The Biden administration continued a bipartisan, decades-long effort to ensure that health insurance treats mental illnesses the same as other ailments, with a new set of regulations aimed at ensuring that services are actually available without years-long waits or excessive out-of-pocket costs.
Meanwhile, two more committees in Congress approved bills this week aimed at reining in the power of pharmacy benefit managers, who are accused of keeping prescription drug prices high to increase their bottom lines.
This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Anna Edney of Bloomberg, Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico, and Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet.
Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:
- The Biden administration’s new rules to enforce federal mental health parity requirements include no threat of sanctions when health plans do not comply; noncompliance with even the most minimal federal rules has been a problem dating to the 1990s. Improving access to mental health care is not a new policy priority, nor a partisan one, yet it remains difficult to achieve.
- With the anniversary of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, more people are becoming aware of how to access help and get it. Challenges remain, however, such as the hotline service’s inability to connect callers with local care. But the program seizes on the power of an initial connection for someone in a moment of crisis and offers a lifeline for a nation experiencing high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
- In news about the so-called Medicaid unwinding, 12 states have paused disenrollment efforts amid concerns they are not following renewal requirements. A major consideration is that most people who are disenrolled would qualify to obtain inexpensive or even free coverage through the Affordable Care Act. But reenrollment can be challenging, particularly for those with language barriers or housing insecurity, for instance.
- With a flurry of committee activity, Congress is revving up to pass legislation by year’s end targeting the role of pharmacy benefit managers — and, based on the advertisements blanketing Washington, PBMs are nervous. It appears legislation would increase transparency and inform policymakers as they contemplate further, more substantive changes. That could be a tough sell to a public crying out for relief from high health care costs.
- Also on Capitol Hill, far-right lawmakers are pushing to insert abortion restrictions into annual government spending bills, threatening yet another government shutdown on Oct. 1. The issue is causing heartburn for less conservative Republicans who do not want more abortion votes ahead of their reelection campaigns.
- And the damage to a Pfizer storage facility by a tornado is amplifying concerns about drug shortages. After troubling problems with a factory in India caused shortages of critical cancer drugs, decision-makers in Washington have been keeping an eye on the growing issues, and a response may be brewing.
Also this week, Rovner interviews KFF Health News’ Céline Gounder about the new season of her “Epidemic” podcast. This season chronicles the successful public health effort to eradicate smallpox.
Plus, for “extra credit,” the panelists suggest health policy stories they read this week that they think you should read, too:
Julie Rovner: The Nation’s “The Anti-Abortion Movement Gets a Dose of Post-Roe Reality,” by Amy Littlefield.
Joanne Kenen: Food & Environment Reporting Network’s “Can Biden’s Climate-Smart Agriculture Program Live Up to the Hype?” by Gabriel Popkin.
Anna Edney: Bloomberg’s “Mineral Sunscreens Have Potential Hidden Dangers, Too,” by Anna Edney.
Sarah Karlin-Smith: CNN’s “They Took Blockbuster Drugs for Weight Loss and Diabetes. Now Their Stomachs Are Paralyzed,” by Brenda Goodman.
Also mentioned in this week’s episode:
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