KHN’s “What is Health?”: Wake Up Baby Formula Shortages

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The federal government is finally tackling the baby formula shortage as more families find themselves without anything to feed their babies. But it could be weeks before any impact of the federal action is felt, and babies must be fed daily.

Meanwhile, a third of the nation is experiencing covid-19 activity, justifying expanded precautions, but public health and elected officials appear reluctant to ask the public to return for anything that might be deemed inconvenient.

This week’s panelists are KHN’s Julie Rovner, Politico’s Alice Miranda Ollstein, CNN’s Tami Luhby and Stat’s Rachel Cohrs.

Highlights from this week’s episodes include:

  • Thousands of parents across the country are facing a severe shortage of baby formula, and the government is struggling to find solutions to restore supplies. Even before formula maker Abbott closed a major Michigan manufacturing plant in February, there were already distribution problems and shortages in parts of the country. Manufacturing is highly concentrated in a few companies.
  • Still, it’s only in recent weeks that the administration or Congress have taken high-profile steps to help families feed their babies. This slow response brought harsh criticism. But the hesitant response, at least on Capitol Hill, likely reflects a population that is older, male, affluent and less likely to be closely affected by the shortage.
  • Covid cases and hospitalizations are on the rise, and some officials have warned that the public needs to re-wear masks and get tested to stay safe. However, despite assurances from public health authorities months ago that requirements would be re-enacted if a new surge threatens the country, a resumption of the mission appears unlikely.
  • No end date has been given, despite widespread suspicions that a Biden administration could declare this month that the public health emergency will end in July. Officials promised they would give 60 days’ notice before ending the state of emergency so states could prepare. Some analysts said the emergency could continue after the midterm elections until the end of the year.
  • One of the biggest impacts of the ongoing public health emergency is that states receive additional Medicaid funding and cannot push any enrollees out of health insurance plans for low-income people. Enrollment has surged during the pandemic, raising the cost of states taking their share of the program. Some conservative states are considering whether it would be better to cut their Medicaid places and forgo the federal government’s pandemic relief funding.
  • As the country awaits a final abortion decision from the Supreme Court, abortion rights groups are studying if a judge overturns the 49-year ruling Roe v Wade Guaranteed nationwide abortion decision. They are looking at states that might offer protections in their individual constitutions, using arguments in court that restricting abortion affects the religious freedom of certain groups, and increasing the number of health care professionals who can offer early-stage abortions.

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

Julie Rovner: Fortune and KHN’sLong waits for insurance pre-approval frustrate doctors and patients who need treatment,” Michelle Andrews

Alice Miranda Olstein: “JAMA Health Forum”The cost of long-term COVID,” David Cutler

Rachel Coles: ProPublica’s “COVID testing company that misses 96% of cases“, Annette Damon

Tammy Ruby: KHN’s “States have yet to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to address health disparities in coronavirus,” Phil Gellerwitz, Lauren Webb and Sam Whitehead

This week’s podcast also discusses:

New York Times’ “Amid growing formula shortages, mothers are being asked: “Why not breastfeed?‘” Kathryn Pearson

CNN’s “These families purchased about half of all infant formula nationally.Here’s how a Biden administration is trying to help them,” Tami Luhby

politician’sIf Roe Falls, what abortion rights advocates are planning,” by Alice Miranda Ollstein and Laura Barrón-López

politician’sBlue states expand who can provide abortions as they prepare for large numbers of patients,” Alice Miranda Olstein and Meghan Messelli

“Atlantic”Which COVID hospitalizations are missing“, Ed Yong

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