KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Contagion Confusion

KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Contagion Confusion

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The covid-19 pandemic is now entering its third year, and the ever-evolving health advice to combat an ever-evolving virus is leaving Americans more cranky and confused than ever.

Meanwhile, covid isn’t the only health agenda item slipping from 2021 into 2022. Democrats on Capitol Hill are trying to figure out how to salvage President Joe Biden’s huge health and social spending bill, and the rise of prescription drug prices still angers many Americans.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Tami Luhby of CNN, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico and Mary Ellen McIntire of CQ Roll Call.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • As the omicron variant sweeps the country, it is causing widespread staffing problems in industries ranging from health care to air travel. Experts have noted that omicron appears to not produce as serious an illness as the delta variant does. Even so, when people are diagnosed with covid they must quarantine, and for many people that means staying away from work.
  • Nonetheless, in areas hit hard by omicron, such as New York City, the number of cases appears to be leveling off. Other parts of the country may still not have felt the full impact of omicron, but these early contagions suggest that omicron is following a pattern in the U.S. similar to what was seen in South Africa, where cases declined rapidly after the peak.
  • New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that cuts in half the number of days needed to quarantine with covid confused many people. It was not well explained by the agency, and health officials offered varied views.
  • But one of the CDC’s objectives may have been to make it easier for infected people to stay home. A shorter quarantine of five days may be acceptable or easier to arrange for patients who still need to work. Plus, some people may be less nervous about getting a covid test if a positive result does not mean a full 10 days in isolation.
  • Helping people in quarantine could also prove effective in trying to limit the spread of the covid virus. Other countries provide patients amenities such as paid leave or grocery deliveries that make it easier to stay home.
  • The Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments on the Biden administration’s mandates that most workers either get vaccinated or routinely tested. But even a decision from the court is unlikely to quell this contentious issue. Members of Congress are seeking to overturn the rules through legislation, although such a bill would certainly be vetoed by Biden.
  • The landmark legislation protecting consumers from surprise medical bills took effect this month. That doesn’t mean patients are protected from all large bills. Many still will have health plans with high deductibles, so they could end up paying thousands of dollars for in-network services. But they will not be responsible for the often-exorbitant out-of-network charges from doctors and hospitals that they did not choose. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced shortly before the holidays that he could not support the current bill. But talks on the bill have taken a back seat to Democratic initiatives on voting rights, for now.

Also this week, Rovner interviews KHN’s Victoria Knight, who reported and wrote the latest KHN-NPR “Bill of the Month” episode about a costly mix-up in the billing for a newborn intensive care unit. If you have an outrageous medical bill you’d like to send us, you can do that here.

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Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read, too:

Julie Rovner: The Washington Post’s “Men Across America Are Getting Vasectomies ‘as an Act of Love,’” by Emily Wax-Thibodeaux

Tami Luhby: The Washington Post’s “Nursing Home Staff Shortages Are Worsening Problems at Overwhelmed Hospitals,” by Lenny Bernstein and Andrew Van Dam

Alice Miranda Ollstein: The 19th’s “ACA Health Insurance Plans Need More Protections for LGBTQ+ People, White House Says,” by Orion Rummler

Mary Ellen McIntire: The New York Times’ “When They Warn of Rare Disorders, These Prenatal Tests Are Usually Wrong,” by Sarah Kliff and Aatish Bhatia

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