KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Protests and the pandemic

Following the death of George Floyd while in custody in Minneapolis, protests have mushroomed around the U.S. to decry police violence, raising concerns among public health officials about the potential for further spread of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the economic toll of the continuing pandemic is prompting some states to cancel or scale back plans to expand health coverage to more of their residents.

And President Donald Trump said he will withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization. But it seems he lacks the legal authority to do that on his own.

This week's panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Mary Agnes Carey of KHN and Joanne Kenen of Politico.

Among the takeaways from this week's podcast:

  • Although public health officials are warning about the dangers of a resurgence of COVID-19 caused by the mass gatherings to protest Floyd's death, if cases do spike, it may be hard to separate out that effect from the general reopening of the economy occurring about the same time.
  • The concerns about racial inequalities highlighted by the massive demonstrations include health disparities that have taken a big toll on minority communities. But fixing those inequities would be very expensive, and it's not clear given the current economic downturn how federal or state officials would come up with funding to tackle those issues.
  • Also, as they observe the demonstrations, many experts are noting that racism and violence are public health issues, too.
  • Trump's decision to pull out of the World Health Organization hampers U.S. efforts to play a role in pivotal decisions around the globe, especially on issues such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, flu and Ebola. Those are areas in which the WHO is seen as a leader on policy and research.
  • The sudden slowdown in the economy is causing some states such as Kansas and California to put the brakes on plans to help more people get coverage, especially efforts to expand Medicaid programs that serve low-income residents.
  • In a surprise opinion late last week, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with liberals on the Supreme Court to uphold California and Illinois regulations limiting church services to help curb the risk of COVID-19 infections. Roberts based his opinion on public health issues. Yet unknown is whether this signals how he might rule on a bigger case coming to the court in the fall over the fate of the Affordable Care Act.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Jonathan Oberlander, professor of health policy at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and editor of the Journal of Health Policy, Politics and Law. The journal has released several articles examining the nexus between COVID-19, health inequities and social determinants of health. Those articles are temporarily free for the public to read, here.

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

Julie Rovner: The New York Times' "The C.D.C. Waited 'Its Entire Existence for This Moment.' What Went Wrong?" by Eric Lipton, Abby Goodnough, Michael D. Shear, Megan Twohey, Apoorva Mandavilli, Sheri Fink and Mark Walker

Joanne Kenen: ProPublica's "Senior Citizens in Subsidized Housing Have Been Dying Alone at Home, Unnoticed Because of Coronavirus Distancing," by Mick Dumke and Haru Coryne

Alice Miranda Ollstein: Politico's "States Brace for Disasters As Pandemic Collides With Hurricane Season," by Dan Goldberg and Brianna Ehley

Mary Agnes Carey: Kaiser Health News' "Police Using Rubber Bullets On Protesters That Can Kill, Blind Or Maim For Life," by Liz Szabo


To hear all our podcasts, click here.

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Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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