Covid-19 cases are on the rise again, but you couldn't tell from the behavior of the public (rushing back to normal), as well as public health and elected officials who fear backlash from even suggesting the reimplementation of precautions.
Meanwhile, the Senate (again) failed to muster even a simple majority of votes for a bill to write abortion protections into federal law, as the fallout continues from the leaked majority draft opinion from the Supreme Court suggesting it is about to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade.
This week's panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, and Sandhya Raman of CQ Roll Call.
Among the takeaways from this week's episode:
- The U.S. passed the threshold of 1 million deaths from covid this week. But that is almost certainly an undercount, and it is impossible to know how big a problem the coronavirus remains because many positive home tests are not being reported to public health authorities.
- Lawmakers and the administration are further complicating matters. The administration has been pushing a mixed message. On one hand, it is casting the continuing pandemic as serious enough to require tens of billions of dollars in additional emergency funds. At the same time, it's broadcasting that we really don't need to do anything — such as masking — to combat it.
- Meanwhile, warning lights are flashing for public health and future pandemics. Lawsuits — such as the one that originated in Florida and led to the end of the mask requirement for interstate travel on airplanes and other public transportation — have not only hamstrung state and local public health officials and authorities but are having a chilling effect on other, non-covid-related efforts that would fall under traditional public health work. For example, opposition to covid vaccine requirements has spilled over to other vaccination requirements in place for decades.
- While the abortion debate grows more partisan at the federal level, with Democrats almost universally in support of abortion rights and Republicans almost universally opposed, that is not the case at the state level. Particularly among governors, there are still Democrats who oppose abortion rights and Republicans who support them.
- Division within the Republican Party seems to be emerging on the issue. For many years, the GOP was pretty clear that its goal was to overturn Roe and leave the decision about how to regulate abortion to the states. Now, there's talk about advancing a national ban. Also, some elements of the party seem to favor criminalizing women who seek an abortion — a step that has generally not been taken.
- Concerns also abound that restrictions and limits on abortion will have a chilling effect on the ability of women to obtain contraception or access health care services after having miscarriages.
- On Capitol Hill, this week's news of record-breaking low uninsured numbers came out, but lawmakers are making no progress on legislation to continue the temporary subsidies that made those coverage numbers possible.
Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read, too:
Julie Rovner: KHN's "Travel Nurses See Swift Change of Fortunes as Covid Money Runs Dry," by Hannah Norman
Joanne Kenen: Politico Magazine's "How One Clinic in Texas Explains the Threat to Contraception," by Joanne Kenen and Alice Miranda Ollstein
Alice Miranda Ollstein: Politico's "'It's a Tsunami': Legal Challenges Threatening Public Health Policy," by Krista Mahr
Sandhya Raman: CQ Roll Call's "End of COVID-19 Emergency Endangers Substance Use Treatment," by Jessie Hellmann
Also discussed on this week's podcast:
KHN's "Ripple Effects of Abortion Restrictions Confuse Care for Miscarriages," by Charlotte Huff
This 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.