KHN’s “What the Health?”: Our 200th episode!

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The Food and Drug Administration was in the hot seat this week when it approved a controversial new drug for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease with little evidence of its effectiveness.

While health policy monitors await a Supreme Court decision on a case threatening the Affordable Care Act, the Biden administration reports that a record 31 million Americans have health insurance as a direct result of the Health Act. And President Joe Biden is seeking goodwill overseas when he announces the U.S. will provide 500 million doses of Covid vaccine to aid international health efforts.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner from KHN, Margot Sanger-Katz from The New York Times, Joanne Kenen from Politico and Sarah Karlin-Smith from Pink Sheet.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • The FDA’s announcement of the drug Aduhelm for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease has been attacked by many scientists, doctors, and consumer groups who say the drug’s benefits have not been proven and it is not suitable for general use. But patient advocacy groups strongly urged the FDA to give the drug a thumbs up. They argue that FDA approval will trigger more investment by drug manufacturers in therapies for the disease.
  • The price of Aduhelm will be $ 56,000 per year, excluding the scans and other medical tests and prep that patients will need. The decision to approve an expensive drug with seemingly little benefit is likely to fuel the debate about high prescription drug prices for both consumers and the government.
  • If Medicare chooses to cover the drug, it could increase the cost of Part B premiums even for the millions of beneficiaries who are not taking the drug.
  • In addition to this important announcement about the Alzheimer’s drug, the FDA has a tough record, including a decision on whether to fully approve the Covid vaccines used in the US under a special permit and how to handle those vaccinations for children. But it addresses these important issues without a permanent leader, as Biden has not yet named his election as FDA commissioner.
  • Biden’s announcement that the United States will make the Pfizer Covid vaccine available to other countries will help ease tension at his meeting with foreign leaders this week who criticized the US for sticking to the vaccine while the world is suffering. But it probably doesn’t reassure the progressives who have called for the vaccine patents and technology to be transferred to these other countries.
  • The podcast panelists that the 200 vaccine against Covid-19 and that if Republicans controlled Congress and the White House, they couldn’t repeal the Affordable Care Act. But they also found that they weren’t surprised that the ACA is still a political lightning rod, and that the nuances of health policy have thwarted other major reforms, including efforts to lower drug prices.

Also this week, Rovner interviewed Chiquita Brooks-La Sure, the new administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Panellists also recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week, which they think you should read as well, for added recognition:

Julie Rowner: HuffPost and the Center for Public Integrity “Spreading Vaccine Fears and Making Money” by Liz Essley Whyte


Politicos “What my Covid-19 vaccine saga taught me about the US healthcare system” by Joanne Kenen

Margot Sanger-Katz: The New York Times ” On That Edge of Fear ‘: One Woman’s Struggle With Sichel Cell Pain’ by John Eligon

Sarah Karlin-Smith: Pink Sheets “Patient Support May Have Helped Get Aduhelm Approved” by Derrick Gingery

Joanne Kenen: The Death of Hahnemann Hospital des New Yorkers by Chris Pomorski

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