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How to safely open the nation’s schools this fall has become the latest spat in attempting to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have decried the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as too complicated and expensive and ordered a new set. Meanwhile, tests for the virus remain difficult to get, particularly in states experiencing spikes, and getting results to patients is taking increasingly longer, making contact tracing effectively impossible.

Also this week, the Supreme Court handed the Trump administration a victory, upholding a set of regulations aimed at making it easier for employers to decline to offer birth control as part of their health insurance — even though it is generally required under the Affordable Care Act.

And Oklahoma voters narrowly approved a ballot measure to expand the Medicaid program, becoming the latest Republican-dominated state where voters opted for something that had been rejected by their elected officials.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Joanne Kenen of Politico, Mary Ellen McIntire of CQ Roll Call and Kimberly Leonard of Business Insider.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

–Although the Supreme Court upheld — at least for now — the changes made to ACA contraception coverage, Congress could rescind the policy, which might happen if Democrats gain control of the Senate next year. The rule could also be struck down by a lower court on grounds that were not reached in the current lawsuit.

–Much attention has been paid to the Trump administration’s rule on contraception coverage. But at the same time, the administration has been chipping away at other programs that provide birth control to many low-income women.

–With Trump doubling down on his support of Republican state officials’ legal challenge to the ACA, the federal health law could play a role again in the fall election. But it will likely also be linked to other health issues, including the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

–The Medicaid vote in Oklahoma comes as the pandemic has created economic havoc, and it’s not clear where the state will get its share of the costs for the federal-state program that provides health coverage to low-income residents.

–Even after four months of battling COVID-19 in the U.S., people are still waiting in long lines to get a test, and results are slow because of the huge demand. Some consumer advocates hope a new stimulus package will provide more funding, but what’s really needed to help the economy and the schools is a rapid, inexpensive test that can be self-administered.

Also this week, Rovner interviews KHN’s Sarah Varney, who reported the latest KHN-NPR “Bill of the Month” installment, about an essential health worker with suspected COVID-19 who was sent to the emergency room, where she did not get a COVID test — but did get a large bill. If you have an outrageous medical bill you would like to share with us, you can do that here.

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

Julie Rovner: The New York Times’ “Sweden Has Become the World’s Cautionary Tale,” by Peter S. Goodman.

Kimberly Leonard: The Atlantic’s “The Pandemic Experts Are Not Okay,” by Ed Yong.

Joanne Kenen: The New Yorker’s “The Emotional Evolution of Coronavirus Doctors and Patients,” by Dhruv Khullar.

Mary Ellen McIntire: Science News’ “How Making a COVID-19 Vaccine Confronts Thorny Ethical Issues,” by Bethany Brookshire.

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Kaiser Health News

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.