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The Food and Drug Administration found itself in the hot seat this week when it approved a controversial new drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease with scant evidence of its effectiveness.

Meanwhile, as health policy watchers wait for the Supreme Court to rule in a case threatening the Affordable Care Act, the Biden administration is reporting that a record 31 million Americans have health insurance as a direct result of the health law. And President Joe Biden seeks to gain goodwill overseas as he announces the U.S. will provide 500 million doses of covid vaccine to aid international health efforts.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times, Joanne Kenen of Politico and Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • The FDA announcement on the drug Aduhelm to treat Alzheimer’s disease was assailed by many scientists, doctors and consumer groups who say the drug’s benefits haven’t been proven and it is not ready for general use. But patient advocacy groups pushed the FDA hard to give the medication a thumbs up. They argue that FDA approval will spark more investment from drugmakers in therapies for the disease.
  • Aduhelm will be priced at $56,000 a year, which does not include scans and other medical tests and preparations that patients will require. The decision to approve a costly drug that has apparently marginal benefit is likely to spur the debate over high prescription drug pricing for both consumers and the government.
  • If Medicare opts to cover the drug, it could drive up costs of Part B premiums even for the millions of beneficiaries not taking the medication.
  • In addition to this major announcement about the Alzheimer’s drug, the FDA has a heavy docket, including a decision on whether to give full approval to the covid vaccines being used in the U.S. under a special authorization and how to handle these vaccinations for children. But it is dealing with these major issues without a permanent leader since Biden has not yet named his choice to be FDA commissioner.
  • Biden’s announcement that the United States will provide the Pfizer covid vaccine to other countries will help ease tensions at his meeting this week with foreign leaders, who have criticized the U.S. for holding onto vaccine while the world suffers. But it probably does not assuage progressives who have been calling for the transfer of the vaccine patents and technology to those other countries.
  • The podcast panelists, marking the show’s 200th episode, noted that over four years they have been surprised that the public health system was unprepared for a major pandemic, that face masks could become part of the political wars, that researchers could so quickly provide a successful vaccine for covid-19, and that Republicans, when in control of Congress and the White House, could not overturn the Affordable Care Act. But they also noted they weren’t surprised that the ACA is still a political lightning rod and that the nuances of health policy have thwarted other major reforms, including efforts to curb drug prices.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Chiquita Brooks-La Sure, the new administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services at the Department of Health and Human Services.

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

Julie Rovner: HuffPost and the Center for Public Integrity’s “Spreading Vaccine Fears, and Cashing In,” by Liz Essley Whyte


Politico’s “What My Covid-19 Vaccine Saga Taught Me About the U.S. Health Care System,” by Joanne Kenen

Margot Sanger-Katz: The New York Times’ “’On That Edge of Fear’: One Woman’s Struggle With Sickle Cell Pain,” by John Eligon

Sarah Karlin-Smith: Pink Sheet’s “Patient Support May Have Helped Push Aduhelm Toward Approval,” by Derrick Gingery

Joanne Kenen: The New Yorker’s “The Death of Hahnemann Hospital,” by Chris Pomorski

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KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.


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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.