Biden's Climate Response, Transparency For Health Insurers, Brittney Griner Trial : Up First The Supreme Court's ruling on the EPA alters the Biden Administration's climate strategy. Health insurers must now publicize the prices they pay hospitals and doctors' offices for services. And, the trial in Russia that will decide Brittney Griner's fate is underway. The WNBA star has been detained for more than four months.

Biden's Climate Response, Transparency For Health Insurers, Brittney Griner Trial

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Shopping around for the lowest cost on an MRI or another medical procedure?

SHANNON BOND, HOST:

It's about to get easier. The health insurers are now required to publicize the prices they've negotiated with hospitals for services. I'm Shannon Bond.

BLOCK: I'm Melissa Block, and this is UP FIRST from NPR News.

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BOND: The Supreme Court has limited the EPA's ability to regulate carbon emissions - a heavy blow to President Biden's climate initiative.

BLOCK: But White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy told NPR the EPA would still strive to drive down pollution.

GINA MCCARTHY: Whether we do it directly or through other measures, like tackling other pollutants that always are married with greenhouse gases when they're emitted.

BOND: And in Russia, after four months in detention, WNBA star Brittney Griner goes to trial on drug charges.

BLOCK: Stay with us. We've got the news you need to start your weekend.

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BOND: President Biden called the Supreme Court ruling on the Environmental Protection Agency devastating.

BLOCK: The court said the agency overstepped its authority when it tried regulating emissions from existing power plants.

BOND: Biden is still promising to use every tool he has to fight climate change.

BLOCK: Let's turn to NPR's White House correspondent Scott Detrow, who covers the president's climate agenda.

Scott, good morning.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, morning, Melissa.

BLOCK: We know that the president's efforts to fight climate change got stuck in Congress last year, and now we have the Supreme Court delivering a defeat. How significant is this ruling?

DETROW: Well, as you mentioned, President Biden called it devastating. A lot of people in the White House were very upset. But over the course of the week, the thing I've kept hearing is that they all said this could have been a lot worse. In the short term, it's kind of a mixed bag, and here's why. The Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency had previously gone too far when it tried to shift the American power sector away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy. But the ruling was really specific to one rule that the EPA tried to do several years ago. And again, it could have been a lot worse. Biden's top domestic climate adviser, Gina McCarthy, told NPR yesterday that the court did not altogether eliminate the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases. And that's important.

MCCARTHY: It doesn't mean that EPA isn't standing ready right now to move forward with regulations that will drive down greenhouse gas pollutions, whether we do it directly or through other measures, like tackling other pollutants that always are married with greenhouse gases when they're emitted.

DETROW: But McCarthy and other regulators in the Biden administration are well aware now that they're going to have to be a lot more careful moving forward because the court sent a strong signal here that it's going to be applying a lot more scrutiny than before to EPA and other agencies.

BLOCK: And what's the rationale behind that?

DETROW: So over the years, Congress has always given agencies broad power to enact regulations. And previous court rulings have said that was OK, that agencies had the expertise and that they should take Congress' broad directions and apply them to current challenges. But the court's underlying legal reasoning this week in this ruling was that Congress needs to be specific about what it is allowing agencies to do and that Congress had not specifically told the EPA that it could do this, that it could regulate emissions from existing power plants in the way that they tried to do, even though the EPA, you know, has organized around the broad authority it has under the Clean Air Act for decades now.

So that is making regulators a lot more careful. But again, going forward, most of the administration's authority to deal with power plants still remains. Emissions regulations on cars and trucks to lower greenhouse gases are still in place, too. But this is an area that largely depends on executive branch regulations. You know, Democrats control the House and Senate right now. They haven't gotten a new climate bill through. They certainly won't if Republicans take control of the House or Senate next year because Republicans are just widespread opposed to climate regulation.

BLOCK: Well, given all of that, Scott, the president has pledged that he will cut carbon emissions in half by the end of the decade. Is that even possible?

DETROW: It's going to be a lot more difficult now for a lot of reasons. The Environmental Defense Fund has said that to meet this goal, emissions from power plants have to be cut by 80%. That is a huge shift. The Biden administration has really been trying to incentivize the power sector to do the things it wants to do over the long term a lot more quickly. There was a lot of money in the bipartisan infrastructure law that passed last year to do that. But the Biden White House has really been trying hard to get an even bigger bill passed. It has been stalled for the last few years. And you're going to hear a lot of conversation over the next few months about trying to get something through Congress by the end of this year.

BOND: That's NPR's Scott Detrow. Scott, thanks so much.

DETROW: Sure thing.

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BLOCK: Health insurers are now required by the federal government to post the prices they pay to hospitals and doctors' offices for services.

BOND: The new rule took effect yesterday. It's another step towards more transparency in our complicated, convoluted health care system.

BLOCK: Julie Appleby is a reporter with our partner Kaiser Health News, and she joins us to talk about this development. And first, Julie, explain why this decision on health insurance price transparency could be such a big deal.

JULIE APPLEBY: Yeah. You know, this is a big deal because these prices have long been a big secret, right? People don't know how much they're going to pay for health care before they go and actually access that care. Even employers, who are, after all, paying the bills - a lot of times, they don't know what their insurers have negotiated at various places. So the fact that this is going to be posted and that everybody can see it is a really big deal. And it's not just hospital prices. This is going to be prices for just about everything that an insurer contracts for - so the hospital, the clinics, the imaging centers, even the doctors. So this will be one more step towards shining a light on what has been a very opaque system.

BLOCK: Now, as I understand it, hospitals already had to post information about prices. Is that right?

APPLEBY: You're right. Starting last year, they were required to post their negotiated prices with insurers. Many of them have, but many of them have not posted their prices at all. Some of them have posted something called charges, which are amounts that most people don't pay. They just haven't posted the negotiated rates that they negotiate off those charges. So many hospitals have not complied. But now, guess what? You know, insurers are going to come in, and they are going to post those hospital prices that they've negotiated. So that information is going to be out there as well.

BLOCK: Well, this is a requirement now for health insurers under this new rule. What teeth does it have? How will it be enforced?

APPLEBY: You know, this does come with some penalty fines. And they can add up pretty fast because it's $100 a day per violation per affected enrollee. So let's say you're an insurer or a self-insured employer with 10,000 members, say. So do the math. I mean, that can add up pretty fast. So that's the teeth in this. We'll see how that plays out. There were fines for hospitals, for example, that were less. They were about 300 bucks a day, although the government has recently increased that to 5,500 bucks a day. But for the most part, the government has sent warning letters and has only fined two hospitals so far.

BLOCK: OK. So if I'm a health care patient and I want to know how to use this information from my insurance company, what do I do?

APPLEBY: You know, initially this may be a little difficult because these are really big files. So you're going to have to dig into it and really look at what's going to cost you. But right now as we speak, there are a lot of companies - entrepreneurial companies, companies that are already out there that are downloading this information. They're going to put it in more consumer friendly formats. And it'll be in there so that you can look up, say, a price of a procedure that you need.

Let's say you need an X-ray. So you'll eventually be able to figure out, hey, it's going to be 250 bucks at the hospital near me. It'll be 75 bucks at the imaging center across the street, for example. And if you go to your doctor's office, it might be 25 bucks. So you'll be able to see that kind of difference and decide how you want to spend your money.

BLOCK: So comparison shopping, essentially - and that all sounds pretty straightforward.

APPLEBY: It is. But it's going to be complicated because there may be additional things that come with that X-ray or that MRI. There may be some things that aren't included in the cost. So it may not be as easy initially to decipher, but it is going to be helpful for consumers.

BLOCK: OK, Julie Appleby. She's a reporter with our partner, Kaiser Health News. Julie, thanks so much.

APPLEBY: Thank you.

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BOND: Brittney Griner began her trial in Moscow on Friday.

BLOCK: She is the WNBA star who's been detained in Russia for more than four months on drug smuggling charges. Griner faces a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

BOND: NPR's Charles Maynes was at the courthouse, and he joins us now.

Welcome, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Hi, there.

BOND: So my understanding is that press access there was limited. So what did you learn from day one of the trial?

MAYNES: Well, you know, we learned some specifics about the charges against Griner, which we really haven't had since she was detained at a Moscow airport last February. The prosecution alleged that customs agents found two vape cartridges that contained just over two-thirds of a gram of hash oil in Griner's backpack and suitcase. They noted it was for personal use but that Griner still had sought to bring a prohibited substance across the border into Russia. And the prosecution called two of the customs officials who supposedly inspected Griner at the airport as witnesses to testify to that fact. So, you know, the trial essentially is really underway.

BOND: Yeah. And so, Charles, you got to see Griner as she went into the courthouse. How is she doing through all of this?

MAYNES: You know, I only saw her briefly. The press was kept at a distance. But she was led by guards, handcuffed and dressed in a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, before disappearing into the courtroom. But officials from the U.S. Embassy here were allowed to attend the hearing. And the chief of mission, Elizabeth Rood, afterwards described her interactions with Griner.

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ELIZABETH ROOD: I did have the opportunity to speak with Ms. Griner in the courtroom. She is doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances. And she asked me to convey that she is in good spirits and is keeping up the faith.

BOND: Right. So the U.S. government says it's trying to help her. What is it doing? And how have growing tensions between the U.S. and Russia impacted her case?

MAYNES: Well, you know, Griner's detention has unfolded against the conflict in Ukraine, of course, and the further cratering of what were already, you know, poor U.S.-Russian relations. And the U.S. clearly thinks that this has played a role in the charges against Griner. They declared her wrongfully detained in May. The case is now being overseen by the U.S.'s envoy for hostage affairs. And, you know, amid all this intense public interest in seeing Griner freed, White House officials clearly want us - everyone to know that they get the message. You know, that includes National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who was asked about Griner by my colleague Tamara Keith at the NATO summit in Madrid earlier this week.

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JAKE SULLIVAN: We are actively working to find a resolution to this case and will continue to do so without rest until we get Brittney safely home.

BOND: Griner has been playing basketball for a long time in Russia. So how have Russians reacted to this trial?

MAYNES: Well, you know, she's well-known to basketball fans here. Her team UMMC in Ekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains has won the championship repeatedly with her in the squad. But the case - you know, it's not getting the same level of attention as in the U.S., and maybe for this reason. You know, the Kremlin rejects the idea that Griner is a, quote, "hostage." Russia says this isn't even about politics or the U.S. The Kremlin argues this is just a run-of-the-mill case involving a foreigner - OK, a well-known American in this case - who allegedly tried to bring banned substances into Russia. At least that's the government line.

BOND: Yeah. So, Charles, any idea of how long this trial will go on?

MAYNES: Well, the next hearing is July 7, next Thursday. And it may be several rounds of hearings before Griner's defense even gets to make its case. So it's going to be some time. Meanwhile, acquittals here are notoriously hard to come by. So for that reason, perhaps, there's a lot of talk both in Washington and Moscow about a possible prisoner swap for Griner, not least because the Biden administration and the Kremlin just did one. You know, they traded for a Marine, a guy named Trevor Reed, who the U.S. said was unjustly detained in a Russian prison back in April. And Reed is now safely home. Griner's family and supporters are asking Biden to do what it takes to get a similar outcome.

BOND: That's NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow.

Thank you, Charles.

MAYNES: Thank you.

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BLOCK: And that's UP FIRST for Saturday, July 2, 2022. I'm Melissa Block.

BOND: And I'm Shannon Bond. UP FIRST is back tomorrow with a story of how a century of honoring the sacred lunch hour in France has been upended. Now one French historian has determined to bring it back. Follow us on social media. We're @UpFirst on Twitter.

BLOCK: And for more news and interviews, books and music, you can find us on the radio.

BOND: Weekend Edition, Saturday and Sunday mornings - find your NPR station at stations.npr.org.

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