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The Food and Drug Administration took some serious steps toward curbing teen use of tobacco and nicotine products this month, including proposing a virtual ban on most flavors of the liquid used in e-cigarettes.

Meanwhile, open enrollment continues for individual coverage under the Affordable Care Act and Medicare. ACA sign-ups are slightly lagging behind last year’s. It is unclear why, but it’s still early in the six-week open-enrollment period.

And the new Democratic majority in the U.S. House faces big decisions about whether to pass a “Medicare-for-all” bill when it assumes control in January. First, the coalition must choose a speaker. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whose deal-making skills as speaker were instrumental in getting the ACA passed in 2010, is facing challenges from both wings of the party, although no single candidate has emerged to try to replace her.

This week’s panelists for KHN’s “What the Health?” are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Stephanie Armour of The Wall Street Journal, Joanne Kenen of Politico and Anna Edney of Bloomberg News.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Several factors may have contributed to the drop in marketplace enrollment over last year’s tally. The midterm elections may have distracted customers, the government is doing less consumer outreach, the labor market is very tight so more people may be getting coverage through work, and people will not face a tax penalty in 2019 for not having coverage.
  • There’s also another open enrollment occurring: Medicare plans. Although seniors’ coverage is not on the line, they have a wealth of choices that can be confusing.
  • In both ACA and Medicare enrollment periods, it is important for consumers to check out their choices, because the best option may have changed.
  • As the FDA weighs new rules for tobacco products, it is walking a tightrope. E-cigarettes may be an important tool for adults who are looking to wean themselves from cigarettes, but officials are wary of the thrill they may hold for young people.
  • The push among progressive Democrats in the House to pass a bill to implement a “Medicare-for-all” plan may cost the party support in the critical suburban districts that members depended on this month for victory.

Plus, for extra credit this holiday week, the panelists recommend some of their favorite health policy books:

“The Heart of Power: Health and Politics in the Oval Office,” by David Blumenthal and James A. Morone

“Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” by John Carreyrou

“Sick: The Untold Story of America’s Health Care Crisis — and the People Who Pay the Price” by Jonathan Cohn

“Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,” by Sam Quinones

“An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back,” by Elisabeth Rosenthal

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot

“The Social Transformation of American Medicine: The Rise of a Sovereign Profession and the Making of a Vast Industry,” by Paul Starr

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to What the Health? on iTunesStitcher or Google Play.

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