KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Who will run the Biden health effort?

The quadrennial guessing game about who will get what health job in a new presidential administration has taken on a new urgency in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage.

Meanwhile, as two promising vaccine candidates inch closer to approval, the federal government is gearing up for the immense effort of delivering two shots to as many Americans as they can.

This week's panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico and Paige Winfield Cunningham of The Washington Post.

Among the takeaways from this week's podcast:

  • After naming his national security and economic teams, President-elect Joe Biden is expected to focus next on his health care officials. Those names likely will be unveiled by next week. But even without a full list of appointees, it's clear Biden will have strong health experience in the White House with his choice of Ron Klain as chief of staff and Neera Tanden to head the Office of Management and Budget. Klain was the Ebola response coordinator for President Barack Obama, and Tanden worked on the Affordable Care Act negotiations.
  • The departure of Dr. Scott Atlas from the list of President Donald Trump's key advisers does not mean his influence is over. His advocacy for policies that opened the economy — even if they caused wider spread of the coronavirus — and an acceptance of attempting to achieve herd immunity by letting the virus spread have gained traction in some states and among conservatives.
  • Democratic House and Senate leaders endorsed efforts by a bipartisan group of lawmakers for a $900 billion COVID relief bill. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not yet said he will sign on to the effort, nor has Trump.
  • Public health officials are concerned that many people will be hesitant to get a coronavirus vaccine, if one is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, because the effort has been so politicized. Trump's hard press to get the vaccine out before the election alarmed some consumers, who fear that the usual careful procedures were rushed. But if approved, a vaccine would be highly touted by health officials and celebrities.
  • What's not known about the rollout of the vaccine is whether private companies and schools will make inoculation mandatory for workers and children.
  • Among the news items that may have been overlooked during Thanksgiving celebrations, Canada announced it would bar the exports of drugs to the U.S. if it would cause shortages there. Trump and some states, including Florida, have been pushing for importation programs to help lower drug costs in the U.S.
  • Also last week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that Texas could remove Planned Parenthood from its list of Medicaid providers and said that patients in the federal-state health program do not have a right to challenge state decisions on which providers are accepted into the program. The decision is likely headed to the Supreme Court.

Also this week, Rovner interviews KHN's Julie Appleby, who wrote the latest KHN-NPR "Bill of the Month" feature — about a boy, a bicycle accident and a really big bill. If you have an outrageous medical bill you'd like to share with us, you can do that here.

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

Julie Rovner: ProPublica's "States With Few Coronavirus Restrictions Are Spreading the Virus Beyond Their Borders," by David Armstrong

Margot Sanger-Katz: Science Magazine's "Public Needs to Prep for Vaccine Side Effects," by Meredith Wadman

Paige Winfield Cunningham: Politico's "Biden's Chief of Staff Has Battled Pandemics Before. Here's How He Plans to Beat This One," by Alice Miranda Ollstein

Alice Miranda Ollstein: The New York Times' "Prisons Are Covid-19 Hotbeds. When Should Inmates Get the Vaccine?" by Roni Caryn Rabin


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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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