The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Health 202: Democrats argue health care was stealth winning issue in Pennsylvania special

with Paulina Firozi


Have the political winds on health care shifted toward Democrats, after years of defending Obamacare? Maybe so, given their unexpected apparent victory in this week’s House race.

President Trump carried Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District by double digits, yet Democrat Conor Lamb seems poised to pull out a narrow win on Tuesday, boosting Democratic hopes of seizing back control of the House in the midterm elections this year.

Health care wasn’t discussed a lot in the race, playing second fiddle to topics such as tariffs, tax cuts and "sanctuary cities." But Affordable Care Act advocates are touting a poll showing voters in the 18th district cited health care as a top priority -- and they felt Lamb better represented their views on the issue than his opponent, Republican Rick Saccone. In other words, Democrats argue, voters remember the failed Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare last summer -- and if they're mad about, it could be a motivating factor in November.

“If Republicans can’t win on health care in a district Trump won by 20 points, where can they?” Brad Woodhouse, Democratic strategist and campaign director for Protect Our Care, told reporters on a call yesterday.

Yesterday the group released a survey conducted by the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling in which 52 percent of respondents said health care was their top issue in the Pennsylvania race. The same share said they opposed last year’s widely unpopular GOP plans to repeal and replace the ACA.

You can bet Democrats vying for other purple-colored House districts this year closely watched Lamb’s messaging. The Democratic candidate took a middle ground on health care, acknowledging there are problems with President Barack Obama’s 2010 law and backing measures to stabilize it (but not the GOP efforts to repeal and replace the law). He didn’t jump on board the single-payer train that more liberal members of his party have called for in the past year.

Allison Stephens, a Democratic candidate for Congress in Nevada: 

A Democratic candidate for Congress in New York: 

Protect Our Care: 

As for Saccone, he advocated for repealing the ACA and called on his website for “using free-market principles to fix our health-care crisis.” His defeat raises many questions for Republican candidates eyeing this election year nervously — including how to talk about health care now that Congress has failed to repeal the law.

“I think the seeds of this victory were certainly planted last June, July, August when Republicans were trying to repeal Obamacare,” said PPP Director Tom Jensen.

It’s always dangerous to over interpret the results of any single special election, my colleague James Hohmann noted in a fascinating analysis of the Pennsylvania election results. “But if Democrats can win in a district where they didn’t even bother to field a candidate the past two election cycles, they can triumph anywhere,” he wrote.

Democrats don’t even need to triumph anywhere to win the 24 seats they’d need to take back control of the House. As The Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted last month, 2018 marks the first time in years they’d have to win only the closest races to recapture the majority by a one-seat margin.

All this is transpiring as voters are feeling increasingly more positive toward the ACA. While the Republican health-care bills last year suffered from approval ratings in the 20 to 30 percent range, 54 percent of respondents to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s most recent tracking poll said they approve of Obamacare — an all-time high.

It’s making Democrats pretty gleeful, all in all. “They’ve really just wrecked their brand with the health-care stuff,” Jensen said.

Andy Slavitt, former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the Obama administration:

Mario Molina, former CEO of Molina Healthcare:

Kaiser Family Foundation senior vice president Larry Levitt: 

HuffPost's Jonathan Cohn: 


AHH: A new poll finds people on both sides of the aisle overwhelmingly want lawmakers to crack down on high drug prices. A staggering 90 percent of the public wants the federal government to work with drug companies to lower prices of prescription medicines for seniors on Medicare, according to a new Politico-Harvard poll. But that support takes a hit when Americans are asked about certain consequences associated with lowering drug prices. Support for government action on drug prices plummeted to 42 percent when asked if negotiations meant some pharmaceutical companies could stop selling certain prescriptions through Medicare.

“This only suggests that this is a tempting issue for political people in both parties because it’s so popular,” Harvard Professor Robert Blendon, who designed the poll, told Politico. “They’re going to find it much more controversial if they can’t answer the question of how you protect consumers from the potential downside.”

OOF: A woman whose frozen eggs were stored at the Pacific Fertility Center has filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court, accusing the company of gross negligence in its maintenance, inspection and monitoring of a storage freezer that malfunctioned this month, The Post's Ariana Eunjung Cha reports. The center is one of two fertility clinics that have separately reported problems in liquid-nitrogen tanks, damaging thousands of eggs and embryos from women seeking to preserve them for future use.

“The lead plaintiff ... had her eggs retrieved and frozen in October 2016 and was paying to have them stored at the center's San Francisco location,” Ariana writes. According to the lawsuit, she received an email from the center on Sunday describing how storage tank No. 4 had lost liquid nitrogen for a brief period, which may have resulted in the loss of some eggs. When she subsequently called her doctors, she learned that hers were among those that could no longer be used.

Ariana notes one cycle of egg freezing at Pacific Fertility, which includes storage for a year, costs $8,345. Women must also often pay for consultations, lab work and medications, and additional storage beyond the first year costs $600. The attorneys are also arguing the value of eggs and embryos goes far beyond these sums.

“For some families, these fertility services provide their only opportunity to conceive a child,” the attorneys wrote. They estimate about 400 patients are in a similar situation as the lead plaintiff.

The founder of a company that promises its analyzer can run multiple blood tests with just a few drops of blood has been charged by the SEC with fraud. (Video: Jhaan Elker, Jayne Orenstein/The Washington Post)

OUCH: Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes has been charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission with an “elaborate, years-long fraud” in which she and former company president Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani allegedly tricked investors with claims its top product -- a portable blood analyzer -- could conduct comprehensive blood tests, The Post's Carolyn Y. Johnson reports. 

"The SEC alleges that Holmes, Balwani and Theranos raised more than $700 million from investors by misrepresenting the capabilities of the proprietary blood-testing technology that was at the core of its business — as well as by making misleading or exaggerated statements about the company's financial status and relationships with commercial partners and the Department of Defense," Carolyn writes. "Holmes agreed to a $500,000 penalty and a 10-year ban on serving as an officer or director of a public company to settle the charges, but she did not admit or deny the allegations."

Theranos, a blood-testing startup that promised to revolutionize consumers' access to their medical information, was a Silicon Valley darling once valued at $9 billion. "Holmes had the perfect backstory: a college dropout turned chief executive who had assembled a company board filled with powerful ex-government and military leaders and wanted to change the world," Carolyn writes. "Her personal story about a fear of needles driving her to develop a better solution was heavily featured in the media, even as some medical experts puzzled over what was so novel about her technology and asked for evidence that showed how it worked and why."


—House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) vowed to try again on the “Right to Try” bill the House failed to pass on Tuesday. The bill, which would have allowed seriously ill patients to sidestep the FDA to get access to experimental drugs, was rejected on a 259-140 vote, seven votes short of the two-thirds threshold needed due to opposition by Democrats.

“We will continue and we will bring the bill back,” McCarthy said yesterday, per the Washington Examiner. The California Republican criticized Democrats for voting against the bill, adding “I don’t know if it was playing politics but we will not stop.” Republicans could next bring the bill up for a simple-majority vote, which McCarthy signaled could happen soon.

—The House Energy and Commerce Committee has announced more than two dozen pieces of legislation as part of a package to fight the ongoing opioid crisis. The health subcommittee will consider them as part of a two-day legislative hearing next week, on March 21 and 22. The idea is to wrap the measures into a final opioids package that Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) wants on the House floor by Memorial Day.

Among the proposals in the bills are: Creating an electronic database of nationwide efforts to combat the opioid crisis; providing hospitals with resources to create protocols on discharging patients who overdose; pushing for research on nonaddictive pain medications; pushing for best practices in operating recovery housing.


--As Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar prepares to visit the White House today as part of a week-long visit to the United States, 17 antiabortion groups and leaders sent him urging him to enforce the country's constitutional ban on abortion. Last year, Varadkar announced that Ireland intends to hold a referendum on whether to modify the ban. The vote could signal major change for Ireland, one of the last European countries where abortion is still illegal except for when the woman's life is endangered.

"You have the power to take a stand against the repeal of the 8th and protect women and their children from abortion," the groups wrote. "Please do the right thing: uphold the 8th Amendment and take a stand for life and for love." The letter was signed by March for Life, Students for Life of America, the Family Research Council, Susan B. Anthony List and others.


—Marilyn Tavenner is stepping down as the head of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a top health insurance lobbying group. She will be replaced June 1 by Matt Eyles, currently the group’s chief operating officer. Tavenner, who served as the head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Obama, joined AHIP in 2015. During her tenure, three of the country’s largest insurers – Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealth Group – left the organization.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar hung out with Bill Gates for a bit yesterday:

--A few more good reads from The Post and beyond:

New CEO named to lead Inova hospitals, health-care facilities (Justin Jouvenal)


D.C. has a high maternal mortality rate. Lawmakers want to know why. (Fenit Nirappil)

Oklahoma says it will begin using nitrogen for all executions in an unprecedented move (Mark Berman)

Measles warning issued for Detroit airport fliers after disease travels from overseas (Alex Horton)

Senate advances bill on opioid pill limits (The Oklahoman)


Opioid Overprescribing Is Not a Myth (Politico)

Sens. Cruz, Lee, Reps. Meadows, Jordan: We must end the ObamaCare bailout now (Fox News)



  • The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee holds a hearing on the 340B Drug Discount Program.
  • VA Secretary David Shulkin testifies before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies.
  • HHS Secretary Alex Azar testifies before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies.

Lawmakers, law enforcement and activists grapple with next steps after Parkland:

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard from fellow lawmakers, law enforcement officials and activists about the government's role in the Parkland school shooting. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Students from more than 2,800 schools and groups join Parkland students in demanding tighter gun control with a walkout on Wednesday: 

Students from more than 2,800 schools and groups join Parkland students in demanding tighter gun control with a walkout on March 14. (Video: Reuters)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said at a hearing on the Parkland school shooting that "we must act. We cannot continue to sit in this room and other rooms, week after week, and simply do nothing:"

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said at a March 14 hearing on the Parkland shooting that "we must act." (Video: Senate Judiciary Committee)