Aug 1, 2022 - Podcasts

Kentucky's Deadly Flooding

The death toll from severe flooding in Kentucky has risen to at least 26. That includes four young siblings who were swept away from their parents in the floodwaters. Hundreds had to be evacuated by boat or helicopter and thousands are still without electricity. More rain is expected today and tomorrow. And many of the communities affected by these floods still haven’t fully recovered from last year’s floods and tornadoes in Kentucky.

  • Plus, Democrats could finally deliver on a drug pricing promise.

Guests: Axios' Andrew Friedman and Adriel Bettelheim.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Alex Sugiura, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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ERICA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Monday, August 1st.

I’m Erica Pandey, in for Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re watching today: Democrats could finally deliver on a drug pricing promise.

But first, our one big thing: Kentucky reels from deadly flooding and compounding natural disasters.

ERICA: The death toll from severe flooding in Kentucky has risen to at least 26. That includes four young siblings who were swept away from their parents in the flood waters. Hundreds had to be evacuated by boat or helicopter and thousands are still without electricity. More rain is expected today and tomorrow. Many of the communities affected by these floods still haven't fully recovered from last year's floods and tornadoes in Kentucky. Here to help us make sense of this all is Axios climate reporter, Andrew Freedman. Andrew, as a climate reporter, when you see these breaking stories flash across your screen, which seems to be happening all the time nowadays, what goes through your mind?

ANDREW FREEDMAN: It's tough. You know, the same thing really goes through my mind is that we are seeing a higher tempo of extreme weather events that translate into disasters. This freak week where we had two, 1000 year rainfall events in the same week, one in St. Louis and then the next one in Hazard, Kentucky. Just the impact in an area like this that has been hit hard hit, and doesn't have the capacity to cope easily with something like this, makes it very hard to see.

ERICA: One of the most awful parts of this story is that some of these communities were still in the rebuilding phase from last year's, you know, there was an ice storm, tornadoes, flash floods, wreaking havoc in Kentucky. What has your reporting told you about this and what can we learn from Kentucky?

ANDREW: I think we're really learning the, the limits of our resilience to disasters, especially in, in certain parts of the country. And it, it really just shows that when you have overlapping weather and climate extremes with poverty, with communities that are struggling to maintain jobs, to maintain industries, it's not gonna end well. You know, there's certain parts of the country, there's certain parts of a state that we know are very vulnerable to flash flooding. Kentucky is one of those regions, Virginia West Virginia is, is another hotspot in in the east. So the stuff we built for the climate that we thought was gonna last the 100 year events, the 1000 year events, it is no longer the 100 year or the 1000 year events because we don't have a static climate anymore. We have a climate that is shifting.

ERICA: Okay, Andrew. So zooming back in on Kentucky, what happens there now in the coming days and weeks?

ANDREW: The hard part in Kentucky what they're dealing with is that there's still a large amount of swift moving water, so they can't get to people. They can't find out exactly how many people they've lost and how many people are just cut off. So, this is gonna be a slog where you see changes in the death toll and you see this story last. Pictures that are coming from that area of school buses pulverized almost into pieces just by the force of the water. It's shocking to see some of the damage footage coming out. And I guess I would say like, if you're not in Kentucky and you wanna think about how to respond in your own life to this idea that these disasters are becoming more frequent and more severe, there's many different ways that you can get an idea of the risk that you're facing. Real estate websites for example, now have analysis of the likelihood of the home that you're in or a home that you might buy, the likelihood of it flooding or being in a wildfire. You know, people can try to calculate their risk, see if they're eligible for flood insurance, or if they really should have flood insurance. I think people need to wake up and realize that there are risks where they already live and think about what they can do to bolster their resilience.

ERICA: Andrew Freedman is a climate and energy reporter for Axios. Thanks, Andrew.

ANDREW: Thanks for having me.

ERICA: In a moment, how the Senate’s reconciliation bill would reshape Medicare drug pricing.

ERICA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Erica Pandey in for Niala Boodhoo. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Joe Machin last week announced a budget reconciliation deal that if passed would be the largest congressional investment in combating climate change. But the inflation reduction act would also make a significant change to the way we price drugs.

It would allow Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices for the first time ever. That's a goal Democrats have had for decades and drug companies have been scrambling to keep it from becoming a reality. Axios’ Adriel Bettelheim is here with more. Hi Adriel.

ADRIEL BETTELHEIM: Hi, nice to be with you.

ERICA: Can you explain exactly what this pricing change would look like?

ADRIEL: What it would do is lift a ban on direct government negotiations that's existed since 2003, and it would essentially plug some holes in a system that's now relying on market competition to contain prices and would subject some of Medicare's costliest drugs to price controls, like the blood thinner xarelto, the diabetes medication januvia. And, ultimately it would, it would cover 20 drugs, but the, the point is that this could be expanded once it's written into law like everything you could kind of turn up the volume and make more medicines, conceivably, subject to these negotiations.

ERICA: So you've gone into this already a little bit, but what kind of a practical difference could this make for Americans?

ADRIEL: A lot of Americans are worried about the price of drugs. This has been something that's resonated with them going back to the nineties. You know, whether it was Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, uh, even Donald Trump, they sort of latched onto this concern. And I think it's gotten worse or maybe it's synced up with the prices of everything going up, so this has enabled the Democrats behind this plan to, to kind of pitch this, this anti-inflationary kind of a tonic for the times. And, and sometimes as you know, in, in Congress, it sort of takes something like that, kind of a convergence kind of a zeitgeist to, to actually put something like this that's been fermenting for 30 years over the top.

ERICA: Going back to the drug companies really quickly is the concern from them just as simple as we'll be making less money than we were before.

ADRIEL: Well, they think it squelches innovation. They think that if you have government oversight and government price setting, that will say discourage venture capital investment in smaller biotech firms where a lot of the innovation is these days. And it will, they feel, vastly complicate bringing new drugs to market, which can take, you know, a decade sometimes or longer. But as we said, the public is gripped in broader inflationary fears. There's a more active, patient advocacy community that's doing its own studies that are showing how much it would help, to bring some of these prices down. So those old pharma arguments are not quite getting the traction they used to.

ERICA: What's the significance for the democratic party and for the Biden administration, if it passes now.

ADRIEL: I think heading into the midterms, they want a really big win, for Biden, to point to, to showcase. And this is something that's maybe, oh, it resonates a little bit more with the average person as opposed to, oh, an infrastructure bill. You know, this, this is something that's maybe a little more of a pocketbook issue and, as you noted in your intro, it's being now combined with, climate, with deficit reductions so conceivably, if they can get it through the Senate and that's still a big if, it, it could, carry a lot of Biden's social agenda across the line just in time for the midterms.

ERICA: Adriel Bettelheim is the senior healthcare editor at Axios. Thanks Adriel.

ADRIEL: Thanks so much.

ERICA: And before we let you go, a friendly midsummer reminder to keep yourself and your pets safe from ticks. My dog Photon stepped into the wrong bush over the weekend and ended up covered in ticks. She’s ok now but it was a pretty rough 48 hours. So keep enjoying the outdoors, but be safe out there.

I’m Erica Pandey in for Niala Boodhoo,thanks for listening, stay safe and Niala will be back here with you tomorrow morning.

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