THE PROGNOSIS

Former Vice President Joe Biden is joining the growing ranks of Democrats calling for the overturn of a longstanding ban on federal funding of abortion, after he spent decades supporting the restrictions. Biden's sudden shift last night illustrates the party's growing intolerance for any moderate views on the hot-button topic.

As my colleague Colby Itkowitz reports, Biden announced the change during a speech yesterday at the Democratic National Committee’s African American Leadership Council summit in Atlanta. The presidential candidate told the crowd that, in an environment where the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion is under attack in GOP-led states, he could no longer support a policy that limits funding.

“We’ve seen state after state including Georgia passing extreme laws,” Biden said. “It’s clear that these folks are going to stop at nothing to get rid of Roe.”

“Circumstances have changed,” he said.

Biden was under intense pressure from abortion rights groups and nearly every one of his Democratic opponents in 2020, who want to erase the ban known as the Hyde Amendment.

“It seemed like he heard a lot of feedback and opened his mind to thinking about this in a different way,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told Colby after Biden announced his new position. Hogue declined to discuss any conversations she had with Biden or his campaign, Colby writes.

Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen:

But it's notable that the Democrats actually in a position to ditch Hyde — those on Capitol Hill who control the financial coffers — aren’t ready to risk a government shutdown over it.

The House is scheduled to start debate on Wednesday on an appropriations package funding the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies for the 2020 fiscal year — and it includes the Hyde Amendment, which says federal funds can’t be used for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or if the woman’s life is threatened.

The Democrats who presided over the writing of the measure, Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and HHS subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), have both said they ultimately want to scrap the Hyde language. They’re among a growing crowd of Democrats that is backing away from a rare area of bipartisan agreement on the hot-button topic of abortion.

But both women know well that picking a fight over Hyde right now — with Republicans in control of the Senate and the White House — could easily spiral into an all-out war between the two parties, making it impossible for Congress to keep the government funded. It’s because of Hyde, which allows Medicaid to pay for abortions in only the most dire circumstances, that Democrats and Republicans have been able to fund HHS for decades without getting mired in abortion fights.

“In this current political situation, it would be hard to remove [Hyde],” said Evan Hollander, communications director for House Appropriations Democrats, saying the committee leaders instead tried “to minimize the number of controversial policy changes that might imperial passage of bills and risk a government shutdown.”

Nearly every member of Congress running for president has voted multiple times for spending bills that include Hyde language. Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Kamala Harris (Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) all voted for a bill passed in September that funded HHS along with the departments of Labor, Defense and Education. So did Democratic Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) and Seth Moulton (Mass.), as well as former congressman Beto O’Rourke (Tex.).

But those realities didn’t stop many of the contenders from piling on Biden, after his campaign said Wednesday that he still backed Hyde. Nearly every major candidate issued a scathing statement attacking the position, declaring there is no middle ground on the question.

Speaking Wednesday night on MSNBC, Warren said Hyde means low-income women — presumably those on Medicaid — aren’t able to access abortions.

“Women of means will still have access to abortions,” Warren said. “Who won’t will be poor women, will be working women, will be women who can’t afford to take off three days from work … we do not pass laws that take away that freedom from the women who are most vulnerable.”

The New York Times's Lisa Lerer: 

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), a Democratic presidential candidate: 

From Warren: 

Yet polls indicate that Biden’s now-former stance on taxpayer funding of abortion may be more consistent with the voters Democrats might need to win if they’re going to beat President Trump next year, my Washington Post colleague Eugene Scott reports. While a little more than half of Americans say abortion should be legal in most cases, many are squeamish at federal dollars going toward the controversial procedure — or even to organizations that provide it, even if they use their own dollars.

Eugene highlights a poll from the Public Religion Research Institute showing 4 in 10 Americans favor a policy blocking federal funds from going to organizations that provide abortions, even though those funds cannot be used for abortions.

“Biden may be attracting the ire of the left’s base with his latest comments on abortion, but it’s not likely to hurt him with many of the voters he’s trying to win — independents and centrists who are uncomfortable with the liberal politics of the Democratic base and the religious nationalism often associated with social conservatives,” he writes.

Voters appear to care more than ever about where politicians land on the abortion question. In a new CNN poll, 3 in 10 respondents said they would only vote for a candidate for major office who shares their views on abortion. That’s a larger share than any CNN poll since 1996.

AHH, OOF and OUCH

AHH: A report from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ inspector general found the government owes 53,000 disabled veterans who overpaid on their home loans at least $189 million.

It found that from 2012 to 2017, more than half of disabled veterans entitled to a waived funding fee to lenders paid the fee but did not get paid back by the government, our Post colleague Colby Itkowitz reports. Veterans who get disability compensation don’t have to pay a funding fee that veterans pay to lenders when they take out a mortgage.

The inspector general’s report said the agency “stands by the assertion that VBA did not protect these veterans’ financial interests and any inappropriate funding fee charges, regardless of the amount, should be refunded.”

The report pointed to the “burden and responsibility” improperly placed on the veterans when they must file a claim to be refunded after being incorrectly charged the fee.

“The Veterans Benefits Administration, in its response to the inspector general report, agreed to identify the exempt veterans who paid the fee and issue them refunds,” Colby adds.

OOF: The World Health Organization indicated yesterday it has seen some progress in the fight to contain the Ebola outbreak in Congo. In the past couple of weeks there have been 88 cases reported weekly, a decreased rate from the average of 126 cases a week in April, Stat’s Helen Branswell reports.

Still, the fight is far from over. “The CDC’s director, Dr. Robert Redfield, warned Tuesday that the world needs to prepare for the possibility the epidemic could drag on for another year or two,” Helen writes. “And Tariq Riebl, an emergency response director for the International Rescue Committee, said the sharp rise … in cases this spring, at a time when an outbreak ought to be coming under control, suggested drastic changes are needed.”

OUCH: Were you at Dulles International Airport in Virginia over the weekend? The Virginia Health Department is warning the public may have been exposed to a measles-infected child there on Sunday, as well as in other locations throughout Northern Virginia in days following.

The child contracted the disease after leaving the United States, and then returned, said Prince William Health District director Alison Ansher. “Ansher, citing confidentiality rules, also said she could not identify the exact flight the child was on or give the child’s sex and age,” our Post colleague Fredrick Kunkle reports.

But the agency is trying to identify people who may have come into direct contact with the child and urged anyone who doesn’t have the appropriate vaccines to consult with a doctor.

“The agency’s warning … comes as the United States has experienced a sharp increase in measles cases,” Fredrick reports. “The outbreak has been spurred at least in part by the anti-vaccine movement that claims that there is a link between vaccines and autism, despite repeated studies showing no such correlation."

AGENCY ALERT

— A new government facility to hold migrant children will open in Carrizo Springs, Tex. and is meant to hold up to 1,600 teens, according to HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement.

The government is also considering sheltering hundreds more migrant children and teens on military basis in Georgia, Montana and Oklahoma. Both new moves would open up 3,000 beds as the government faces an influx of migrant youth crossing into the United States, the Associated Press’s Garance Burke reports.

“All the new facilities will be considered temporary emergency shelters, so they won’t be subject to state child welfare licensing requirements, [Mark Weber, spokesman for ORR} said,” Garance writes. “Under fire for the death of two children who went through the agency’s network of shelters and facing lawsuits over the treatment of teens in its care, the agency says it must set up new facilities to accommodate new arrivals or risk running out of beds.”

The changes also follow a report that the administration is canceling resources at federal migrant shelters such as English classes, legal aid and recreational activities like soccer, as our Post colleague Maria Sacchetti reported.

HEALTH ON THE HILL

— A group of Republican senators sent a letter to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the top trade group representing the drug industry, calling on companies to cooperate as lawmakers look to lower drug prices.

The letter, led by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), also called on the companies to list any solutions they have regarding the issue. “We write today to ask, as the trade association representing the pharmaceutical industry, what solutions does your association have that would increase transparency and directly lower the list price of drugs for consumers?” they wrote. “What specific plans do you have to address price disparities in the international market? And are you willing to work with us to find real solutions to help the American people?”

Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) joined Scott on the letter.

INDUSTRY RX

— A third health company has disclosed a data breach that occurred through the same third-party billing collection company that informed two medical testing companies about an incident in the last week.

Opko Health said Thursday that American Medical Collection Agency, its former billing collections vendor, notified the company about a breach that impacted about 422,600 customers, Reuters’s Saumya Sibi Joseph reports.

The exposed data may have included “credit card and bank account information, email addresses and other data such as address, phone number and balance information,” Saumya adds. “However, the company said no social security numbers, bank account passwords or security questions were compromised in the unauthorized activity that occurred between August 1, 2018 and March 30, 2019.”

REPRODUCTIVE WARS

— The University of Alabama’s board of trustees is expected to vote today on whether to return $21.5 million donated by philanthropist Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr. after he made a remark calling on students to boycott the university in protest of the state’s restrictive abortion ban.

“I don’t want anybody to go to that law school, especially women, until the state gets its act together,” Culverhouse said, the Associated Press's Blake Peterson reports.

But the school says the dispute over what is the biggest donation ever made to the university isn’t about the remark. (Culverhouse pledged $26.5 million in September, but just $21.5 million has been so far received). “While Culverhouse said he has no doubt Alabama is retaliating over his call for a boycott, the university said the dispute has nothing to do with that,” Blake reports. “The university said that on May 28 — the day before Culverhouse’s boycott call — its chancellor recommended the trustees return the donation. The university said that donors ‘may not dictate University administration’ and that Culverhouse had made ‘numerous demands’ regarding the operation of the school.”

— And here are a few more good reads: 

Lawmakers have been increasingly scrutinizing allegations that foreign governments are spying on U.S.-funded projects and stealing intellectual property.
Stat
MEDICAL MISSIVES
National
The family is questioning official reports and demanding to know why his body was returned without his heart, brain, and throat.
Kayla Epstein
Health
Rachel Palma was told she most likely had a brain tumor. But during surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, doctors discovered it was a parasite.
Lindsey Bever
School psychologists provide the first line of treatment for children with mental health issues. Quantifying the shortage depends on who’s counting.
Kaiser Health News
DAYBOOK

Coming Up

  • The House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations holds a hearing on the VA’s police force on June 11.
  • The House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Technology Modernization holds a hearing on electronic health record systems at Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense on June 12.
  • The House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on universal health coverage on June 12.
SUGAR RUSH

Late-night hosts react to Trump's trip to Europe