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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Anybody with a credit card or in the market for a new house or a new car can feel the difference in interest rates.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Yeah. Rates are higher than they've been in decades. The Federal Reserve repeatedly raised them to fight inflation. It took a break last month, but this week, its key players meet again.

INSKEEP: NPR's Stacey Vanek Smith will be at the Fed meeting today. Hey there, Stacey.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: Happy Fed Day, Steve.

INSKEEP: Oh, thank you. Delighted that you've joined us on this near holiday. What happens now?

VANEK SMITH: Well, today everyone's expecting the Fed will unpause. We're expecting to see it raise interest rates by a quarter percentage point.

INSKEEP: Why end the pause?

VANEK SMITH: So the Fed is always trying to strike this balance - you know, raise interest rates just enough to slow the economy down to where inflation falls, but not so much that we end up in a recession. So when interest rates rise, you know, it makes it more expensive for us to borrow money. We tend to borrow less money, spend less, and that means companies sell less stuff. There's less demand. And that usually brings prices down. But, of course, when companies make less money, they also don't expand and they often lay people off. All this can cause a recession. So the Fed's always trying to strike this balance. Economists call it a soft landing, slowing the economy down just enough but not too much. And for the last year, the Fed has taken really aggressive action. Interest rates are higher than they've been in more than 20 years. So a lot of people said the pause was to try to see how things are settling and hopefully help us strike this balance, this soft landing.

INSKEEP: Well, I would have thought we would have just about landed at this point or maybe at least be at that moment where, you know, you're about to touch down and you can see the runway out your window. Inflation is down to 3%. Why raise interest rates again now?

VANEK SMITH: Yes, inflation is down to 3%. That is not far off from the Fed's goal inflation rate of 2%. So why just not quit it with the rate hikes already, give the economy a break? I put that question to economist Raghuram Rajan. He ran the central bank in India for years. He's a professor at the University of Chicago. And he told me he thought the Fed was wise to be cautious.

RAGHURAM RAJAN: I think the message they wanted to send is things are moving in the right direction, but we need time to see how much more we need to do rather than, you know, we're done. We were waiting to see how the economy reacts and deciding how much more medicine it needs.

VANEK SMITH: Rajan says declaring victory over inflation too soon could destroy the progress we've made. If inflation gets momentum, what's often called an inflationary spiral, prices start to rise out of control, our savings starts being worth less and less. This happened in the U.S. in the '70s, and the Fed had to take really aggressive action. It was years of recession, years of high unemployment. And right now, in the U.S., everything is moving in the right direction. And Rajan says the Fed probably does not want to risk taking its foot off the brakes too soon. So our hot-pause summer is expected to come to an end.

INSKEEP: Hot-pause summer - that sounds like a hit song going up the charts.

VANEK SMITH: It's true. Well, with the Fed, you've got to try to, like, bring a little excitement where you can.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) NPR's Stacey Vanek Smith, you always bring the excitement. Thank you so much.

VANEK SMITH: Thank you, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK, if you break your arm, you go to the doctor. And if you have insurance, they would usually pay. Many people report a much harder experience when they seek mental health care.

FADEL: It's hard to find treatment in-network and hard to get insurance to pay. President Biden yesterday said health insurance companies are not fully following the law. He's proposing new regulations that would push companies to try harder and pay up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: You get referrals to see mental health specialists, but when you make the appointment, they say, I can't see you until your doctor submits the paperwork and get special permission from the insurance company. Give me a break.

INSKEEP: NPR's Yuki Noguchi was listening to the announcement yesterday and is on the line. Good morning.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's the White House trying to do?

NOGUCHI: It's trying to strengthen existing policies that are already in the books, and it wants to do so by closing loopholes that have left patients with too few options for mental health care covered by insurance. And, you know, historically, insurance didn't cover care like therapy the same way it did physical care, like surgery. And a landmark 2008 law tried to change that, but insurers found ways around it. For example, it might appear as though an insurer has a network of mental health professionals, but in fact, many of them might not be taking new patients or are no longer practicing or are too far away. Or sometimes insurers would require paperwork to authorize treatment, repeatedly, in order to keep getting treatment. So some families told me the reauthorization could be almost daily.

INSKEEP: OK, so the principle here, the law is you're supposed to have equal access to mental health care...

NOGUCHI: Yeah.

BIDEN: ...Equal to what you would get for your physical health.

NOGUCHI: Yeah.

BIDEN: What are people doing when instead they find these barriers?

NOGUCHI: Well, you know, it's a really crisis situation in a lot of cases. And if you don't have insurance, it's a huge cost, right? Paying out of pocket for something like inpatient treatment can easily cost $100,000 or more. So even families with resources often end up tapping every source of cash and credit they can, like this Michigan woman, Rachel (ph), who last year described the situation paying for her son's treatment.

RACHEL: All of our savings is gone. How are we going to send our kids to school? How are we going to - like, what are we going to do when it's time for - like, how are we going to recover from this? I don't know. Those thoughts in your mind - like, there's no space for that when you are just trying to keep your child alive.

NOGUCHI: You know, and, Steve, out of desperation, some families even impoverished themselves to qualify for public insurance like Medicaid. And some forgo care and let conditions worsen into a bigger crisis or end up in the ER.

INSKEEP: But all of this is happening under an existing 15-year-old law, as you mentioned, that I know has also been updated more recently. So what has the White House proposed to do about that?

NOGUCHI: Well, it's trying to address the fact that there's not a lot of good data or even clear definitions to track how these policies affect patients. So it really hasn't been possible to hold insurers accountable. And the White House also wants better reimbursement for the doctors and therapists who provide this care. And the hope there is that maybe that will draw more people into the profession.

INSKEEP: Oh, that's what I would have assumed was part of the problem is just not enough mental health care providers to go around.

NOGUCHI: Yeah, absolutely, right? At a time when mental health crises are really on the rise, you know, there aren't enough professionals to take care of them. And that's something that's going to take a lot of time to solve. And even the president acknowledged that. You know, while, with these policies, he wants to address insurance problems, there are still lots of problems with access to care generally.

INSKEEP: NPR consumer health correspondent Yuki Noguchi, thanks so much.

NOGUCHI: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: And since we've raised mental health, let's mention this. If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text 988 - three numbers - 988 for the National Crisis Lifeline.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK, let's go next to the Women's World Cup, where we expect a showdown.

FADEL: Yeah. The U.S. women's national team won their first match against Vietnam last week. Tonight, they face the team they played in the finals of the 2019 World Cup, the Netherlands.

INSKEEP: The games are being played in Australia and New Zealand. So let's go to New Zealand, where we found Henry Bushnell, senior soccer reporter for Yahoo Sports. Welcome.

HENRY BUSHNELL: Thanks, Steve, for having me.

INSKEEP: I'm glad you're with us because we were having a discussion before the program, and some of us on the staff were like, what? The World Cup is going on? And other people were shouting, what's the matter with you? This is the biggest thing in the world. So if you could just bring us up to date here on what is a huge thing for much of the world, how do you assess these two teams playing today, the U.S. and Netherlands?

BUSHNELL: Yeah, I think there's a lot of excitement because, as you mentioned, the U.S. beat Vietnam in his first game. But that was almost a warm-up in a way. Even the Vietnamese coach and players didn't think they really had a shot to win. The Dutch are exactly the opposite. They're maybe not the best opponent that the U.S. will face here - and the U.S. is still the favorite to win a third consecutive title - but there's kind of this growing theme that we hear from other big soccer countries now. They don't fear the U.S. anymore. There used to be this aura around the U.S. women's national team. It seems to be kind of fading a bit because they haven't been all that dominant over the past four years and especially over the past two years. So I think that aura is almost on the line at this World Cup and especially tomorrow, which is really the first true test for the U.S. here.

INSKEEP: And we should clarify, when you say tomorrow, you mean tomorrow in New Zealand. It is tonight here in the United States. Let's talk about one of the stars who would bring the U.S. forward if the U.S. gets forward at all - Sophia Smith. Didn't she have an amazing game against Vietnam?

BUSHNELL: Yes, and she is the breakout star of this tournament. I think we all expected it, but she still had to go out in the field and do it. And, yes, she opened with a bang - two goals and one assist, contributed to all three of the U.S. goals. And, you know, that could be a bit of a theme going forward. This U.S. team can struggle to create chances at times. But when you have one or two brilliant players, you can score goals. And Sophia Smith is absolutely one of those players.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about both aspects of that. First, the individual. What do you think makes Sophia Smith such a star?

BUSHNELL: She's got it all in terms of attacking talent. She's got pace. She's got skill on the ball and off the ball. And for a youngster - she's playing at her first World Cup, but she really understands the game really well. She can play up front as a - you know, as a - as the main striker in the middle of a front three, or she can play on the wing, which is where she usually plays for the U.S. She can score with both feet. She can run with the ball at her feet. So she's really a complete attacker and is going to be kind of one of the faces of U.S. women's soccer for at least a decade to come, I think.

INSKEEP: But part of a team that you sense is not quite as dominant as maybe it has been in the past. Is there something about the team dynamics in merging that star and other stars into a broader team that is working in a difficult way?

BUSHNELL: There's a lot of issues here. One is that they had a lot of injuries. And other teams have had injuries, too, and it's not an excuse. But the U.S. has been hit particularly hard, I think. They also have a coach, Vlatko Andonovski, who a lot of people are questioning and who hasn't quite gotten the best out of this team. And then the other aspect of this is that other teams are catching up. And, you know, the Dutch coach actually said it here a few hours ago. Everybody in Europe thinks that they're closing the gap on the U.S. 'cause they're investing in women's soccer more and more. And now they want an answer - how close are we? And I think we'll start getting that answer tomorrow.

INSKEEP: Henry Bushnell in Wellington, New Zealand, thanks so much.

BUSHNELL: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: He covers soccer for Yahoo Sports. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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