” What is health ? “From KHN: Contagion Confusion

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The covid-19 pandemic is now entering its third year, and the ever-changing health advice to tackle an ever-changing virus is leaving Americans more cranky and confused than ever.

Meanwhile, covid isn’t the only health agenda item to move from 2021 to 2022. Democrats on Capitol Hill are trying to find a way to save the huge social spending bill and President Joe Biden’s health, and rising prescription drug prices still irritate many Americans.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Tami Luhby of CNN, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico and Mary Ellen McIntire of CQ Roll Call.

Some takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • As the omicron variant sweeps across the country causing widespread staffing issues in industries ranging from healthcare to air travel. Experts noted that omicron does not appear to produce as severe a disease as the delta variant. Even so, when people are diagnosed with covid, they have to self-quarantine, and for many people that means staying away from work.
  • Nonetheless, in areas hit hard by omicron, such as New York City, the number of cases appears to be leveling off. Other parts of the country may not yet have felt the full impact of omicron, but these early contagions suggest that omicron is following a pattern in the United States similar to what has been seen in South Africa, where cases declined rapidly after the peak.
  • New guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that cut the number of days it takes to quarantine with covid in half have confused many. This was not well explained by the agency, and health officials offered varying views.
  • But perhaps one of the CDC’s goals was to make it easier for infected people to stay in their homes. A shorter quarantine of five days may be acceptable or easier to organize for patients who still have to work. Additionally, some people may be less nervous about having a covid test if a positive result does not mean 10 full days of isolation.
  • Helping people in quarantine could also prove effective in trying to limit the spread of the covid virus. Other countries offer patients such amenities as paid time off or grocery deliveries that make it easier to stay home.
  • The Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments over the Biden administration’s mandates that most workers are either vaccinated or tested routinely. But even a court ruling is unlikely to resolve this contentious issue. Members of Congress are seeking to overturn the rules through legislation, although such a bill would certainly be vetoed by Biden.
  • Landmark legislation protecting consumers from surprise medical bills took effect this month. This does not mean that patients are protected against all the big bills. Many will still have health plans with high deductibles, so they could end up paying thousands of dollars for network services. But they won’t be responsible for the often exorbitant off-grid fees of doctors and hospitals they didn’t choose. Senator Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) announced shortly before the holidays that he could not support the current bill. But discussions on the bill have trumped Democratic initiatives on voting rights, for now.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Victoria Knight of KHN, who reported and wrote the latest episode of KHN-NPR’s “Invoice of the Month” about a costly confusion in billing for a neonatal intensive care unit. If you want to send us an outrageous medical bill, you can do so here.

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

Julie Rovner: “Men Across America Are Having Vasectomies ‘Like an Act of Love’” from The Washington Post by Emily Wax-Thibodeaux

Tami Luhby: The Washington Post “Nursing Home Staffing Shortages Worsen Problems in Overwhelmed Hospitals,” by Lenny Bernstein and Andrew Van Dam

Alice Miranda Ollstein: “ACA Health Insurance Plans Need More Coverage For LGBTQ + People, White House Says,” by Orion Rummler from the 19th

Mary Ellen McIntire: “When they warn of rare disorders, these prenatal tests are usually wrong” from The New York Times, by Sarah Kliff and Aatish Bhatia

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KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with policy analysis and polls, KHN is one of the three main operational programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization that provides information on health issues to the nation.


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