KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': Congress Is Out. The Presidential Campaign Is In.

KFF Health News’ ‘What the Health?’: Congress Is Out. The Presidential Campaign Is In.

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.

Congress has left for its annual August recess, but lawmakers have a long to-do list waiting when they return — and only a handful of legislative days to fund the government before the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year.

Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidates who are not named Donald J. Trump are preparing for their first televised debate and making interesting promises about health care.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Sandhya Raman of CQ Roll Call, and Lauren Weber of The Washington Post.


Alice Miranda Ollstein


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Sandhya Raman
CQ Roll Call


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Lauren Weber
The Washington Post


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Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

Work has paused on Capitol Hill. Among other items of unfinished business, lawmakers returning next month will have to pass at least a short-term spending bill — or soon face a government shutdown with implications for health programs and much, much more. Authorizations are also on the agenda, with programs like community health centers on the line. But the path to passage winds through a social issues minefield, owing to conservative House Republicans who have inserted measures targeting abortion access and gender-affirming care for transgender people.

Access to women’s health care in the United States is worsening, with maternal health deserts popping up around the nation even in the years before the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Some states in particular have seen a huge decline in the number of maternal health providers, including the closures of obstetric wards. The fact that more people are living in counties with no maternal health providers is troubling news for a nation experiencing a maternal mortality crisis.

State medical boards across the country have disciplined fewer than two dozen providers reported for spreading covid-19 misinformation, according to a new investigation by The Washington Post. The paucity of punishments demonstrates how ill-equipped such boards are to address the serious problem of health misinformation.

On the 2024 presidential campaign trail, Republican candidates like Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida are signaling that re-litigating the covid pandemic is part of their playbook — but do voters still care that strongly about vaccine mandates and business shutdowns?

And the National Institutes of Health has moved to officially study long covid, a little-understood condition that impacts the lives of many Americans.

Also this week, Rovner interviews KFF Health News senior correspondent Phil Galewitz, who reported the latest KFF Health News-NPR “Bill of the Month” installment, about how a bill that should never have been sent created headaches for one patient. If you have an outrageous medical bill you’d like to share with us, you can do that here.

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

Julie Rovner: Stat’s “Henrietta Lacks Settlement Hailed by Experts as Step Toward Correcting Medicine’s Racist History,” by Annalisa Merelli.

Alice Miranda Ollstein: The Tampa Bay Times’ “Florida Veered From Norms to Strip Transgender Care From Medicaid, Records Show,” by Emily L. Mahoney and Romy Ellenbogen.

Sandhya Raman: KFF Health News’ “Black Women Weigh Emerging Risks of ‘Creamy Crack’ Hair Straighteners,” by Ronnie Cohen.

Lauren Weber: Politico’s “CDC Investigators Find More TB Infections Linked to Bone Graft Materials,” by Alice Miranda Ollstein and Lauren Gardner.

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:

The Washington Post’s “Doctors Who Put Lives at Risk With Covid Misinformation Rarely Punished,” by Lena H. Sun, Lauren Weber, and Hayden Godfrey.

Roll Call’s “Health Deadlines Pile Up as Congress Adjourns for August,” by Lauren Clason, Ariel Cohen, Jessie Hellmann, and Sandhya Raman.

Slate’s “How Meta Created a Wild West for Abortion Misinformation,” by Jennifer Neda John.

Politico Pro’s “‘It’s a Crisis’: Maternal Health Care Disappears for Millions,” by Alice Miranda Ollstein and Megan Messerly.


Francis Ying
Audio producer

Emmarie Huetteman

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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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