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The Health 202

A newsletter briefing on the health-care policy debate in Washington.

State attorneys general would play a big role in a post-Roe world

The Health 202

A newsletter briefing on the health-care policy debate in Washington.

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Hello and good morning! On a day where the Pennsylvania GOP Senate primary is still undecided.

Today’s edition: House Democrats are proposing $28 million in emergency aid as part of a broader policy push to address the baby formula shortage. Researchers are scrambling to determine the cause of mysterious hepatitis cases that have sickened at least 450 children across the globe. But first …

Democratic attorneys general are gearing up to fight for abortion rights

If you’re looking for an example of the state-level abortion battles to come, look no further than Michigan. 

Yesterday, a judge preemptively suspended a long-dormant ban on abortion in the state. The Michigan law dates back to 1931, and would have made providing an abortion a felony unless the mother’s life was at risk. The law wasn’t in effect since it’s at odds with Roe v. Wade’s decades-old protections, but abortion rights advocates feared it could kick in if the Supreme Court overturns Roe. 

Dana Nessel, the state’s Democratic attorney general, said she has no plans to appeal the judge’s ruling. The decision isn’t a huge surprise — Nessel had previously said she would refuse to enforce such a ban if the justices strike down Roe. 

But the episode underscores this: State attorneys general wield immense power over the rules in their state. The Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) is preparing to spend millions to elect candidates who support abortion rights, including in red states that are likely to ban almost all abortions in a post-Roe world.

Planned Parenthood of Michigan:

Michigan

In early April, Planned Parenthood of Michigan and a state abortion provider filed a lawsuit to block enforcement of the ban. Judge Elizabeth Gleicher, of the Michigan Court of Claims, placed a temporary injunction on the pre-Roe ban yesterday. But her comments on the issue went a step further.  

  • “The Court finds a strong likelihood that plaintiffs will prevail on the merits of their constitutional challenge,” Gleicher wrote in a 27-page order.

Soon after, Nessel — who’s running for reelection this year — issued a statement in support of the injunction, calling it a “victory for the millions of Michigan women fighting for their rights.” While Nessel won’t appeal the ruling, the Republican-controlled legislature could. 

Some say this could serve as a test case, of sorts, in states with abortion bans in place from before Roe was decided. 

  • “There will be other efforts, I think, in other states to do the same thing as in Michigan,” said Clarke Forsythe, the senior counsel at Americans United for Life, an antiabortion law firm and advocacy group. He criticized Nessel’s earlier comments that she wouldn’t enforce the law if it went into effect as “unprincipled,” saying it’s the job of an attorney general to “defend the laws.”
Elsewhere

If Democrats have it their way, more attorneys general could fight against pre-Roe laws. The Democratic Attorneys General Association is planning to spend a record of up to $30 million to help candidates that support abortion rights, particularly in battleground states like Georgia and Arizona, according to a memo from the group. 

Since 2019, the association has had a litmus test. Attorneys general candidates must support abortion access to get the political committee’s backing. And Democratic candidates are pledging not to enforce bans on the procedure if Roe is overturned, as noted in a deep dive on the issue in Politico last week. 

Wisconsin’s race is another on the association’s radar, said Geoff Burgan, a DAGA spokesperson. Similar to Michigan, the state has a pre-Roe ban on the books. Attorney General Josh Kaul (D), who’s up for reelection, has said he doesn’t plan to enforce the abortion ban if the Supreme Court overturns the landmark 1973 ruling, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Meanwhile … the Republican Attorneys General Association said the only litmus test for its candidates is “a commitment to supporting and defending the Constitution and rule of law.”

Both sides view the attorneys general races as pivotal. Democrats say the leaked draft should be a rallying cry for voters who don’t want to lose access to the procedure, while Republicans argue that their attorneys general serve as the last defense against Democrats’ agenda. 

Agency alert

Axios: DHS preparing for violence after Supreme Court abortion ruling

The federal government is readying for a potential increase in political violence after the justices release their ruling in a case that could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade, according to a Department of Homeland Security memo obtained by Axios. 

The unclassified May 13 memo says that threats after a draft opinion was leaked — which targeted justices, lawmakers, health care providers and more — "are likely to persist and may increase leading up to and following the issuing of the Court’s official ruling.”

Abortion-related violence historically has been driven from anti-abortion extremists, Axios writes. But the memo says that extremist acts could also come from abortion rights supporters.

Yet: "The mere advocacy of political or social positions, political activism, use of strong rhetoric, or generalized philosophic embrace of violent tactics does not constitute domestic violent extremism or illegal activity and is constitutionally protected."

On the Hill

Democrats propose funds aimed at the baby formula shortage

House Democrats readied $28 million in emergency funds as part of a broader policy push to curb a national shortage of baby formula, The Post’s Tony Romm and Laura Reiley report. The proposed spending comes amid new reports of two children being hospitalized because their parents couldn’t obtain speciality formulas. 

Here’s what you need to know:

House leaders are aiming to adopt the bill this week, after which they hope to finalize a separate yet related effort to assist low-income families. But on Capitol Hill, it remained unclear whether the new money — largely earmarked for more federal inspections — might provide immediate relief to families running out of formula. 

Also uncertain is the political fate of Democrats' latest legislation gambit, as Republicans signaled early opposition to the spending measure, potentially dooming it in the narrowly divided Senate. 

The new legislation comes as a part of a push to address the potential crisis — driven by supply chain issues and a shutdown of a major formula production plan in Sturgis, Mich. — which include hearings to question top executives in the formula industry and fresh scrutiny targeting the FDA. 

House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J):

Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.):

The cost of lowering the Medicare age

Lowering Medicare eligibility to age 60 would add about 7.3 million people to the program’s roster and an additional $155 billion to the national deficit over a five-year period, according to a new analysis by the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation.

The analysis found that enacting the policy would reduce the number of people covered by employment-based insurance by about 3.2 million people, and provide about 400,000 uninsured Americans with health coverage. 

Progressives in Congress had been pushing to lower the Medicare age, but Democratic leaders ultimately didn’t include the policy in the party’s now-stalled economic package. 

Medical mysteries

International researchers work to identify what's driving hepatitis cases in kids

Experts are scrambling to uncover the culprit behind a mysterious global eruption of pediatric hepatitis cases, which has affected at least 450 children across 20 countries, including 109 in the United States, our colleague Lena H. Sun reports. 

Hepatitis — an inflammation of the liver — is typically caused by one of several known viruses, but all have been ruled out in the wave of cases, which are also unusually severe. 

  • Eleven children have died, including five in the United States.
  • More than two dozen have needed liver transplants, 15 in this country.

The growing cases has spurred an international hunt to discover the cause, as disease detectives and researchers from global health agencies, like the United States, U.K., Israel and more, share data and hypotheses. After seven months studying the growing constellation of cases, international disease researchers told Lena they haven’t had an “aha moment,” but have narrowed down two leading suspects that could be working alone or in tandem: 

  • One is the adenovirus, a common family of viruses that can cause pink eye or the common cold.
  • The other is the coronavirus, which some doctors suggest may have contributed to liver inflammation through an old infection or a co-infection that triggered the immune system to overreact.

Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute:

David Fisman, epidemiologist:

Coronavirus

Americans navigating murky waters in the latest wave of pandemic

People are largely on their own in navigating the most recent wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Highly transmissible subvariants of omicron are spreading as governments reveal less data about infections and drop measures to contain the virus, The Post’s Fenit Nirappil, Katie Shepherd and Dan Keating report. 

The latest uptick in infections is testing a new CDC alert system adopted by local and state governments. So far, it’s categorizing covid-19 community levels as “low” even while the number of new cases are reaching levels once considered high — and experts say it may be obscuring the true risk of contracting covid-19.

By-the-numbers:

  • More than two-thirds of Americans live in low-risk areas under CDC metrics.
  • But 43 percent of residents in the Northeast live in areas considered high risk, compared with 9 percent in the Midwest and less than 1 percent each in the South and West.

Experts say Americans can assume infections in their communities are five to 10 times higher than official counts. Meanwhile, hospitalization rates nationally have increased 50 percent since bottoming out six weeks ago, but still represent near the lowest hospitalization levels of the entire pandemic.

CDC on the latest covid-19 rates:

In other health news

  • The FDA authorized a coronavirus booster of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children as young as 5, our colleagues Carolyn Y. Johnson and Laurie McGinley report.
  • The White House announced that American households can now order eight more free at-home coronavirus tests ahead of possible summer and fall surges, The Post’s Katie Shepherd writes.
  • The World Health Organization is sounding the alarm about health-care provisions in Ukraine, where it said every third patient had difficulty accessing medicines, 1 in 5 need psychological help, and sexual violence was on the rise, Reuters reports.

Sugar rush

Thanks for reading! See y'all tomorrow.

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