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.

It’s a new year, but the abortion debate is raging like it’s 2023, with a new federal appeals court ruling that doctors in Texas don’t have to provide abortions in medical emergencies, despite a federal requirement to the contrary. The case, similar to one in Idaho, is almost certainly headed for the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Congress returns to Washington with only days to avert a government shutdown by passing either full-year or temporary spending bills. And with almost no progress toward a spending deal since the last temporary bill passed in November, this time a shutdown might well happen.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Lauren Weber of The Washington Post, Shefali Luthra of The 19th, and Victoria Knight of Axios.


Victoria Knight


Read Victoria’s stories

Shefali Luthra
The 19th


Read Shefali’s stories

Lauren Weber
The Washington Post


Read Lauren’s stories

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • New year, same Congress. It’s likely lawmakers will fall short of their early-year goals to pass necessary spending bills, prompting another government shutdown or yet another short-term extension. And funding for pediatric medical training is among the latest casualties of the clash over gender-affirming care, raising the odds of a political fight over the federal health budget.
  • The emergency abortion care decision out of Texas this week underscores the difficult position health care providers are in: Now, a doctor could be brought up on charges in Texas for performing an abortion in a medical emergency — or brought up on federal charges if they abstain.
  • A new law in California makes it easier for out-of-state doctors to receive reproductive health training there, a change that could benefit medical residents in the 18 states where it is effectively impossible to be trained to perform an abortion. But some doctors say they still fear breaking another state’s laws.
  • Another study raises questions about the quality of care at hospitals purchased by private equity firms, an issue that has drawn the Biden administration’s attention. From the Journal of the American Medical Association, new findings show that those private equity-owned hospitals experienced a 25% increase in adverse patient events from three years before they were purchased to three years after.
  • And “This Week in Medical Misinformation”: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. earned PolitiFact’s 2023 Lie of the Year designation for his “campaign of conspiracy theories.” The anti-vaccination message he espouses has been around a while, but the movement is gaining political traction — including in statehouses, where more candidates who share RFK Jr.’s views are winning elections.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, about how public health can regain the public’s trust.

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

Julie Rovner: Politico’s “Why Democrats Can’t Rely on Abortion Ballot Initiatives to Help Them Win,” by Alice Miranda Ollstein, Jessica Piper, and Madison Fernandez.

Lauren Weber: The Washington Post’s “Can the Exhausted, Angry People of Ottawa County Learn to Live Together?” by Greg Jaffe.

Victoria Knight: Politico’s “Georgia Offered Medicaid With a Work Requirement. Few Have Signed Up.” by Megan Messerly and Robert King.

Shefali Luthra: Stat News’ “Medical Marijuana Companies Are Using Pharma’s Sales Tactics With Little of the Same Scrutiny,” by Nicholas Florko.

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:

  • Law Dork’s “ADF Is Providing Free Legal Representation to Idaho in Anti-Abortion, Anti-Trans Cases,” by Chris Geidner.
  • JAMA Network Open’s “Barriers to Family Building Among Physicians and Medical Students,” by Zoe King, Qiang Zhang, Jane Liang, et al.
  • The Journal of the American Medical Association’s “Changes in Hospital Adverse Events and Patient Outcomes Associated With Private Equity Acquisition,” by Sneha Kannan, Joseph Dov Bruch, and Zirui Song.
  • KFF Health News’ “RFK Jr.’s Campaign of Conspiracy Theories Is PolitiFact’s 2023 Lie of the Year,” by Madison Czopek, PolitiFact, and Katie Sanders, PolitiFact.


Francis Ying
Audio producer

Emmarie Huetteman

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to KFF Health News’ “What the Health?” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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.


This story can be republished for free (details).

We encourage organizations to republish our content, free of charge. Here’s what we ask:

You must credit us as the original publisher, with a hyperlink to our site. If possible, please include the original author(s) and KFF Health News” in the byline. Please preserve the hyperlinks in the story.

It’s important to note, not everything on is available for republishing. If a story is labeled “All Rights Reserved,” we cannot grant permission to republish that item.

Have questions? Let us know at