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The Health 202

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

It was a pretty good Election Day for abortion rights

The Health 202

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

Good morning. Grab your coffee, and let’s get into the post-election breakdown ☕ 

The state-of-play this morning: Abortion rights groups secured some major victories last night. But on Capitol Hill, control of Congress is still hanging in the balance. Republicans remain poised to take the House, though Democrats are holding up better than strategists expected. The Senate is in play. But first …

Asking voters worked out well for abortion rights advocates, even in Kentucky

DETROIT — The atmosphere was jubilant here shortly before 1 a.m. as dozens of Michigan Democrats watched results across the country pour in.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.), who centered her campaign around abortion access perhaps more than any other gubernatorial candidate, said she was feeling “damn good” about her prospects. Roughly 30 minutes later, major news outlets — including The Post — called the contest in her favor.

It was a good night for abortion rights in the states where voters were directly asked about the issue on their ballots. It was more of a mixed bag for governor and legislature races in states where these races could determine whether abortion stays legal.

Several critical governors contests — such as in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — also broke in favor of abortion rights supporters. North Carolina Republicans failed to achieve a supermajority in the state legislature, meaning they won’t have the power to break the Democratic governor’s veto. Meanwhile, Republican incumbents in Florida and Georgia will remain in power, opening the door for further limits on the procedure to be passed in the future.

Ballot measures
  • Michigan voters are projected to have approved an amendment enshrining abortion access into the state constitution. One abortion advocate texted: “This proved what we knew,” Nicole Wells Stallworth, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, wrote. “Michiganders want legal abortion and reproductive freedom.”
  • As expected, similar amendments moved forward in California and Vermont, where abortion rights were already protected.
  • In Republican-leaning Kentucky, an amendment explicitly stating that nothing in the state constitution creates a right to an abortion is projected for defeat with an estimated 86 percent of votes counted. Abortion rights groups took credit for a “historic win” in a press release at 12:08 a.m. this morning.

The results will likely embolden abortion rights advocates across the country who view appealing directly to voters as one of the only ways to circumvent restrictions in conservative and swing states. With Congress still up for grabs, the election postmortem will likely revolve around the issue of abortion. Democrats spent heavily to attempt to turn public anger over the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade into votes for the party.

The Post’s Caroline Kitchener:

It’s not yet clear which party will control Congress. That leaves the fate of President Biden’s health agenda on Capitol Hill still up in the air.

In the House

House Republicans remain favored to retake the chamber. The party needs to flip five seats, and could do so after gaining some wins in targeted districts. But the results weren’t what the party was expecting, even with many races too early to call.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had hoped to declare victory last night. But instead after 2 a.m., he took the stage projecting confidence, but avoided a victory lap, our colleague Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signaled early this morning that dire predictions about Democrats losing dozens of seats hasn’t materialized, at least so far.

At stake for health policy: Top GOP leaders have been itching to set the agenda for the chamber’s committees, compel testimony and obtain documents — power the party hasn’t had for the duration of the pandemic. The GOP is planning a slew of probes into the origins of covid-19, prescription drug middlemen, pandemic relief dollars and key federal health agencies.

In the Senate

The Senate is still up for grabs. Democrats flipped a critical seat with the win of John Fetterman over Mehmet Oz. But races in battleground states like Arizona, Nevada and Georgia haven’t been called.

It’s possible there could be a repeat of 2020, where the contest in Georgia could go to a runoff — and potentially delay securing the majority for either party for another month.

At stake for health policy: Probably partisan gridlock. Democrats would need to control both chambers to take another run at a sweeping economic package. And even if Republicans win the House and the Senate, Biden can veto their agenda.

Chad Pergram, senior congressional correspondent for Fox News:

The governor's mansion

Races for governor that could affect the future of legal abortion

Democratic incumbent governors held onto most of their territory last night, beating back a Republican red wave that will enable them to defend against abortion restrictions from their GOP-dominated state legislatures. Here’s a snapshot of our most highly anticipated gubernatorial races:

Democrat victories:

In Michigan … Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer beat her Republican challenger, conservative commentator Tudor Dixon, after a hard-fought reelection campaign that put abortion at the forefront. Whitmer is behind the lawsuit that has blocked the state’s near total pre-Roe abortion ban from taking effect.

In Pennsylvania … Attorney General Josh Shapiro won the state’s gubernatorial contest against Republican Doug Mastriano, keeping the swing-state’s governor's mansion in Democratic control. Shapiro has promised to veto any antiabortion legislation passed by the state’s Republican-led legislature.

In Wisconsin … Democratic Gov. Tony Evers secured his reelection early today after a tight race against Republican Tim Michels. Evers is now in a position to veto future abortion restrictions from Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature, which is expected to consider a six-week ban on the procedure if a lawsuit blocking the state’s pre-Roe ban prevails in court.

GOP victories:

In Florida … Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis cruised to victory last night, defeating his Democratic opponent Charlie Crist for a second term. His win paves a clear path for the state’s GOP-controlled legislature to further restrict abortion access in Florida, which currently has a 15-week ban on the procedure.

In Georgia … Republican Gov. Brian Kemp fended off Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams in a high-profile rematch of their 2018 contest. He and the state’s Republican-led legislature will likely face pressure from antiabortion groups to enact a total ban on the procedure, which is currently limited to about six-weeks.

Too close to call:

Democratic candidate Katie Hobbs and Republican opponent Kari Lake remain in a neck and neck Arizona governor’s race this morning.  In Kansas, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is in a tight race against the state’s Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt to continue leading the state.

Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania governor-elect (D):

Attorneys general watch

Three states where abortion policy matters in races for attorney general

As of 7 a.m., The Post has yet to call attorneys general races. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade thrust these down-ballot contests into the limelight, since the office may be the last line of defense to preserve abortion access against many Republican-controlled state legislatures.

We’re keeping our eyes on: Arizona’s high-stakes battle between Democratic candidate Kris Mayes and Republican challenger Abraham Hamadeh; Wisconsin’s tight race between incumbent Democrat Josh Kaul and his GOP rival Eric Toney; and Georgia’s close contest between Republican Attorney General Chris Carr and Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan, which could have implications for those helping people in the state to access abortion illegally beyond the six-week mark.

Kris Mayes, Democratic candidate for Arizona attorney general:

Ballot measure roundup

Voters weigh in on health initiatives

Ballot measures to restrict or codify abortion access dominated public attention in the run-up to the midterm elections, but voters weighed in on initiatives across the health care spectrum yesterday. Here’s how the non-abortion measures played out:

Medicaid expanded: South Dakotans approved an initiative to expand Medicaid benefits to roughly 42,000 low-income residents, the Associated Press reports.

A checkered night for cannabis advocates: Voters approved recreational marijuana for adults in Maryland and Missouri, but rejected it in Arkansas and North Dakota — a mixed result that underscores the still varied support for legalization in more conservative parts of the country.

A new model for medical debt: More than 70 percent of Arizonans voted to cap the interest rate on medical debt, a measure that has been touted as a way to shield the state’s residents from predatory debt collection, according to the AP.

Dialysis regulations fail, again: For the third time in three straight elections, voters in California rejected a union-backed initiative that would have tightened restrictions on dialysis clinics statewide, per the AP.

A ban on flavored tobacco stands: More than 60 percent of Californians voted to uphold an existing state law banning the sale of most flavored tobacco products, which received bipartisan support from lawmakers but faced a fierce opposition campaign from the tobacco industry.

Nation’s first dental loss ratio: Massachusetts residents overwhelmingly approved a push to establish a loss ratio for dental insurers that will require them to spend more of patients’ money on their care, per the AP.

What else we’re watching: Early returns show a neck and neck race for Oregon’s Measure 111, which would add a first-of-its-kind amendment to the state constitution establishing a right to “cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care” for every resident.

Exit poll check

Across the United States, millions of Americans headed to the polls yesterday. They showed up because they’re concerned about the economy, abortion and crime, and mostly voted along party lines, according to preliminary network exit polls and preliminary voter polls from AP VoteCast.

Health reads

Here’s a snapshot of Election Day across the country from our Post colleagues:

Iowa: ‘I don’t think anybody else has the right to dictate’

“Leaving a polling place at a church here, Enisa Kuburas-Kazazic said she voted an all-Democratic ticket to try to preserve reproductive rights,” our colleague Brittany Shammas writes from Des Moines. “‘Personally, I would not choose an abortion. But I don’t think anybody else has the right to dictate,’ Kuburas-Kazazic said, adding that what is right for one person ‘is not necessarily right for everybody else.’”

Arizona: ‘I’m looking for people who are more in tune with the public’

“Matt Kroski doesn’t see his views accurately represented by either major party, and he has supported both in the past. But lately, he said, it’s Republican policies that scare him most — from chipping away at abortion rights to eroding democratic guardrails,” The Post’s Reis Thebault writes from Phoenix. “For Kroski, who lives in a neighborhood north of downtown Phoenix, Tuesday was about voting against candidates on the right more than anything else.”

Michigan: ‘I don’t think big government should come in’

Kyle LaLone, 32, a Republican and medical sales representative, voted at a quiet church in an exurb of Grand Rapids on Tuesday morning. He backed Tudor Dixon, the far-right gubernatorial candidate, because she is antiabortion — but also especially because of his frustrations with coronavirus safety precautions under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D),” Sam Easter writes for The Post from Ada Township. “‘I’m really for just letting people choose what is best for their own lives. I don’t think big government should come in and tell us when we can’t go to sporting events, go to school, can’t go to your gym,’ he said.

Sugar rush

Thanks for reading! See y'all tomorrow.