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The formal end May 11 of the national public health emergency for covid-19 will usher in lots of changes in the way Americans get vaccines, treatment, and testing for the coronavirus. It will also change the way some people get their health insurance, with millions likely to lose coverage altogether.

Meanwhile, two FDA advisory committees voted unanimously this week to allow the over-the-counter sale of a specific birth control pill. Advocates of making the pill easier to get say it could remove significant barriers to the use of effective contraception and prevent thousands of unplanned pregnancies every year. The FDA, however, must still formally approve the change, and some of its staff scientists have expressed concerns about whether teenagers and low-literacy adults will be able to follow the directions without the direct involvement of a medical professional.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico, Tami Luhby of CNN, and Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • The formal public health emergency may be over, but covid definitely is not. More than 1,000 people in the United States died of the virus between April 19 and April 26, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While most Americans have put covid in their rearview mirrors, it remains a risk around the country.
  • The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on “ghost networks,” lists of health professionals distributed by insurance companies who are not taking new patients or are not actually in the insurance company’s network. Ghost networks are a particular problem in mental health care, where few providers take health insurance at all.
  • Another trend in the business of health care is primary care practices being bought by hospitals, insurance companies, and even Amazon. This strategy was popular in the 1990s, as health systems sought to “vertically integrate.” But now the larger entities may have other reasons for having their own networks of doctors, including using their patients to create revenue streams.
  • Court battles continue over the fate of the abortion pill mifepristone, as a federal appeals court in New Orleans prepares to hear arguments about a lower-court judge’s ruling that would effectively cancel the drug’s approval by the FDA. In West Virginia, the maker of the generic version of the drug is challenging the right of the state to ban medication approved by federal officials. At the same time, a group of independent abortion clinics from various states is suing the FDA to drop restrictions on how mifepristone can be prescribed, joining mostly Democratic-led states seeking to ensure access to the drug.

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

Julie Rovner: Slate’s “Not Every Man Will Be as Dumb as Marcus Silva,” by Moira Donegan and Mark Joseph Stern.

Joanne Kenen: The Baltimore Banner’s “Baltimore Isn’t Accessible for People With Disabilities. Fixing It Would Cost Over $650 Million,” by Hallie Miller and Adam Willis.

Tami Luhby: CNN’s “Because of Florida Abortion Laws, She Carried Her Baby to Term Knowing He Would Die,” by Elizabeth Cohen, Carma Hassan, and Amanda Musa.

Margot Sanger-Katz: The New Yorker’s “The Problem With Planned Parenthood,” by Eyal Press.

Also mentioned in this week’s episode:


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