KFF Health News ‘What is health?’: Congress breaks the (budget) can. Again.


Julie Rovner KFF Health News @jrovner

Julie Rovner is the Washington-based chief correspondent and host of KFF Health News’ weekly health policy news podcast, “What is Health?” A noted expert on health policy issues, Julie is the critically acclaimed author of the acclaimed reference book, Health Policy and Policy A to Z, which is now in its third edition.

Congress narrowly avoided shutting down the federal government for the second time in as many months, as House Democrats secured the necessary votes for new House Republican Speaker Mike Johnson to avoid his first legislative disaster in his short term. But funding the federal government won’t get any easier when the latest temporary fixes expire in early 2024. House Republicans still don’t seem to have accepted that they can’t get the steep spending cuts they want as long as the Senate and White House are in Democratic control.

Meanwhile, a pair of investigations released this week underscored the difficulty of getting needed long-term care for seniors. One, from KFF Health News and The New York Times, chronicles the financial toll on families for people who need help with activities of daily living. Another, from Stat, describes how some insurance companies are using artificial intelligence algorithms to deny needed rehabilitation care to Medicare patients.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Rachel Cohrs of Stat, Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico Magazine, and Alice Miranda Olstein of Politico.


Among the details from this week’s episode:

  • Congress passed a two-part resolution this week that will prevent the federal government from shutting down when the current CR expires at 12:01 a.m. on November 18. The new measure extends some current spending levels, including FDA funding, through January. 19. Other federal agencies, including most of the Department of Health and Human Services, have been extended until February 2.
  • House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La) said he wants to use the next two months to finish work on individual appropriations bills, none of which have so far passed the House or Senate. The problem: They would cut deeply into many popular federal programs. They are also full of changes to abortion restrictions and transgender policies, highlighting the divisions between the far-right wing of the GOP caucus and its more moderate members.
  • In light of abortion rights’ success in passing abortion rights ballot initiatives, new efforts are forming in Ohio and Michigan among state lawmakers who argue that when Dobbs returned this decision to the states, that meant state legislatures – not courts or voters. Most experts agree that the approach is unlikely to prevail. Still, it highlights continued efforts to change the rules surrounding this polarizing issue.
  • Sen. Tim Scott (R-C.) — who was the only remaining Republican presidential candidate to push for a national, 15-week abortion ban — suspended his campaign last week. He, along with former Vice President Mike Pence, who dropped out of the race in late October, were the strongest anti-abortion candidates. This seems to suggest that a 15-week ban is not attracting voter support, even among Republicans. Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump, the GOP frontrunner by miles, remains willing to play both sides of the abortion debate.
  • Amid growing concerns over the use of artificial intelligence in health care, a California lawsuit alleges that UnitedHealth Group is using algorithms to deny rehabilitative care to enrollees in its Medicare Advantage program. The lawsuit comes after an investigation by Stat into insurers’ demands that case managers adjust AI estimates of how long the company will pay for rehab, regardless of a patient’s actual medical situation.
  • More than 10 million people have lost Medicaid coverage since states began reviewing eligibility earlier this year. Advocates for Medicaid patients are concerned that the Biden administration has not done enough to ensure that people still eligible for the program — especially children — are not mistakenly terminated.

Plus, for “extra credit,” the panelists suggest health policy stories they read this week that they think you should read, too:

Julie Rovner: KFF Health News “How Texas and Florida Lawmakers Are Undermining Covid Vaccination Efforts” by Amy McMann.

Alice Miranda Olstein: “They wanted to sober up. Instead they have a nightmare” New York Times, Jack Healy.

Rachel Kors: Stat’s “UnitedHealth Urges Employees to Follow Algorithm to End Medicare Patient Rehab,” by Casey Ross and Bob Herman.

Joan Cannon: ProPublica’s “Mississippi jails more than 800 people awaiting psychiatric treatment in a year. Only one prison meets state standards,” Isabelle Taft, Mississippi Today.

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:

KFF Health News “Facing Financial Ruin as Senior Care Costs Soar,” by Reed Abelson, The New York Times, and Jordan Rau.

JAMA Internal Medicine “Excess Death Rates for Republican and Democratic Registered Voters in Florida and Ohio During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Jacob Wallace, et al.


  • Zach Dier Audio Producer
  • Stephanie Stapleton Editor

This article is reprinted from khn.org, a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues and is one of the key operating programs of KFF – an independent source for health policy research, polling and journalism.

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