With the United States bumping up against the debt ceiling, Medicare has become a bargaining chip

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While repealing the Affordable Care Act appears to have fallen off Congressional Republicans’ to-do list for 2023, plans to cut Medicare and Medicaid are back. The GOP wants Democrats to agree to cut spending on both programs in exchange for a vote to prevent the government from defaulting on its debt.

Meanwhile, the nation’s healthcare workers–from nurses to doctors to pharmacists–are feeling the pressure of caring not only for the growing number of insured patients seeking care, but also for the more serious and sometimes difficult and even violent patients.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Joanne Keenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Policy, Tammy Lohbe of CNN, and Victoria Knight of Axios.

Among the points learned from this week’s episode:

  • Conservative House Republicans hope to leverage their newfound legislative clout to cut government spending, as the struggle to raise the debt ceiling provides a preview of potential debates this year over costly federal entitlement programs like Medicare.
  • House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has said Republicans will protect Medicare and Social Security, but the rise of rambunctious conservatives — such as the new chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee — raises questions about what “protecting” those programs means to Republicans.
  • Record numbers of Americans signed up for insurance coverage this year under the Affordable Care Act. After years of congressional Republicans trying to overturn it, the controversial program that was also known as Obamacare appears to be following the path of other well-established federal entitlement programs: evolving, growing, and becoming less controversial over time.
  • Recent reports show that while Americans had fewer problems paying for health care last year, many still fell behind on care because of costs. The findings highlight that insurance is not enough to keep care affordable for many Americans.
  • Health care workers are becoming increasingly vocal in their calls for better staffing, with a nursing strike in New York City and recent reports of pharmacist burnout providing some of the latest arguments for how widespread staffing issues may be harming patient care. There is bipartisan agreement in Congress to address the nursing shortage, but what they will do is another question.

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

Julie Rovner: roll callThe National Institutes of Health lacks top leadership at the beginning of a divided CongressWritten by Ariel Cohen

Tammy Luby: CNN “ER on the Field: A Closer Look at How NFL Medical Teams Prepare for Game Day EmergenciesWritten by Nadia Konang and Amanda Seely

Joan Keenen: Atlantic “Don’t be afraid to shake handsWritten by Kathryn J. Wu

Victoria Knight: Washington PostThe ‘The Last of Us’ zombie mushroom is real, and it’s in health supplementsBy Mike Hume

Also featured in this week’s podcast:

New York times’ “As France moves to delay retirement, older workers face a dilemmaLiz Alderman

women”Medicare advisors in Congress warn drug prices will rise, despite new pricing negotiationsBy John Wilkerson

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