Can’t see the audio player? Click here to listen on Acast. You can also listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.


What do pandemic preparedness, mental health care services, and over-the-counter hearing aids have in common? They are all things President Joe Biden touted on the campaign trail this week as he tries to maintain Democrats’ majorities in Congress in the midterm elections Nov. 8.

Biden is also campaigning on his support for abortion, promising to sign a bill codifying abortion rights if Democrats retain control of the House and Senate. Recent polls, however, have shown abortion slipping as a top voting issue.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet, Sandhya Raman of CQ Roll Call, and Mary Agnes Carey of KHN.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Among initiatives recently highlighted by the White House is a plan to prepare for future pandemics and thwart any bioterror attacks. But the question is where that money would come from. Republicans in Congress already have balked at providing more money for public health funding for some covid-19 and monkeypox programs.
  • Powerful advocates in the Senate — Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) — have supported legislation to advance the national public health strategy, but there is very little time in this session to push such a package through. And Burr is retiring at the end of the year, so it’s not clear who on the Republican side of the aisle might be willing to take up the baton.
  • Although the abortion issue appeared to be helping Democrats’ midterm prospects after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, some of that excitement may be receding as the economy and other issues move to the forefront of voters’ concerns. But there are few precedents in recent U.S. history to guide voters in evaluating the issue of abortion today or reacting to such a major, sudden change.
  • Even if the Democrats were to keep hold of the levers of power on Capitol Hill, they would have a tough time pushing through an abortion bill. No one expects the party to take control of 60 seats in the Senate — needed to overcome a filibuster – and Democrats might not have the votes to get rid of the filibuster, either. Nearly all Republicans are expected to oppose any such effort.
  • One obstacle to passing national legislation securing abortion rights is that over the half-century since deciding Roe, the Supreme Court has approved a variety of state laws that limit access, such as allowing parents to be notified if a teen were to seek an abortion. Many Democrats object to those restrictions and would want to exclude them from any new law, while other members of Congress would demand them.
  • Biden’s promise was designed to remind voters who care about this issue to come out to the polls in three weeks, but it was also a reminder to many progressives of the failure of the administration to prepare and have a strategy to protect abortion rights ready when the Supreme Court ruling came down.
  • Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita is not backing down from his criticism of an Indianapolis doctor who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old Ohio girl who could not get the procedure there because of a strict new state law. The doctor has shown that she followed all Indiana procedures, but Rokita’s criticism continues to concern others who support abortion access. That chilling effect may well be part of Rokita’s strategy.
  • Pharmacists are also worried about their liability in states with strict abortion limits. Federal officials have announced a probe of CVS and Walgreens after complaints that they are not readily filling prescriptions for drugs that can be used for many medical indications but also could terminate an early pregnancy.
  • An advisory committee for the FDA this week recommended removing from the market a drug used to prevent preterm births. The drug, Makena, was first approved in 2011 through an accelerated pathway that requires the company to conduct follow-up studies assessing the drug’s efficacy. Those trials found that Makena didn’t help pregnancies progress to later gestational age or improve the health of the premature babies.
  • If the FDA accepts the committee’s recommendation, it would be a rare step. It would be only the second time that a drug approved on the accelerated pathway has been withdrawn over a sponsor’s objections.
  • This week also marked a milestone for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Starting last Monday, the government approved over-the-counter sales of hearing aids. The move is expected to dramatically reduce the prices of the devices and open a potentially giant market of consumers now able to afford them.

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

Julie Rovner: KHN and NPR’s “Kids’ Mental Health Care Leaves Parents in Debt and in the Shadows,” by Yuki Noguchi

Sarah Karlin-Smith: Scientific American’s “Some People Really Are Mosquito Magnets, and They’re Stuck That Way,” By Daniel Leonard

Sandhya Raman: Journal of the National Cancer Institute’s “Use of Straighteners and Other Hair Products and Incident Uterine Cancer,” by Che-Jung Chang, et al.

Mary Agnes Carey: KHN’s “Blind to Problems: How VA’s Electronic Record System Shuts Out Visually Impaired Patients,” by Darius Tahir

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:

KHN’s “Say What? Hearing Aids Available Over-the-Counter for as Low as $199, and Without a Prescription,” by Phil Galewitz

Politico’s “‘Michigan Could Become Texas’ — Voters See Stark Choice on Abortion Referendum” by Alice Miranda Ollstein


To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to KHN’s What the Health? on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.