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Democrats won some unexpectedly large victories in Tuesday’s off-off-year elections, putting health care squarely back on the political map. Meanwhile, enrollment was unexpectedly high in the insurance exchanges’ opening days, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

In this episode of “What the Health?” Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Sarah Kliff of Vox.com, Joanne Kenen of Politico and Alice Ollstein of Talking Points Memo discuss the potential political impact of Tuesday’s voting, including the success in Maine of a referendum to expand the Medicaid program, as well as the latest news from Washington, D.C.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

— Voters in exit polls cited health care as a major voting issue — and in Virginia the vast majority of those who said health care was a top issue voted for the Democrat. But some Republicans continue to insist that voters are angry that they did not repeal the Affordable Care Act and are doubling down on efforts to make that happen before the congressional midterm elections in 2018.

— Tuesday’s results in the Maine Medicaid referendum might prompt voters in other states that have yet to expand the program to try the direct-ballot route. But Maine’s governor has said he will continue to try to block implementation, which could lead to lawsuits.

— Despite the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, open enrollment for 2018 has seen a spike in sign-ups in the first few days. Some suggest one reason is that many people who qualify for tax credits are getting an unexpected windfall this year because of the way states have addressed federal cuts in subsidies for low-income enrollees. People who earn just over the cutoff for federal help, however, are facing frequently unaffordable rates.

— Federal Medicaid chief Seema Verma this week suggested the Trump administration will be approving state requests to require Medicaid recipients to work or perform community service in exchange for their benefits. Work requirements would be a major change for the program, and one several states are seeking.

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

Julie Rovner: Kaiser Health News and Climate Central, “Breathing Fire: Health Is A Casualty Of Climate-Fueled Blazes,” by John Upton and Barbara Feder Ostrov.

Sarah Kliff: Kaiser Health News, “Liquid Gold: Pain Doctors Soak Up Profits By Screening Urine For Drugs,” by Fred Schulte and Elizabeth Lucas.

Joanne Kenen: The New Yorker, “Faces of an epidemic,” by Philip Montgomery and Margaret Talbot.

Alice Ollstein: Reuters, “Exclusive: FBI agents raid headquarters of major U.S. body broker,” by John Shiffman and Brian Grow.

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

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