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The Health 202

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

Next up in the post-Roe legislative battle? Contraception.

The Health 202

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

Hello, good morning. This 13-year-old just got accepted to medical school. Just wow. Send your eye-popping tips to rachel.roubein@washpost.com

Today’s edition: The Biden administration is reorganizing the federal health department to create a new division to lead the nation’s pandemic response. A key Democrat is criticizing the nation’s monkeypox response. But first …

Next up in the post-Roe legislative battle? Contraception.

House Democrats are attempting to put Republicans in another uncomfortable spot. 

The chamber will vote today on legislation aimed at protecting the right to contraception — another messaging bill in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

But in a surprising twist, Tuesday’s supposed messaging vote to protect same-sex marriage garnered the support of 47 Republicans, including two of the party’s top lawmakers. Now, Senate Democratic leaders are scrambling to shore up enough Republican support to bring the measure to the floor.

Yet, there may not be as strong of a showing for the contraception bill, as our colleagues reported last night. Some key GOP lawmakers have argued the legislation is “poorly drafted” and too broad. A prominent antiabortion group will ding the scorecards of lawmakers who support the measure. And the No. 3 House Republican, Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) — who voted for the same-sex marriage bill — told The Health 202 that she would oppose the birth control legislation. 

The Post's Olivier Knox:

The details

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the ruling overturning Roe doesn’t impact other precedents, like birth control or same-sex marriage. But Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion said the nation’s highest court should review other precedents — a statement Democrats are now targeting.

The party wants to force votes on issues that could turn into ready-made attack ads during the midterm elections. The strategy is to expose “Republican extremism” on positions Democrats believe are far outside the views of mainstream Americans, according to a senior Democratic aide. 

  • “As some of our colleagues have said, we want to put the Republicans on record, but we'd like to put them on record in support of contraception,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a news conference yesterday. “We want this legislation to pass in a bipartisan way. But if not … we will remember in November.”

Republicans contend they’re not against contraception. “I don’t think there’s a lot of disagreement that contraception, on both sides of the aisle, is certainly appropriate and right,” Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), the top Republican on the House Rules Committee, said during a hearing earlier this week.

The debate

Here are the arguments likely to be made on the House floor today. 

The view from Republicans: Some GOP lawmakers contend the bill is way too broad and could also open the door for medication abortion — a notion Democrats dispute. Two GOP lawmakers, as well as a Republican aide, instead pointed to other contraception bills supported by Republicans, which they believe are more narrow. This includes one from Rep. Stephanie I. Bice (R-Okla.).

The top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), has voiced deep concerns with the legislation. And the ranking member of the panel’s health subcommittee, Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), plans to oppose the measure.

The view from Democrats: “Really, this is about as simple as bills get,” Rep. Kim Schrier (Wash.) said during Monday’s House Rules Committee hearing. 

She argued that the bill is tightly focused on establishing a federal statutory right to contraception and protecting health-care providers’ ability to give out birth control.

More votes to come?

Several days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe, Pelosi identified three legislative paths the party was exploring. Two of those measures received votes last week. 

  • House Democrats passed legislation to codify Roe v. Wade into law. The bill didn’t receive any support from Republicans, and the chamber’s last remaining antiabortion Democrat — Rep. Henry Cuellar (Tex.) — opposed the measure.
  • The party also passed legislation granting protections to women who travel out of state to obtain an abortion, which gained the support of three Republicans.

The last area Pelosi identified focused on data privacy, such as protecting a woman’s personal information stored in reproductive health apps. It remains to be seen whether the House will vote on such a bill during this work period, which is slated to end next week.

Agency alert

Officials reorganize HHS to boost pandemic response

The Biden administration is reorganizing the Department of Health and Human Services to create an independent division focused on the country’s pandemic response, our colleague Dan Diamond reports.

The move elevates the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) to be on par with other stand-alone divisions of the federal health department, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Led by Dawn O’Connell, the Administration of Strategic Preparedness and Response will be phased in over the next two years to help the nation more quickly mobilize its resources to respond to future health crises, according to an emailed memo shared with Dan. 

The reorganization comes amid growing concerns about the federal government’s ability to respond to public health emergencies. The shake up also coincides with mounting frustrations within the government over bureaucratic delays and confusion over agency roles that officials believe have hindered their work. 

  • Federal watchdogs agree. In a probe last year, the Government Accountability Office warned that infighting between ASPR and other agencies led to safety breakdowns that put evacuees and federal officials at risk.

Even so, some public health experts have cautioned that a critical part of the pandemic response is working with state and local agencies — with whom the CDC has a far stronger relationship than ASPR. They say the shift in responsibilities could inadvertently undercut the country’s emergency response while leaving long-standing challenges at the CDC unaddressed. 

On the Hill

Top Senate Democrat ‘concerned’ about nation’s monkeypox response

The Democratic chair of the Senate’s health panel criticized the nation’s response to monkeypox yesterday and called on the Biden administration for an urgent update of its strategy to combat the outbreak, Dan writes.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is the latest official to join the growing bloc of physicians, public health advocates and lawmakers questioning the administration’s response to the disease as cases quickly rise across the country. 

In a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, Murray cited reports from our colleagues and other outlets about patients’ and doctors’ struggles to obtain monkeypox testing, treatments and vaccines. More than 2,300 cases of monkeypox — a disease spread by close contact and that can cause severe pain and complications — have been confirmed in the United States. Experts have warned the window to contain the virus and keep it from becoming permanently entrenched in the United States is closing. 

More from Murray:

House Democrat opens up about abortion in campaign ad

Two weeks before Missouri residents are set to head to the polls, Rep. Cori Bush (D) shared her abortion story in a campaign ad to appeal to voters in the Republican-led state where the procedure is newly banned, The Post’s David Weigel reports. 

Bush, a first-term lawmaker who faces multiple primary challengers next month, is one of several Democrats who have talked more personally about the issue. She first publicly spoke about her own abortion at a congressional hearing last year, where she and Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) shared their experiences with terminating a pregnancy. 

Zooming out: Vulnerable Democrats in dozens of races have put the issue at the forefront of their reelection campaigns in an attempt to turn anger about the Supreme Court’s decision overturning constitutional abortion rights into votes at the ballot box. 

Watch the ad here:

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) talks about her abortion after she was raped when she was 17 in a new campaign ad. (Video: Cori Bush for Congress)

Reproductive wars

Georgia’s six-week abortion ban to take effect immediately

A federal appeals court lifted an injunction on Georgia’s antiabortion law yesterday. With Roe v. Wade now reversed, state officials will be able to enforce the law banning the procedure after fetal cardiac activity is detected — as early as six weeks into pregnancy, The Post’s Lateshia Beachum reports. 

In what abortion rights supporters called a “highly unorthodox” move, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit allowed the ban to take effect immediately, instead of later this summer as was initially expected. The law includes exceptions for medical emergencies, and for instances of rape and incest that are filed with the police.

Stacey Abrams, Democratic nominee for Georgia governor:

In other health news

  • Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for Senate who suffered a stroke in May, said he has “nothing to hide” about his health and called the lingering effects of his illness minor and infrequent, as he vowed to be back on the campaign trail “very soon,” The Post’s Mariana Alfaro writes.
  • HHS’s Office of the Inspector General is warning practitioners to exercise caution when working with purported telemedicine companies amid a nationwide crackdown on health-care fraud.
  • New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said yesterday that she would keep the statewide mask mandate on public transportation in place for now amid the rapidly spreading BA.5 omicron subvariant, the New York Times reports.

Health reads

Texas officials celebrated end of abortion rights after cutting back postpartum Medicaid extension (By Lomi Kriel | The Texas Tribune and ProPublica)

HBCU students are being disproportionately affected by Roe’s reversal (By Lauren Lumpkin | The Washington Post)

At a 988 call center, volunteers embrace a new number while providing familiar hope (By Theresa Gaffney | Stat)

Sugar rush

Thanks for reading! See y'all tomorrow.

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