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Congress and President Joe Biden are officially on summer vacation, but they left behind a lot of health policy achievements. The president returned this week from his South Carolina beach retreat to sign the Inflation Reduction Act, which, among other things, allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices for the first time.

The law also preserves the enhanced subsidies for premiums on insurance purchased through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces. Congress added those more generous subsidies in 2021, but they would have expired at the end of the year.

Meanwhile, even though Democrats were unable to secure additional Medicare vision, hearing, and dental benefits into the final version of the budget bill, this week the FDA established ground rules for the sale of over-the-counter hearing aids, something ordered by Congress in 2017.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Anna Edney of Bloomberg, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, and Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Despite the new law’s provisions allowing Medicare to negotiate some drug prices, enrollees will have to wait several years to see the benefits of those negotiations. That makes it challenging for Democrats to use the measure as a campaign promotion. Plus, Republicans may try to use the intervening years, while the price negotiating process is being set up, to batter Democrats’ efforts.
  • Other Medicare provisions, such as the new limit on out-of-pocket drug spending and caps on insulin spending, will provide more immediate benefits.
  • The act’s extension of ACA premium subsidies is also a hard victory to illuminate for consumers, who won’t see their costs fall and would likely have only noticed a difference if the measure had failed to pass and the program had ended.
  • Nonetheless, ad campaigns are already beginning to target the Republican opposition to popular health issues. No GOP lawmakers voted to support the measure.
  • Hearing aids fitting the new category are expected to be significantly less expensive for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Still unanswered, however, is whether these new devices will work adequately.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new covid-19 guidelines last week that relax previous recommendations. The announcement highlights the growing disdain among the public for continuing the isolating prevention strategies of the past several years. But perhaps overlooked is the growing number of people suffering from long-term covid symptoms and how the condition damages their lives and the economy.
  • The CDC also announced this week that it will reorganize to better meet public health crises after a study of its covid response identified problems, especially in communicating with the public.
  • Although much of the opposition to abortion restrictions arising since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade has been propelled by women, men are also playing a role both in the politics ahead and in wide-ranging personal decisions, such as what states to choose for college or seeking vasectomies.

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

Julie Rovner: The Los Angeles Times’ “The CDC Loosened Its COVID Rules. Who Fills in This Public Health Vacuum?” by Wendy Netter Epstein and Daniel Goldberg

Alice Miranda Ollstein: MedPage Today’s “Falls From Higher Border Walls Overwhelm Trauma Services,” by Cheryl Clark

Joanne Kenen: Harper’s Magazine’s “A Hole in the Head,” by Zachary Siegel

Anna Edney: Stat’s “Parents and Clinicians Say Private Equity’s Profit Fixation Is Short-Changing Kids With Autism,” by Tara Bannow

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:

The Washington Post’s “Florida Court Rules 16-Year-Old Is Not ‘Sufficiently Mature’ for Abortion,” by Brittany Shammas and Kim Bellware

The Atlantic’s “The Pandemic’s Soft Closing,” by Katherine J. Wu

Politico’s “Tim Kaine Has Long Covid. That’s Not Moving Congress to Act,” by Alice Miranda Ollstein

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

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