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KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Staffing Up at HHS
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KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Staffing Up at HHS

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More than a month into President Joe Biden’s term, nominees to fill some of the top posts at the Department of Health and Human Services are finally getting confirmation hearings in the Senate, starting with the nominee for secretary, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Barring something unexpected, it appears that Becerra, along with the surgeon general nominee, Vivek Murthy, and the nominee for assistant secretary for health, Rachel Levine, will all be confirmed, despite criticisms raised by some Republicans.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging the Trump administration’s rules for the federal family planning program that effectively evicted Planned Parenthood from participation. And the Biden administration asked the court to cancel oral arguments scheduled for late March about work requirements approved by the Trump administration for adult Medicaid recipients in some states.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times and Tami Luhby of CNN.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Republican complaints that Becerra may not be qualified for the job of HHS secretary because he’s not a medical doctor were surprising to many. Since HHS was separated from the Department of Education, there have been 12 secretaries and only three have been physicians.
  • Democrats seem confident that Becerra weathered Republican criticism about his qualifications and his support for reproductive rights and that he will be confirmed.
  • The Republican arguments about Becerra’s positions on abortion may signal a shift away from the GOP’s emphasis on repealing the Affordable Care Act and back to traditional issues that galvanize conservative voters.
  • The people Biden has chosen to work on health policy by and large have strong backgrounds in management and many were in the Obama administration working on the implementation of the ACA. They are likely coming in with a mission to make changes and do so quickly.
  • The Biden administration is expected to seek to reverse the Title X rule at issue in a case just accepted by the Supreme Court before the justices hear the matter. But even if the administration can do that, conservatives may still ask the court to proceed.
  • The covid relief bill moving through Congress includes several measures that would make health insurance plans sold on the ACA marketplace more affordable, but those changes would last only two years. ACA advocates reason it would be hard, however, for future lawmakers to take those benefits away.

Also this week, Rovner interviews HuffPost’s Jonathan Cohn, whose new book, “The Ten Year War: Obamacare and the Unfinished Crusade for Universal Coverage,” is out this week.

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

Julie Rovner: The Washington Post’s “The Joy of Vax: The People Giving the Shots Are Seeing Hope, and It’s Contagious,” by Maura Judkis

Margot Sanger-Katz: Covid19-projections.com’s “Path to Normality: 2021 Outlook of COVID-19 in the US,” by Youyang Gu

Tami Luhby: The Guardian and KHN’s “’It Doesn’t Feel Worth It’: Covid Is Pushing New York’s EMTs to the Brink,” by Martha Pskowski

Alice Miranda Ollstein: KHN’s “Covid Vaccine Websites Violate Disability Laws, Create Inequity for the Blind,” by Lauren Weber and Hannah Recht

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to What the Health? on iTunesStitcherGoogle PlaySpotify, or Pocket Casts.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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