KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Roe v. Wade’s (Possibly Last) Anniversary

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Jan. 22 is the 49th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark abortion ruling, Roe v. Wade, and could well be its last. The conservative supermajority on the court seems poised to allow states to severely restrict or even ban the procedure.

Also this week, the Biden administration celebrates its anniversary. And while President Joe Biden has accomplished a lot in his first 365 days in office, such as expanding health insurance coverage and implementing a congressional ban on “surprise” medical bills, a big part of his health agenda remains mired in Congress.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Shefali Luthra of the 19th, and Kimberly Leonard of Insider.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • In a nearly two-hour news conference intended to highlight his Year One accomplishments, Biden acknowledged that his huge Build Back Better bill will have to be broken up if any parts of it are to become law. Among those most likely to survive are provisions to continue additional subsidies for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Less clear is the fate of provisions that would reduce prescription drug costs and provide insurance for people in states that have not expanded Medicaid under the ACA.
  • In anticipation of a major Supreme Court ruling on abortion, states are moving toward a Roe-less world. Republican states are readying more abortion restrictions, including bans like the one in Texas, which has so far escaped being blocked by courts due to its unique enforcement mechanism that relies on individual citizens to sue those who perform or aid in an abortion. Meanwhile, Democratic states are working to shore up the protective laws they have in place.
  • The Biden administration has launched a website to deliver free rapid tests to every American household that applies, and it will also distribute free high-quality masks through community centers and pharmacies. Experts agree that making these things available on a mass scale should have been done much sooner. The failure to do so is not something that the Biden team can blame on the Trump administration.
  • The Supreme Court has blocked the Biden administration from imposing its rule for large employers to require workers to be vaccinated or tested regularly, although it upheld a separate rule for health workers. Already some companies are stepping back from the requirements, including Starbucks.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, about what a post-Roe world would look like for anti-abortion activists.

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

Julie Rovner: Politico’s “How Many Health Care Workers Are Vaccinated? It’s Anyone’s Guess,” by Rachael Levy.

Alice Miranda Ollstein: The New York Times’ “When My Mom Got Covid, I Went Searching for Pfizer’s Pills,” by Rebecca Robbins.

Shefali Luthra: The Atlantic’s “The Real Reason Americans Aren’t Isolating,” by Olga Khazan.

Kimberly Leonard: Insider’s “Some of the Same Members of Congress Pushing to Restrict Cigarettes and Vapes Are Quietly Investing in Tobacco Giants,” by Kimberly Leonard.


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