with Alexandra Ellerbeck

Joe Biden has been less willing than other Democrats to lurch leftward on abortion rights.

But the presidential nominee could hardly have given the issue a louder cheerleader than Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), his vice-presidential pick.

In her speech last night to the Democratic National Convention, Harris made only passing mention of reproductive rights, speaking of how minority Americans are feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic more acutely than White Americans.

“While this virus touches us all, let’s be honest, it is not an equal opportunity offender. Black, Latino and Indigenous people are suffering and dying disproportionately,” Harris said. “
“This is not a coincidence, she said. It is the effect of structural racism. Of inequities in education and technology, health care and housing, job security and transportation. The injustice in reproductive and maternal health care. ”

But if Biden wins in November, abortion rights groups will look to Harris to lead on reproductive rights issues.

Harris has already gone to bat for them — against Biden. 

Activists put heavy pressure on Biden last year when he dragged his feet on rejecting the long-standing Hyde Amendment. The amendment, which bans taxpayer dollars from being used for abortions in almost every case, has for decades been attached to federal spending bills.

Biden, who is Catholic, supported Hyde for decades (he also supported moderate abortion restrictions back in the 1980s and 1990s). But during the primary race he eventually backed away from Hyde, saying it should go.

Harris herself has voted for multiple spending bills with Hyde language — yet in a July 2019 debate she went after Biden for not flipping quicker on it.

“On the Hyde Amendment, vice president, where you made a decision for years to withhold resources to poor women to have access to reproductive health care, including women who were the victims of rape and incest, do you now say that you have evolved and you regret that?” Harris asked Biden.

For decades, Hyde was a rare point of unity on the topic for both parties. But as the topic has become more polarized, abortion rights activists and Democrats have viewed the amendment with increasing hostility. The party added language to get rid of Hyde in its 2016 platform, and it appears again in this year’s platform.

Eliminating of Hyde is just the start of what abortion rights groups want to get done should Democrats win in November.

They have a lengthy to-do list, after President Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services spent the past four years creating new restrictions and tightening existing rules around funding of abortion providers.

“We need their leadership,” said Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Alexis McGill Johnson at the convention’s Women’s Caucus meeting, referring to Biden and Harris.

“Not just to reverse the damage the Trump administration has done — but to bring us into a future where all our bodies are our own,” Johnson said.

Planned Parenthood Action is spending five figures on this digital ad for Harris:

Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee:

Harris has a 100 percent rating from the abortion rights group NARAL, according to its website, and she has co-sponsored many of the bills Planned Parenthood is advocating. 

These bills include the Women’s Health Protection Act — which would create a federal statutory right for health-care providers to provide abortions free from medically unnecessary limitations and bans — and the EACH Woman Act, which would ban states from instituting private abortion coverage bans.

Harris also voted last year against the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would punish doctors who fail to provide medical care to a child born alive after an attempted abortion. And while she was attorney general of California, her agency conducted an investigation of David Daleiden, the antiabortion activist who targeted Planned Parenthood with videos about its practice of donating fetal tissue for medical research. 

Harris has also called for codifying Roe v. Wade, something the 2020 Democratic platform added for the first time ever.

She was among the Democratic primary candidates who said Congress should write into permanent law the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling legalizing abortion. They pointed to the possibility (which appears slim at this point) that the Supreme Court might reverse the ruling, given that President Trump has appointed two conservative justices to the bench.

Democrats have now added that goal to their platform, which says “we will…protect and codify the right to reproductive freedom.”

It’s just the latest way Democrats are hardening their stance on the issue, with almost no abortion opponents remaining as leaders of their party. One of the most prominent abortion rights foes, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), lost his primary race in March after abortion rights groups including Emily’s List and NARAL spent $1 million on television ads to help his opponent.

Ahh, oof and ouch

AHH: Harris focused on the racial impacts of the  coronavirus pandemic in her address on night three of the convention.

“This virus it has no eyes, and yet it knows exactly how we see each other and how we treat each other. And let’s be clear, there is no vaccine for racism,” she said.

She segued to Black people who have been killed by police. “We’ve got to do the work for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for the lives of too many others to name for our children and for all of us,” she said. “We’ve got to do the work to fulfill that promise of equal justice under law. Because here’s the thing: None of us are free until all of us are free.”

When her speech ended, Harris turned and waved to a large screen displaying feeds of applauding supporters. Biden came on stage to congratulate her, but they maintained a distance and did not embrace, our Post colleagues write.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) accepted her nomination to be 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s running mate during her DNC speech on Aug. 19. (The Washington Post)

The evening also included a segment on gun violence, which has spiked in major U.S. cities this summer. It featured a mother who lost her son in a shooting, describing gun violence as a “public health crisis that disproportionately affects the black and brown communities.”

And while health care and the coronavirus pandemic received less dedicated time compared to the two previous nights, former President Barack Obama spoke of his work with Biden to craft the Affordable Care Act and combat other epidemics.

“They’ll get this pandemic under control, like Joe did when he helped me manage H1N1 and prevent an Ebola outbreak from reaching our shores,” Obama said. “They’ll expand health care to more Americans, like Joe and I did ten years ago when he helped craft the Affordable Care Act and nail down the votes to make it the law.”

OOF: The Supreme Court will hear the latest high-profile challenge to Obamacare after the November election.

The court announced yesterday it has scheduled oral arguments for Nov. 10. In the case, which is supported by the Trump administration, Republican attorneys general are challenging the law by saying it's no longer constitutional because Congress scrapped its mandate to buy health insurance.

“The decision to schedule oral arguments after the country votes ensures that an issue that has dominated American politics for the last decade will remain a central focus of the presidential campaign,” CNN reports. “The court's decision to schedule the cases after the campaign season also may reflect a desire to keep any potential audio from the oral argument from becoming part of campaign ads or news broadcasts.”

The court upheld the ACA in a 2012 decision, deciding the insurance mandate was a valid exercise of Congress's power to levy taxes.

But its opponents argue that it is no longer tjhe case following the Trump administration's 2017 tax overhaul, which reduced penalties for not buying insurance to $0. Republican argue the requirement can no longer be considered a tax with no dollar amount collected, and for that reason the entire law is no longer legal.

Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation:

OUCH: Government officials put a hold on the Food and Drug Administration emergency approval for blood plasma as a covid-19 treatment.

“Plasma, the pale yellow liquid leftover after blood is stripped of its red and white cells, has been the subject of months of intense enthusiasm from scientists, celebrities and Mr. Trump, part of the administration’s push for coronavirus treatments as a stopgap while pharmaceutical companies race to complete dozens of clinical trials for coronavirus vaccines,” the New York Times reported.

But as the FDA last week prepared an emergency authorization for the use of blood plasma as a covid-19 treatment, leading health officials urged caution. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, and Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, were among those who expressed concern that data is too weak on the efficacy of plasma, which is donated by covid-19 survivors, Noah Weiland, Sharon LaFraniere and Sheri Fink reported.

The draft emergency authorization relied on the use of plasma in previous disease outbreaks and on a large-scale research program from the Mayo Clinic. Health officials are reviewing more data, and an emergency approval could still be granted soon.

Researchers also worry that FDA approval of blood plasma could make it harder to gather strong data from randomized clinical trials, as doctors may be reluctant to enroll patients in clinical trials where they could receive placebos, Weiland, LaFraniere and Fink write.

Trump said in a news conference t he was “surprised” to learn of the hold and he thought it “could be a political decision because you have a lot of people over there who don’t want to rush things because they want to do it after November 3.”

The Trump administration is pushing a broad overhaul of the nation’s public health reporting system.

“The new effort is billed as a necessary upgrade to an outdated system that still relies on faxes and paper records and has slowed efforts to track the spread of Covid-19,” Politico reports. But “skeptics wonder why President Donald Trump’s health department is launching such large-scale initiatives during a pandemic when state and local systems are already hard pressed.”

The project comes after a messy rollout last month of a new coronavirus database, which resulted in missing or erratic data on state public dashboards that track virus cases. Hospitals and state health officials said that they were not given enough time to transition to the system, which sometimes required rapid IT changes and extensive time entering data. The Department of Health and Human Services is still working to fix issues with the database.

Last week, HHS began looking for partners for a pilot version of the broader overhaul, which focuses on automating public health data collection and reporting. Some critics, however, worry elements of the new public health overhaul duplicate existing projects, Darius Tahir and Rachel Roubein report.

Michelle Meigs, a tech expert with the Association of Public Health Laboratories, told the Politico reporters that the idea was “extremely ambitious” but that she worried about the new plan “undermining good work that is already happening.”

The chief information officer for Health and Human Services, a career civil servant, resigned abruptly on Friday, after telling colleagues he was surprised by the political spotlight. A spokesperson for HHS, however, defended the project and its aim of providing automated data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

HHS released “Healthy People 2030,” the nation’s 10-year plan for improving public health.

The new plan sets 10-year targets for improving health. And while the 355 objectives outlined in the plan — including reducing childhood obesity and improving addiction treatment — might seem like a lot, the department says it has pared down from previous iterations. The last 10-year plan had over 1,000 objectives.

“Healthy People was the first national effort to lay out a set of data-driven priorities for health improvement,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. “Healthy People 2030 adopts a more focused set of objectives and more rigorous data standards to help the federal government and all of our partners deliver results on these important goals over the next decade."

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at HHS leads the Healthy People initiative with collaboration from the CDC. The 2030 plan is the fifth in a series that dates back to 1979. 

Average medication costs for covid-19 patients have declined dramatically but may increase if hospitals start paying for pricier drugs. 

The average drug costs for hospitalized covid-19 patients decreased from $3,011 in May to $1,090 in July, according to data from more than 50 hospitals, Reuters reports. The decline was driven by shorter hospital stays, wider use of generic drugs and a decrease in the amount of medication prescribed, possibly the result of fewer patients going on ventilators, which often require painkillers.

“But costs may rise again as hospitals start to pay for Gilead Sciences Inc’s remdesivir,” Chad Terhune writes. Gilead donated early doses of the drug, which won emergency approval in May, but has begun charging for it, at prices of more than $3,000 per treatment course for commercially insured patients. Hospitals have also increased their use of tocilizumab, a pricey anti-inflammatory drug usually used to treat arthritis but that is increasingly being deployed in coronavirus cases.

“Overall, many U.S. hospitals continue to face significant financial pressure from the pandemic as new infections remain high across much of the country, including in California, Florida and Texas,” Terhune writes. 

The Trump campaign is engaged in an ad blitz on Facebook and Instagram that attacks “Big Pharma” and claims drug companies prefer Biden. 

“The Facebook salvo marks the latest in a series of pre-election efforts to highlight Trump’s record on pharmaceutical costs,” Stat News reports. “Trump has railed against drug companies for years, and his administration has proposed a number of sweeping changes to the way Americans pay for prescription medicines. Many of the proposals, however, have been rejected by federal courts, been withdrawn after infighting within the administration, or simply stagnated.”

Last month Trump made another push to lower drug prices by signing four executive orders aimed at making it easier to import drugs from Canada, lowering the prices some health centers pay for insulin and EpiPens (used for allergies), and eliminating rebates drugmakers pay to insurers.

“A fourth order would bar Medicare from paying more for drugs than pharmaceutical companies charge in other developed countries. Trump, however, has not made that order public, instead issuing a 30-day ultimatum to drug companies to offer policy alternatives that would result in lower drug costs. The ultimatum, Trump said last month, will expire August 24 — the opening night of the Republican National Convention,” Lev Facher writes.

Trump tweeted this yesterday:

Coronavirus latest

  • As Georgia reopened its economy in mid-April, internal projections showed the state fell far short of the protective equipment needed to confront the projected number of coronavirus cases. Cases spiked as restrictions eased, and hospitals and health-care providers found themselves without needed equipment, Kaiser Health News reports.
  • It’s unlikely any coronavirus vaccine will be mandatory, Fauci said in a virtual town hall on Tuesday hosted by Healthline. “I don’t think you will ever see mandating of a vaccine, particularly for the general public. If someone refuses the vaccine in the general public, you cannot force someone to take it,” Fauci said.
  • Across the country, many people are still struggling to get coronavirus tests, while others are waiting weeks for results. This is because the testing system is “like a game of Jenga,” in which one faltering piece can cause the tower to collapse, Kaiser Health News explains in a map of testing “choke points.” Surges in demand for testing, overwhelmed labs and lack of chemicals or other testing supplies can all cause bottlenecks that limit the nation’s testing capacity.
  • The NFL says it’s considering conducting the playoffs in a “bubble,” a strict isolation zone meant to protect players and staff from Covid-19. Unlike the NBA, which is in a single-site bubble, “the NFL did not give serious consideration to a season-long bubble arrangement as a single site or in a few cities, given the length of the season, the space requirements and the number of players, coaches and team staff members involved,” Mark Maske reports.
  • A saliva test for the coronavirus gained emergency federal approval on Saturday. SalivaDirect was developed by researchers at Yale University with funding from the National Basketball Association, which has been using it to test asymptomatic players and staff members. While not the first saliva test to gain approval, the new test could help labs skirt supply chain issues, Meryl Kornfield reports.
  • A test that measures air bubbles traveling through the bloodstream could help unravel some of the coronavirus's mysteries. In healthy people, small capillaries in the lungs should filter out the tiny air bubbles, but that frequently didn’t happen in a small pilot test of 18 coronavirus patients. Now some lung specialists think that this finding could provide clues to why some patients can’t get enough oxygen even on ventilators, the Associated Press reports.

Sugar rush

The roll call vote gave each delegation an opportunity to showcase itself during the second night of the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 18. (The Washington Post)