KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': A Not-So-Health-y GOP Debate

KFF Health News’ ‘What the Health?’: A Not-So-Health-y GOP Debate

The Host

Julie Rovner
KFF Health News


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

For the first time since 2004, it appears health insurance coverage will not be a central issue in the presidential campaign, at least judging from the first GOP candidate debate in Milwaukee Wednesday night. The eight candidates who shared the stage (not including absent front-runner Donald Trump) had major disagreements over how far to extend abortion restrictions, but there was not even a mention of the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have tried unsuccessfully to repeal since it was passed in 2010.

Meanwhile, a new poll from KFF finds that health misinformation is not only rampant but that significant minorities of the public believe things that are false, such as that more people have died from the covid vaccine than from the covid-19 virus.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico, Victoria Knight of Axios, and Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times.


Joanne Kenen
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico


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Victoria Knight


Read Victoria’s stories

Margot Sanger-Katz
The New York Times


Read Margot’s stories

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

The first Republican presidential debate of the 2024 cycle included a spirited back-and-forth about abortion, but little else about health care — and that wasn’t a surprise. During the primary, Republican presidential candidates don’t really want to talk about health insurance and health care. It’s not a high priority for their base.

The candidates were badly split on abortion between those who feel decisions should be left to the states and those who support a national ban of some sort. Former Vice President Mike Pence took a strong position favoring a national ban. The rest revealed some public disagreement over leaving the question completely to states to decide or advancing a uniform national policy.

Earlier this summer, Stanford University’s Hoover Institute unveiled a new, conservative, free-market health care proposal. It is the latest sign that Republicans have moved past the idea of repealing and replacing Obamacare and have shifted to trying to calibrate and adjust it to make health insurance a more market-based system. The fact that such plans are more incremental makes them seem more possible. Republicans would still like to see things like association health plans and other “consumer-directed” insurance options. Focusing on health care cost transparency could also offer an opportunity for a bipartisan moment.

In a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, two Florida families allege their Medicaid coverage was terminated by the state without proper notice or opportunity to appeal. It seems to be the first such legal case to emerge since the Medicaid “unwinding” began in April. During covid, Medicaid beneficiaries did not have to go through any kind of renewal process. That protection has now ended. So far, the result is that an estimated 5 million people have lost their coverage, many because of paperwork issues, as states reassess the eligibility of everyone on their rolls. It seems likely that more pushback like this is to come.

A new survey released by KFF this week on medical misinformation found that the pandemic seems to have accelerated the trend of people not trusting public health and other institutions. It’s not just health care. It’s a distrust of expertise. In addition, it showed that though there are people on both ends — the extremes — there is also a muddled middle.

Legislation in Texas that was recently signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott hasn’t gotten a lot of notice. But maybe it should, because it softens some of the state’s anti-abortion restrictions. Its focus is on care for pregnant patients; it gives doctors some leeway to provide abortion when a patient’s water breaks too early and for ectopic pregnancies; and it was drafted without including the word “abortion.” It bears notice because it may offer a path for other states that have adopted strict bans and abortion limits to follow.

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

Julie Rovner: KFF Health News’ “Doctors and Patients Try to Shame Insurers Online to Reverse Prior Authorization Denials,” by Lauren Sausser.

Margot Sanger-Katz: KFF Health News’ “Life in a Rural ‘Ambulance Desert’ Means Sometimes Help Isn’t on the Way,” by Taylor Sisk.

Joanne Kenen: The Atlantic’s “A Simple Marketing Technique Could Make America Healthier,” by Lola Butcher.

Victoria Knight: The New York Times’ “The Next Frontier for Corporate Benefits: Menopause,” by Alisha Haridasani Gupta.

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:

NPR’s “Two Families Sue Florida for Being Kicked off Medicaid in ‘Unwinding’ Process,” by Selena Simmons-Duffin

NPR’s “Texas Has Quietly Changed Its Abortion Law,” by Selena Simmons-Duffin.

KFF’s “Poll: Most Americans Encounter Health Misinformation, and Most Aren’t Sure Whether It’s True or False.”


Francis Ying
Audio producer

Stephanie Stapleton

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KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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