The Host

Julie Rovner
KFF Health News


Read Julie’s stories.

Julie Rovner is chief Washington correspondent and host of KFF Health News’ weekly health policy news podcast, “What the Health?” A noted expert on health policy issues, Julie is the author of the critically praised reference book “Health Care Politics and Policy A to Z,” now in its third edition.

How should journalists cover political candidates who make false claims about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines? That question will need to be answered now that noted anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has officially entered the 2024 presidential race.

Meanwhile, South Carolina has become one of the last states in the South to pass an abortion ban, making the procedure all but impossible to obtain for women across a broad swath of the country.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Rachel Cohrs of Stat, and Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet.


Rachel Cohrs
Stat News


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Sarah Karlin-Smith
Pink Sheet


Read Sarah’s stories

Alice Miranda Ollstein


Read Alice’s stories

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Republican lawmakers and President Joe Biden continue to bargain over a deal to avert a debt ceiling collapse. Unspent pandemic funding is on the negotiating table, as the White House pushes to protect money for vaccine development — though the administration has drawn criticism for a lack of transparency over what would be included in a clawback of unspent dollars.
  • In abortion news, South Carolina is the latest state to vote to restrict access to abortion, passing legislation this week that would ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy — shortly after pregnant people miss their first period. And Texas is seeing more legal challenges to the state law’s exceptions to protect a mother’s life, as cases increasingly show that many doctors are erring on the side of not providing care to avoid criminal and professional liability.
  • Congress is scrutinizing the role of group purchasing organizations in drug pricing as more is revealed about how pharmacy benefit managers negotiate discounts. So-called GPOs offer health care organizations, like hospitals, the ability to work together to leverage market power and negotiate better deals from suppliers.
  • Lawmakers are also exploring changes to the way Medicare pays for the same care performed in a doctor’s office versus a hospital setting. Currently, providers can charge more in a hospital setting, but some members of Congress want to end that discrepancy — and potentially save the government billions.
  • And our panel of health journalists discusses an important question after a prominent anti-vaccine activist entered the presidential race last month: How do you responsibly cover a candidate who promotes conspiracy theories? The answer may be found in a “truth sandwich.”

Also this week, Rovner interviews KFF Health News senior correspondent Aneri Pattani about her project to track the money from the national opioid settlement.

Plus, for “extra credit,” the panelists suggest health policy stories they read this week that they think you should read, too:

Julie Rovner: KFF Health News’ “Remote Work: An Underestimated Benefit for Family Caregivers,” by Joanne Kenen

Alice Miranda Ollstein: Reuters’ “How Doctors Buy Their Way out of Trouble,” by Michael Berens

Rachel Cohrs: ProPublica’s “In the ‘Wild West’ of Outpatient Vascular Care, Doctors Can Reap Huge Payments as Patients Risk Life and Limb,” by Annie Waldman

Sarah Karlin-Smith: The New York Times’ “Heat Wave and Blackout Would Send Half of Phoenix to E.R., Study Says,” by Michael Levenson

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:


Francis Ying
Audio producer

Emmarie Huetteman

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KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.