, which is also true. But with 5 million people already having been dropped from Medicaid, I imagine we’re going to start to see a little more pushback from advocacy groups about people who are, in all likelihood, still eligible and have been wrongly dropped. I’m actually a little surprised that it took this long.

Kenen: Many of the people who have been dropped, if they’re still eligible, they can get recertified. I mean, there’s no open enrollment season for Medicaid. If you’re Medicaid-eligible, you’re Medicaid-eligible. The issue is, obviously, she didn’t understand this. It’s not being communicated well. If you show up at the hospital, they can enroll you. But people who are afraid that they aren’t covered anymore may be afraid of going to the hospital even if they need to. So there’s all sorts of bad things that happen. In some of these cases, there are simple solutions if the person walks in the door and asks for help. But there are barriers to walking in the door and asking for help.

Rovner: I was going to say one of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit is a child with a disease …

Kenen: Cystic fibrosis.

Rovner: Right. That needs expensive drugs and had not been able to get her drugs because she had been cut off of Medicaid. So there’s clearly stuff going on here. It’s probably true that Florida is better than the average state, which means that the average state is probably not doing that well at a lot of these things. And I think we’re just starting to see, you know, it’s sort of mind-numbing to say, oh, 5 million people have been separated from their health insurance. And again, we have no idea how many of those have gotten other health insurance, how many of those don’t even know and won’t know until they show up to get health care and find out they’re no longer covered. And how many people have been told they’re no longer covered but can’t figure out how to complain and get back on?

Sanger-Katz: And it’s this very extreme thing that’s happening right now. But it is, in many ways, the normal system on steroids. You know, if you’ve been covering Medicaid for any period of time, as all of us have, like, people get disenrolled all of the time from Medicaid for these administrative reasons, because of some weird hiccup in the system, they move, their income didn’t match in some database. This is a problem that a lot of states face because they have financial incentives often to drop people off of Medicaid because they have to pay a portion of the cost of providing health care. And a lot of them have rickety systems, and they’re dealing with a population that often has unstable housing or complicated lives that make it hard for them to do a lot of paperwork and respond to letters in a timely way. And so part of the way that I’ve been thinking about this unwinding is that there’s a particular thing that’s happening now, and I think there’s a lot of scrutiny on it, appropriately. And I think that there should be to make sure that the states are not cutting any corners. But I also think in some ways it’s sort of like a way of pressure-testing the normal system and reminding us of all of the people who slip through the cracks in normal times and will continue to do so after this unwinding is over. And these stories in Florida, to me, do not feel that dissimilar from the kinds of stories that I have heard from patients and advocates in states long before this happened.

Rovner: Yeah, I think you’re right. It’s just shining a light on what happens. I mean, it was the oddity that they were … states were not allowed to redetermine eligibility during the pandemic because normally states are required to redetermine eligibility at least once a year. And I think some do it twice a year. So it’s, you know, these redeterminations happen. They just don’t happen all in a huge pile the way they’re happening now. And I think that’s the concern.

Sanger-Katz: And it also, I think, really shines a light on the way that Medicaid is structured, where the Affordable Care Act simplified it quite a lot because, [for example], you’re in an expansion state and you earn less than a certain amount of money, then you can get Medicaid. But there are all of these categories of eligibility where, you know, you have to be pregnant, you have to be the parent of a child of a certain age. You have to demonstrate that you have a certain disability. And I think [it] is a reminder that this is a pretty complicated safety net, Medicaid. You know, there’s lots of things that beneficiaries have to prove to states in order to stay eligible. And there’s lots of things, honestly, you know, if states really want to make sure that they are reserving resources for the people who need them, that they do need to be checking on. And so I think we’re all just sort of seeing that this is a messy, complicated process. And I think we’re also seeing that there are these gaps and holes in who Medicaid covers. And it’s not the case that we have a perfect and seamless system of universal coverage in this country. We have this patchwork and people do fall between the cracks.

Kenen: And this is one of the most vulnerable populations, obviously. Some of the elderly are also very vulnerable, but these are people who may not speak either English or Spanish. They don’t have access to computers necessarily. I mean, we’re giving the least assistance to the population that needs the most assistance. And, you know, I mean, I think if Biden wanted to be really savvy about fixing it, he’d come out with some slogan about “Instead of Medicare unwinding, it’s time to have Medicare rewinding,” or something like that, because they’re going to have to figure … I mean, they have taken some steps, but it’s a huge mess, and the uninsurance rate is going to go up, and hospitals are going to have patients that are no longer covered, and it’s not going to be good for either the health care system or certainly the people who rely on Medicaid.

Rovner: I think it’s noteworthy how much the administration has been trying not to politicize this, that apparently, you know, we keep hearing that they won’t even tell us which states, although you can … people can sort of start to figure it out. But, you know, states that are having a more difficult time keeping eligible people on the rolls, shall we say, when the administration could have … I mean, they could be trumpeting, you know, which states are doing badly and trying to shame them. And they are rather very purposely not doing that. So I do think that there’s at least an attempt to keep this as collegial, if you will, as possible in a presidential election year. So my colleagues here at KFF have a depressing, but I guess not all that surprising, poll out this week about medical misinformation and how much of the public believes things that simply aren’t true — like that more people died from the covid vaccine than covid itself, or that ivermectin is a useful treatment for the virus. It’s not. It’s for parasites. And the survey didn’t just ask about covid. People have been exposed to, and a significant percentage believe, things like that it’s harder to get pregnant if you’ve been on birth control and stop. It isn’t. Or that people who keep guns in their house are less likely to be killed by a gun than those who don’t. They’re not. But what’s really depressing is the fact that the pandemic seems to have accelerated an already spiraling trend in distrust of public institutions in general: government, local and national media, and social media. Are we ever going to be able to start to get that back? I mean, you know, we talk about the woes with public health, but this goes a lot deeper than that, doesn’t it?

Kenen: And it’s not just health care. When you look at historical metrics about trust — which I’ve had to for a course I teach — we were never a very trusting society, it turns out. We’ve had large sectors of the population haven’t been trusting of many institutions and sectors of society for decades. We’re just not too huggy in this country. It’s gotten way worse. And what you said is right, but it’s broad. It’s not just doctors. It’s not just vaccines, it’s expertise. This distrust is really corrosive. But of all the things in that survey, one that really blew me away was we’re like, what, 13 years since Obamacare was passed? Only 7% or 8% — “only,” I should say only in quotes, you know — only 7% or 8% still thought there were death panels, but something like 70% wasn’t sure if there were death panels. Like, has anyone known anyone who went before a death panel? Since 2010? And yet 70% — I mean, I may be a little off, I didn’t write it down — but it’s something like 70% weren’t sure. And that is a mind-blowing number. It just says, you know, they weren’t ready to come out and say, yes, there are death panels. But that meant that a lot of Democrats also weren’t sure if there were death panels There are no death panels.

Knight: I was just gonna say, I also thought it was interesting that it showed people do use social media to get a lot of their information, but then they also don’t trust the information that they get on there. So it’s kind of like, yeah …

Rovner: And they’re right not to!

Knight: Yeah, they’re absolutely right not to. But then it’s also like, well, they’re then just not getting health information at all, or if they’re getting it, they just don’t trust it. So just showcasing how difficult it is to fill that void of health information, like, people just aren’t getting it or don’t trust it.

Rovner: I feel like some of this is social literacy. I mean, you know, we talk about health literacy and things that people can understand, but, you know, people don’t understand the way journalism works, the difference between the national news and what you see on Facebook. And I think that’s, Joanne, going back to your point about people not trusting expertise, it’s also not being able to figure out what expertise is and who has expertise. I mean, that’s really sort of the bottom line of all this, isn’t it?

Kenen: Well, I mean, I was doing some research — I can’t remember the exact details, this was something I read several months ago — but there was one survey maybe a couple of years ago where the majority of people said they don’t trust the news they read, but they’re still getting their news from something that they don’t trust. So it sounds sort of funny, but it’s actually not. I mean, it’s really a crisis of people don’t know what to believe. The uncertainty is corrosive, and it’s health care and politics, this widening chasm of people with alternative sets of facts — or alternative worldviews, anyway. So it’s not good. I mean, it was a really good survey, it was a really interesting survey, but some of it wasn’t so surprising. I mean, that there’s still people who, like, the fertility issues and the vaccines. You can sort of understand why those have lingered in the environment we’re in. I had actually had a conversation the other day with a political scientist who had studied the death panel rumors 10 years ago. And I said, what about now? And, you know, he was sort of … he hadn’t looked at it and he was sort of saying, well, you know, there aren’t any. And people have probably figured that out by now. Well, no. I have to email him the study, right?

Sanger-Katz: Anytime that I read a study like this, I am also reminded — and I think it is useful for all of us to be reminded of this and probably most people who are listening to the podcast — that the average American is just not as tuned in on the news and on the Washington debate and on the minutia of public policy, as all of us are. So, you know, and I think that that is part of the reason why you see so many people not sure about these things. It’s clearly the case that they are being exposed to bad information and that is contributing to their uncertainty. And I think the rise of misinformation about both health policy and about actual, you know, health care, in the case of covid, is a bad and relatively newer phenomenon. But I also think a lot of people just aren’t paying that close attention, you know, and it’s good to be reminded of that.

Kenen: The book I just read that I referred to — it’s by an MIT political scientist named Adam Berinsky, and it’s called “Political Rumors.” And it just came out, and he was talking about exactly that, that we’re all exposed to misinformation. We can’t avoid it. It’s everywhere. And that for people who aren’t as engaged with day-to-day politics, they end up uncertain. That’s this messy middle, which they also use in the KFF survey. They came up with a very similar conclusion about the “muddled middle,” I think was the phrase they used. And what this political scientist said to me the other day was that, you know, pollsters tend to not look at the “I don’t know, I’m uncertain, no opinion.” They sort of shunt them aside and they look at the “yes” or “no” people. And he was saying, no, no, no, you know, this is the population we really need to pay attention to, the “Uncertains” because they’re probably the ones you can reach more. And in the real world, we saw that with vaccination, right? I mean, in the primary series — I mean, booster takeup was low — but in the primary when there was a lot of uncertainty about the vaccines, the people who said “no way I am ever going to get the vaccine” — I mean, KFF was surveying this every month — most of them didn’t. You know, a few on the margins did, but most of them who were really militantly against the vaccine didn’t take it. The ones who were “I don’t know” and “I’m a little scared” and “I’m waiting and seeing” … a lot of them did take it. They were reached. And that’s sort of an important lesson to shift the focus as we deal with distrust, as we deal with disinformation and we deal with messaging, which is good, and truth-building and confidence-building, it is that muddled middle that’s going to have to be more of a target than we have traditionally thought.

Rovner: Well, in the interest of actually giving good information, we have a couple of updates on the reproductive health front. For those of you keeping score, abortion bans took effect this week in South Carolina and Indiana after long drawn-out court battles. Meanwhile, in Texas, an update to our continuing discussion of women with pregnancy complications who’ve been unable to get care because doctors fear running afoul of that state’s ban, a couple of weeks ago, reports Selena Simmons-Duffin at NPR, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott very quietly signed a law that created a couple of exceptions to the ban for ectopic pregnancies and premature rupture of membranes, both of which are life-threatening to the pregnant woman, but just not necessarily immediately life-threatening. I had not heard a word about this change in the law until I saw Selena’s story. Had any of you?

Kenen: In fact, it should have come up because of this court case in Texas about, you know, a broader health exception — it’s not even “health,” it’s life-threatening. It’s like, at what point do you get sick enough that your life is in danger as opposed to, you know, should you be treating that woman before … you see what direction it’s going, and you don’t let them go to the brink of death? I mean, that was the court case and Abbott fought that. But yeah, it was interesting.

Rovner: It was a really interesting story that was also, you know, pushed by a state legislator who was trying very hard not to … never to say the word abortion and to just make sure that, you know, this was about health care and not abortion. It’s an interesting story, we will link to it.

Sanger-Katz: I wonder if other states will do this as well. It seems like, as we’ve discussed, you know, abortion bans are not as popular as I think many Republican politicians thought they would [be]. And I do think that these cases of women who face really terrible health crises and are unable to get treated are contributing to the public’s dislike of these policies. And on the one hand, I think that there is a strong dislike of exceptions among people who support abortion bans because they don’t want the loopholes to get so big that the actual policy becomes meaningless. On the other hand, it seems like there is a real incentive for them in trying to fix these obvious problems, because I think it contributes to bad outcomes for women and children. And I think it also contributes to political distaste for the abortion ban itself.

Kenen: But it’s very hard to legislate every possible medical problem …  I mean, what Texas did in this case was they legislated two particular medical problems. And some states … they have the ectopic — I mean, ectopic is not … there’s no stretch of the imagination that that’s viable. Right? The only thing that happens with an ectopic pregnancy is it either disintegrates or it hemorrhages. I mean, the woman is going to have a problem, but making a list of “you get this condition, you can have a medical emergency abortion, but if you have that condition and your state legislator didn’t happen to think about it, then you can’t.” I mean, the larger issue is: How do you balance the legal restrictions and medical judgments? And that’s … I don’t think any state that has a ban has completely figured that out.

Rovner: Right. And we’re back to legislators practicing medicine, which is something that I think the public does seem to find distasteful.

Sanger-Katz: I mean, I don’t think that this solves the problem at all, but I think it does show a surprising responsiveness to the particular bad outcomes that are getting the most publicity and a sort of new flexibility among the legislators who support these abortion bans. So it’s interesting.

Rovner: All right. Meanwhile, another shocking story about pregnant women being treated badly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this week that a survey conducted this April found that 1 in 5 women reported being mistreated by medical professionals during pregnancy or delivery. For women of color, the rate was even higher: more than 1 in 4. Mistreatment included things like getting no response to calls for help, being yelled at or scolded, and feeling coerced into accepting or rejecting certain types of treatment. We know a lot of cases where women in labor or after birth reported problems that went ignored. Among the most notable, of course, was tennis legend Serena Williams, who gave birth to her second child this week after almost not surviving the birth of her first. We’re hearing so much about the high maternal mortality rate in the U.S. What is it going to take to change this? This isn’t something that can be solved by throwing more money at it. This has got to be sort of a change in culture, doesn’t it?

Kenen: No. I mean, it’s … if someone who’s just given birth, particularly if it’s the first time and you don’t know what’s normal and what’s not and what’s dangerous and what’s not dangerous, and, you know, it’s a trauma to your body. I mean, you know, I had a very much-wanted child, but labor is tough, right? I always say that evolution should have given us a zipper. But the philosophy should be, if someone who’s just been through this physical and emotional ordeal, has discomfort or a question or a fear, that you respect it and that you calm it down, you don’t dismiss it or yell at somebody. When you’re pregnant, you read all these books and you go to Lamaze workshops and you learn all this stuff about labor and delivery. You learn nothing about what happens right after. And it’s actually quite uncomfortable. And no one had ever told me what to expect. And I didn’t know. And I always, like, when younger women are having babies, I let them know that, you know, talk to your doctor or learn about this or be prepared for this, because that is a really vulnerable point. And that this survey — and it’s more Black and poor women, and Latina women in this survey, it’s not that … it’s disproportionate like everything else in health care — they’re being disrespected and not listened to. And some of them are going to have bad medical outcomes because of that.

Rovner: As we are seeing. All right. Well, that is this week’s news now. We will take a quick break. Then we will come back and do our extra credit.

Hey, “What the Health?” listeners: You already know that few things in health care are ever simple. So if you like our show, I recommend you also listen to “Tradeoffs,” a podcast that goes even deeper into our costly, complicated, and often counterintuitive health care system. Hosted by longtime health journalist and my friend Dan Gorenstein, “Tradeoffs” digs into the evidence and research data behind health care policies and tells the stories of real people impacted by decisions made in C-suites, doctors’ offices, and even Congress. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

OK, we’re back. It’s time for our extra-credit segment. That’s when we each recommend a story we read this week we think you should read too. As always, don’t worry, if you missed it; we will post the links on the podcast page at and in our show notes on your phone or other mobile device. Victoria, why don’t you go first this week?

Knight: So my extra credit is from The New York Times, and the story is called “The Next Frontier for Corporate Benefits: Menopause.” It basically details how a lot of companies are realizing that, you know, as more women get into leadership positions, high-level leadership, executive positions, they’re in their 40s, late 40s, early 50s, that’s when menopause or perimenopause starts happening. And that’s something that can last for a while. I didn’t realize the stories, that it can last almost 10 years sometimes. And so it was talking about how, you know, it affects women for a long period of time. It can also affect their productivity in the workplace and their comfort and being able to accomplish things. And so they were realizing, you know, we kind of need to do something to help these women stay in these positions. And there was actually an interesting tidbit at the very end where it was talking about some companies may even be, like, legally compelled to make accommodations. And that’s due to the new Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which says that employers have to provide accommodations for people experiencing pregnancy but also related medical conditions. They’re saying menopause could be included in that. And just some of the benefits some of these companies were offering were access to virtual specialists, but they were talking about, like, if they need to do other things like cooling rooms and stuff like that. So I thought it was kind of interesting. And another employer benefit that maybe some employers are thinking about adding.

Kenen: I think all offices should have, like, little nap cubicles and man-woman, pregnant-not pregnant. And, you know, just like “life is rough.” [laughter]

Knight: I agree.

Kenen: Just a little corner!

Rovner: Joanne, why don’t you go next?

Kenen: Mine is from The Atlantic. It’s by Lola Butcher. And it is “A Simple Marketing Technique Could Make America Healthier.” And it’s basically talking about how some medical practices are doing what we in the news business and the tech industry knows of as “A-B testing.” You know, a tech company may try a big button or a little button and see which one consumers like. Newsrooms change headlines— headline A, headline B and see which one draws more readers — and that hospitals and medical practices have been trying to do. In some cases, it’s text messaging two different kinds of reminders to figure out, you know … one example was the message with something like 78 characters got women to book a mammogram, but a message with 155 characters did not. Two text messages were better than one for booking children’s vaccines. So some people are very excited about this. It’s getting people to do preventive care and routine care. And some people think this is just not the problem with health care, that it’s way deeper and more systemic and that this isn’t really going to move the needle. But it was an interesting piece.

Rovner: Any little thing helps.

Kenen: Right. This was an interesting piece.

Rovner: Margot.

Sanger-Katz: I wanted to talk about an article in KFF Health News from Taylor Sisk. The headline is “Life in a Rural ‘Ambulance Desert’ Means Sometimes Help Isn’t on the Way,” and it’s a really interesting exploration of some of the challenges of ambulance care in rural areas, which is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Because when I was a reporter in New Hampshire covering rural health care delivery, I spent the better part of a year writing about ambulance services and the challenges there. And I think this story is highlighting a real challenge for people in these communities. And I think it’s also really a reminder that the ambulance system is this weird, off-to-the-side part of our health care system that I think is often not well integrated and not well thought of. It tends to be regulated as transportation, not as health care. It tends to be provided by local governments or by contractors hired by local governments as opposed to health care institutions. It tends to have a lot of difficulty with billing a very high degree of surprise billing for its patients, and also just a real lack of health services research about best practices for how fast ambulances should arrive, what level of care they should provide to people, and on and on. And I just think that it’s good that she’s highlighted this issue. And also, I think it is a reminder to me that ambulances are probably worth a little bit more attention from reporters overall.

Rovner: Well, my story is also something that’s near and dear to my heart because I’ve been covering it for a long time. It’s from my KFF Health News colleague Lauren Sausser. It’s called “Doctors and Patients Try to Shame Insurers Online to Reverse Prior Authorization Denials.” And it is a wonderful 2023 update to a fight that Joanne and I have been covering since, what, the late 1990s. It even includes comments from Dr. Linda Peeno, who testified about inappropriate insurance company care denials to Congress in 1996. I was actually at that hearing. The twist, of course, now is that while people who were wrongly denied care at the turn of the century needed to catch the attention of a journalist or picket in front of the insurance company’s headquarters. Today, an outrage post on Instagram or TikTok or X can often get things turned around much faster. On the other hand, it’s depressing that after more than a quarter of a century, patients are still being caught in the middle of appropriateness fights between doctors and insurance companies. Maybe prior authorization will be the next surprise medical bill fight in Congress. We shall see. All right. That is our show for the week. As always, if you enjoy the podcast, you can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We’d appreciate it if you left us a review; that helps other people find us, too. Special thanks, as always, to our amazing engineer, Francis Ying. Also, as always, you can email us your comments or questions. We’re at Or you can tweet me or X me or whatever. I’m @jrovner, also on Bluesky and Threads. Joanne?

Kenen: I am also on Twitter, @JoanneKenen; and I’m on Threads, @joannekenen1; and Bluesky, JoanneKenen.

Rovner: Margot.

Sanger-Katz: I’m @sangerkatz.

Rovner: Victoria.

Knight: I’m @victoriaregisk on X and Threads.

Rovner: Well, we’re going to take a week off from the news next week, but watch your feed for a special episode. We will be back with our panel after Labor Day. Until then, be healthy.


Francis Ying Audio producer Stephanie Stapleton Editor

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‘Conscience’ Bills Let Medical Providers Opt Out of Providing a Wide Range of Care Thu, 03 Aug 2023 09:00:00 +0000 A new Montana law will provide sweeping legal protections to health care practitioners who refuse to prescribe marijuana or participate in procedures and treatments such as abortion, medically assisted death, gender-affirming care, or others that run afoul of their ethical, moral, or religious beliefs or principles.

The law, which goes into effect in October, will gut patients’ ability to take legal action if they believe they didn’t receive proper care due to a conscientious objection by a provider or an institution, such as a hospital.

So-called medical conscience objection laws have existed at the state and federal levels for years, with most protecting providers who refuse to perform an abortion or sterilization procedure. But the new Montana law, and others like it that have passed or been introduced in statehouses across the U.S., goes further, to the point of undermining patient care and threatening the right of people to receive lifesaving and essential care, according to critics.

“I tend to call them ‘medical refusal bills,’” said Liz Reiner Platt, the director of Columbia Law School’s Law, Rights, and Religion Project. “Patients are being denied the standard of care, being denied adequate medical care, because objections to certain routine medical practices are being prioritized over patient health.”

This year, 21 bills instituting or expanding conscience clauses have been introduced in statehouses, and two have become law, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute. Florida lawmakers passed legislation that allows providers and insurers to refuse any health service that violates ethical beliefs. Montana’s law goes further, prohibiting the assignment of health workers to provide, facilitate, or refer patients for abortions unless the providers have consented in writing. South Carolina, Ohio, and Arkansas previously passed bills.

Supporters of the Montana law, called the Implement Medical Ethics and Diversity Act, say it fills gaps in federal law, empowering more medical professionals to practice medicine based on their conscience in circumstances beyond abortion and sterilization.

The bill applies to a wide range of practitioners, institutions, and insurers, encompassing just about any type of health care and anyone who could be providing it. The exception is emergency rooms, where the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act takes precedence.

“We have technology that is pushing the limits of what is maybe ethical, and that is different in everybody’s minds,” said Republican state Rep. Amy Regier, who sponsored the Montana bill. “Having extra protections for people to practice according to their conscience as we continue down that path of innovation is important.”

Claims the bill discriminates against patients frustrate Regier, who said it’s about protecting health care providers. “Because someone has a conscientious objection to a specific service, they should be able to practice that way,” she said.

In 1973, federal regulations known as the Church Amendments were implemented after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision made abortion legal nationwide. Under the Church Amendments, any institution that receives funding from the federal Department of Health and Human Services may not require health care providers to perform abortion or sterilization procedures if doing so would violate their religious or moral principles. Additionally, providers who refuse to perform these services may not be discriminated against for their decision.

Since then, at least 45 states have enacted their own abortion conscience clauses, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Of those, only 17 mandate that patients be notified of the refusal or limit the clause’s use in the case of miscarriage or emergency.

A March 2020 article in the American Medical Association’s Journal of Ethics said, “Clinicians who object to providing care on the basis of ‘conscience’ have never been more robustly protected than today.” Legal remedies for patients who receive inadequate care as a result have shrunk significantly, the article said.

But the wave of medical conscience bills introduced in statehouses since that article was published go beyond abortion to include contraception, sterilization, gender-affirming care, and other services. Opponents such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, and the Human Rights Campaign have been vocal opponents of this trend, criticizing it as a backdoor way to restrict the rights of women, LGBTQ+ community members, and other individuals.

Still, lawmakers across the country insist the right of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other medical providers to practice medicine in alignment with their beliefs is being infringed.

Some health care practitioners would “just be done” practicing medicine if forced to perform certain procedures such as abortion, Regier said. “That, to me, is what limits patient care.”

Many of the most sweeping bills are backed by organizations that have made it their business to promote this “conscience” agenda nationwide, such as the Christian Medical Association, Catholic Medical Association, and National Association of Pro-Life Nurses. Other groups launched a joint effort in 2020 with the explicit purpose of advancing state legislation that makes it easier for health care providers to refuse to perform a wide range of procedures, including abortion and types of gender-affirming care.

The organizations that started the initiative are the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington D.C., an Arizona-based nonprofit called the Alliance Defending Freedom, and the Christ Medicus Foundation in Michigan. According to its website, the coalition bolsters efforts to pass more sweeping medical conscience legislation, using methods including print and digital media campaign strategy, grassroots organizing, and advocacy. After successes in Arkansas, Ohio, and South Carolina in 2021 and 2022, it turned to Montana and Florida. Regier said there are a “number of different organizations” pushing this type of legislation, including the Alliance Defending Freedom.

Most of these conscience laws are part of an “arsenal” to further social conservatism, and they are often religiously motivated, said Lori Freedman, a researcher and associate professor at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California-San Francisco.

Although federal law is meant to ensure people receive lifesaving care in an emergency, Freedman said, there are cases in which patients don’t receive the care they should simply because they don’t clear the bar of what a facility considers emergent.

While experts warn of the potential patient health consequences of these medical conscience bills, academics say placing a provider’s choice over their patient’s rights is itself a threat.

“These bills do not protect religious liberty because they make it impossible for people to follow their own religious and moral values in making major decisions,” Reiner Platt said.

About 1 in 6 patients in the U.S. are treated in Catholic health care facilities, according to Freedman. Many of those venues strictly regulate or prohibit certain procedures, such as abortion, but do not necessarily disclose that to patients. As of 2016, more than 25% of hospital beds in Montana were in such facilities, according to the ACLU. Freedman determined through her research that about one-third of people whose primary hospital was Catholic didn’t know of its religious affiliation and therefore were unaware of those limitations on their care.

The problem can extend to secular medical institutions, too. According to the AMA Journal of Ethics article, there are no rules requiring a patient be informed a provider is practicing conscientious objection, which means the patient might “unknowingly receive substandard care” and “even be harmed by” the provider’s refusals.

“As much as we like to think about these providers and their opinions, so much is determined at a larger, structural level,” Freedman said. “Abortion has been stigmatized, marginalized, and constrained,” and plenty of hospitals and physician groups have made great efforts to “make a very safe service somehow illegal to provide within their context.”

This article was produced by KFF Health News, formerly known as Kaiser Health News (KHN), a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF — the independent source for health policy research, polling, and journalism. 

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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