KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': A Very Good Night for Abortion Rights Backers

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Supporters of abortion rights again scored big at the polls in several states’ off-year elections Nov. 7, including in some Republican-dominated states like Ohio and Kentucky. The biggest prize came in Ohio, where voters approved a ballot measure writing the right to an abortion into the state constitution, despite strong opposition from the governor and other top elected state officials.

Meanwhile, the Senate approved the nomination of Monica Bertagnolli to become the new director of the National Institutes of Health by a bipartisan 62-36 vote. Bertagnolli — previously director of the National Cancer Institute, a large NIH component — had seen her nomination held up for weeks by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) over a mostly unrelated fight with the Biden administration about prescription drug prices.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Tami Luhby of CNN, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, and Sandhya Raman of CQ Roll.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Election night 2023 was a very good night for abortion rights supporters generally and, specifically, in Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Republican governors and state leaders invested significant political capital to defeat abortion rights ballot questions and candidates, and lost. Some anti-abortion leaders’ embrace of a 15-week abortion ban as a potential compromise didn’t seem to help their cause.
  • Abortion rights supporters’ winning streak raises a broader point about ballot initiatives. State legislatures in some red-leaning states have not only enacted abortion restrictions but also fought off Democratic-backed issues like Medicaid expansion only to have the state’s voters reverse them through ballot questions. As a result, conservative leaders are pushing states to make it harder to get referendums on state ballots.
  • On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are once again facing a potential government shutdown Nov. 17, with the expiration of the last “continuing resolution” to keep government spending going. But House Republicans are not making much progress on passing individual spending bills, as several measures have been pulled from the House floor because they lacked the votes to pass.
  • The Federal Trade Commission this week announced it is challenging more than 100 patents on brand-name medicines. Although mind-numbingly complex, the action, which could open the door to more generic options for some commonly used medicines such as asthma inhalers, could lead to lowering drug costs.
  • “This Week in Medical Misinformation” highlights a study from the Ohio State University that found much of the information available to gynecologic cancer patients on TikTok is inaccurate or of little value.

Also this week, Rovner interviews KFF Health News’s Julie Appleby, who reported and wrote the latest “Bill of the Month” feature, about a woman who got billed for what should have been a no-cost physical exam. If you have an outrageous or baffling 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: ProPublica’s “Find Out Why Your Health Insurer Denied Your Claim.”

Alice Miranda Ollstein: Politico’s “Congenital Syphilis Jumped Tenfold Over the Last Decade,” by Alice Miranda Ollstein.

Sandhya Raman: The Texas Tribune’s “Sex Trafficking, Drugs and Assault: Texas Foster Kids and Caseworkers Face Chaos in Rental Houses and Hotels,” by Karen Brooks Harper.

Tami Luhby: ProPublica’s “Big Insurance Met Its Match When It Turned Down a Top Trial Lawyer’s Request for Cancer Treatment,” by T. Christian Miller.

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:

The Journal of Gynecologic Oncology’s “‘More Than a Song and Dance’: Exploration of Patient Perspectives and Educational Quality of Gynecologic Cancer Content on TikTok,” by Molly Morton et al.

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