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Capitol Desk

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After a bruising confirmation process, Xavier Becerra was sworn in as secretary of Health and Human Services this week. The Senate also confirmed the nominations of former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to return to the post he held in the Obama administration, and former Pennsylvania health secretary Rachel Levine as assistant secretary for health. Levine is the first openly transgender person to receive Senate confirmation. Meanwhile, questions continue to swirl around the AstraZeneca covid vaccine, which some public health experts worry will create more hesitancy toward other vaccines.

Beyond the billions of dollars aimed squarely at the pandemic, the covid relief bill cleared by Congress this week includes significant changes to health policy. Among them are the first major expansions to the Affordable Care Act since its enactment 11 years ago and changes that could expand coverage for the Medicaid program. Tami Luhby of CNN, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico and Rachel Cohrs of Stat join KHN’s Julie Rovner to discuss these issues and more. Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read, too.

The FDA authorized the emergency use of a one-shot vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson, which could help accelerate the pace of vaccinations to prevent covid-19. But after a dramatic decline, case numbers are again rising, and several states are rolling back public health mitigation efforts. Mary Ellen McIntire of CQ Roll Call, Joanne Kenen of Politico and Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet join KHN’s Julie Rovner to discuss these issues and more. Also this week, Rovner interviews KHN’s Jordan Rau about the latest KHN-NPR “Bill of the Month” episode.

Keeping a campaign promise, President Joe Biden has reopened enrollment for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act on healthcare.gov — and states that run their own health insurance marketplaces followed suit. At the same time, the Biden administration is moving to revoke the Trump administration’s permission for states to impose work requirements for some adults on the Medicaid health insurance program. Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Kimberly Leonard of Business Insider and Rachel Cohrs of Stat join KHN’s Julie Rovner to discuss these issues and more. Also, Rovner interviews medical student Inam Sakinah, president of the new group Future Doctors in Politics.

Several large business groups, including health industry organizations, are cutting off contributions to Republicans who voted against the certification of Joe Biden’s election even after riots shut down the Capitol on Jan. 6. Meanwhile, the outgoing Trump administration not only approved a Medicaid block grant for Tennessee, but also made it difficult for the incoming Biden administration to undo. Joanne Kenen of Politico, Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times and Kimberly Leonard of Business Insider join KHN’s Julie Rovner to discuss these issues and more. Plus, Rovner interviews KHN’s Victoria Knight about the latest KHN-NPR “Bill of the Month” episode.

Democratic victories in two runoff elections in Georgia will give Democrats control of the Senate starting Jan. 20, which means they will be in charge of both houses of Congress and the White House for the first time since 2010. Meanwhile, covid continues to run rampant while vaccine distribution lags. Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Anna Edney of Bloomberg News and Mary Ellen McIntire of CQ Roll Call join KHN’s Julie Rovner to discuss these issues and more. Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read, too.