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President Donald Trump has named Vice President Mike Pence to lead the nation’s effort to combat COVID-19, the contagious disease from a coronavirus that originated in China and is spreading worldwide. At the same time, Congress is preparing to appropriate billions of dollars for prevention and treatment should the outbreak in the U.S. become serious.

Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates for president — in a debate leading up to this weekend’s voting in South Carolina and the 14 state primaries on Super Tuesday next week ― are still fighting over “Medicare for All.”

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Joanne Kenen of Politico, Kimberly Leonard of the Washington Examiner and Shefali Luthra of Kaiser Health News.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Some critics have argued that Trump should have named someone with broad public health experience to coordinate the administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. But the Obama administration, facing concerns about Ebola virus cases in the U.S., turned to Ron Klain, who was the vice president’s chief of staff, to handle its response, and that worked well.
  • Pence’s role as “coronavirus czar” is not his first effort in helping direct an emergency health response. He was governor of Indiana when the opioid epidemic helped propel a dramatic increase in HIV infections in one sparsely populated county. Pence was slow to adopt a needle exchange program recommended by public health officials to help keep that virus from spreading.
  • Issues surrounding rural health care made a surprise appearance in the most recent Democratic presidential debate. There is not much disagreement among the candidates on the need to improve rural services. They also agree that if all states adopted the federal health law’s Medicaid expansion program, more residents of rural areas would have better health care options.
  • A study in the British medical journal The Lancet, frequently cited by Sen. Bernie Sanders as backing up his projections for the cost of a government-run Medicare for All health care program, makes assumptions that many other experts call flawed. They point out that the study was done by epidemiologists and not health care economists.
  • An appeals court in California upheld the Trump administration’s efforts to evict Planned Parenthood from the federal family planning program known as Title X. The new rules, unlikely to be blocked by an increasingly anti-abortion Supreme Court, require recipients of federal family planning funds to stop making abortion referrals and to physically separate facilities that do family planning and those that perform abortions.

Also this week, Rovner interviews NPR’s Sydney Lupkin, who reported the latest KHN-NPR “Bill of the Month” installment about how two versions of the same drug have dramatically different price tags. If you have an outrageous medical bill you would like to share with us, you can do that here.

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

Julie Rovner: Consumer Reports’ “GoodRx Saves Money on Meds ― It Also Shares Data With Google, Facebook, and Others,” by Thomas Germain

Joanne Kenen: Politico’s “Harmed Before Birth, America’s ‘Lost Children’ Overshadowed by Opioid Crisis,” by Brianna Ehley

Kimberly Leonard: The Miami Herald’s “A Miami Man Who Flew to China Worried He Might Have Coronavirus. He May Owe Thousands,” by Ben Conarck

Shefali Luthra: Last Week Tonight’s “Medicare for All” by John Oliver

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Courts Elections Multimedia Public Health States