Shifting the Healthcare Debate

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Welcome to Wednesday’s Overnight Health Care, where Democrats have won back the House, opening the door to a shift in the health care debate.

Here’s what we’ll be watching for on health care when the new Democratic House majority takes over:

  1. Oversight. Democrats are sure to launch investigations and hearings into all sorts of actions Republicans have taken that they think undermined the Affordable Care Act, from expanding skimpier short-term health insurance plans to cutting outreach efforts. They could also bring up different industry executives to testify, for example those from drug companies. We’ve seen some of this happen already with Martin Shkreli and Heather Bresch, but Democrats may want to go even further to shame the industry for high prices.
  2. Drug pricing. Speaking of which, legislation to fight high drug prices is an early priority for House Democrats. They think it could be an area for bipartisan support, as President Trump has also focused on the issue. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday she thinks there could be “common ground” with Trump on the idea, and Trump listed the issue as a possible area of cooperation Wednesday as well. But any drug pricing action always faces an uphill climb.
  3. Pre-existing condition protections. If a federal judge rules in favor of Texas and the other Republican state attorneys general challenging the law, Congress is going to need to have a backstop in place. Republicans in the Senate already passed their versions of such legislation, but left the door open to insurers charging higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions. If the law’s protections are truly at risk, Senate Republicans will need to back up their campaign rhetoric with action.
  4. Medicare for All. The most sweeping change Democrats have discussed does not have any real chance of being enacted into law with a Republican Senate and president. But it’s worth watching whether liberal Democrats start planning and agitating for some action on Medicare for all, with hearings, revised legislation, etc.


Medicaid wins big at the polls

It was a big night for Medicaid. Three red states voted to expand Medicaid, giving health coverage to potentially hundreds of thousands of newly eligible people.

Idaho voters approved expansion with more than 61 percent of the vote, Utah passed expansion with 54 percent and Nebraska passed it with 53 percent. In Nebraska and Utah, the approval came despite opposition from the states’ Republican governors.

Democrats also won close gubernatorial races in Kansas and Wisconsin, putting expansion on the table. In Kansas, expansion legislation passed in 2017 but former Gov. Sam Brownback (R) vetoed it. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) lost to Democrat Tony Evers, who campaigned on a platform that included expansion.


The Trump administration finalized two rules today making it easier for some employers to avoid complying with the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. Here’s what they do:

  • The first rule provides an exemption to the mandate for entities that object to contraception based on their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
  • The second rule gives ax exemption to nonprofits, small businesses and individuals that have non-religious, moral objections to the mandate.

These rules are largely similar to two interim final rules released by the administration last year. But the second rule was amended to state that the moral exemptions don’t apply to publicly traded businesses and government entities.

The rules take effect 60 days after their publication in the Federal Register.

Context: These rules are already the subject of multiple lawsuits against the administration. From National Women’s Law Center President Fatima Goss Graves:

“The Trump Administration decided to finalize these outrageous rules, despite several pending lawsuits and two federal courts blocking them. It’s clear that this Administration will stop at nothing to attack women’s health care… if the Administration thinks it can move these rules forward without a fight, they’re wrong.”


On the topic of abortion, two states last night laid the groundwork to ban abortion if the Supreme Court makes changes to Roe v. Wade.

Voters in Alabama and West Virginia approved sweeping amendments to state constitutions that could put major limitations on access to abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court.

Alabama’s amendment makes it state policy to protect “the rights of unborn children” and “support the sanctity of unborn life.” It also says there are no constitutional protections for a woman’s right to an abortion.

Fifty-nine percent of voters approved the measure.

West Virginia narrowly passed a similar amendment that states nothing in the state Constitution “secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.” That vote was 52 percent to 48 percent.

Read more here.




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The nominee’s approach to politically charged healthcare topics, such as the ACA and abortion, are among the items at issue in the debate.

Confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh began with fireworks Tuesday morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Democrats and protestors alike interrupted Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, repeatedly in apparent attempts to block the hearing from proceeding. The episode reflects a high-stakes and largely partisan debate that could dramatically impact U.S. healthcare for decades to come.

Kavanaugh, 53, would be the second-youngest member on the court if confirmed, resulting in a 5–4 reliably conservative majority, as NPR reported. His approach to hot-button healthcare topics, such as abortion and the Affordable Care Act, have received particular scrutiny.

On the presidential campaign trail, then-candidate Donald Trump promised to nominate only justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. Kavanaugh reportedly told one senator that he views Roe as “settled law.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean he believes Roe can’t be overturned, as The Atlantic’s Garrett Epps wrote.

Kanaugh dissented in an opinion last year, writing that the government has “permissible interests in favoring fetal life, protecting the best interests of a minor, and refraining from facilitating an abortion,” and it “may further those interests so long as it does not impose an undue burden on a woman seeking an abortion.”

Another healthcare-related decision by Kavanaugh likely to come up is his 2011 dissent holding that the ACA’s individual mandate was legal as a tax authorized by the Commerce Clause.

Kavanaugh’s reading could come full circle, if a legal challenge launched by conservative states progresses to the Supreme Court. The states argue that the entire ACA was rendered unconstitutional when Congress zeroed out the tax penalty tied to the individual mandate, canceling its status as a tax. In response to the lawsuit, the Trump administration abandoned its defense of key ACA provisions.

It’s worth noting, though, as Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur did, that Kavanaugh’s 2011 ACA ruling effectively “ducked the issue,” enabling him to avoid ruling on the ACA’s merits. That’s significant because some senators have said Kavanaugh’s views on the ACA will affect how they vote on his nomination.

While liberals fear that Kavanaugh could contribute to the ACA’s dismantling, some conservatives worry he’s too moderate on the ACA. Kavanaugh himself has reportedly signaled in private meetings with Democrats that that he’s skeptical of certain claims in the current Republican-led effort to overturn the Obama-era law.

Abortion debate surfaces in California governor’s race

Abortion debate surfaces in California governor’s race

The nation’s divide over abortion rights is expected to be a telltale flashpoint between the two candidates for California governor who embrace starkly different views on the issue, even though protections for legal access to abortion have been cemented into state law for decades.

Staunchly anti-abortion and endorsed by organizations opposed to abortion, Republican John Cox argued in 2006 that cases of rape and incest should be no exception to a ban on abortion. Democrat Gavin Newsom wants to increase funding and accessibility for abortion and family planning and is strongly backed by Planned Parenthood, a frequent target of the Republican-led Congress and the Trump administration.

“I think anybody who has a rape and incest exception to abortion really hasn’t thought it through. Killing the baby is not going to absolve the crime of rape,” Cox said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington 12 years before he finished in second place in the California primary.

Cox made the comment shortly before announcing an unsuccessful campaign for president. He also said he was “100% and proudly pro-life and I offer no apologies for it.”

With President Trump’s pending appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court rekindling the nation’s longstanding political clash over the issue, advocates on both sides foresee the court shifting to the right and a possible overturning of Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that guaranteed a nationwide right to abortion. Though just speculation ahead of having an actual nominee and confirmation hearings, a change in abortion rights probably would be tossed back into the mire of state politics.

“Depending on who Trump nominates, this issue starts to become an advantage to Democrats,” said Chapman University political scientist Lori Cox Han. “For John Cox, there’s really not any advantage at all.”
Though Cox in 2017 trumpeted his endorsement by the California Pro-Life Council and made his opposition to abortion clear, the issue has not been a major focal point of his campaign for governor. Instead, Cox has portrayed himself more as the conservative antidote to the policies of California Democrats that he says have wrought record poverty and homelessness and unaffordable housing and saddled residents with high taxes, including the recent increase in gas taxes.
It’s unlikely that Newsom or his supporters will let Cox’s past statements on abortion go unmentioned.
Cox has cited his Catholicism and also said his views on abortion were shaped after learning that his father “took advantage” of his mother before marrying her. The couple later divorced.
“She didn’t have the choice of an abortion because it wasn’t legal. If it had been, it might have been an easy decision to terminate me,” Cox wrote in “Politics, Inc.,” a political position paper that was published in 2006. “She didn’t, thank God, and so was born my absolute opposition to abortion on demand.”
Cox, a wealthy businessman from Rancho Santa Fe, also is a strong opponent of the death penalty.
“His personal positions on the death penalty and abortion are well known, but as Governor, he would abide by the law,” Cox campaign spokesman Matt Shupe said in an emailed statement to The Times.
Amy Everitt, director for NARAL Pro-Choice California, said the differences between the two candidates for governor who will be on the November ballot have never been more clear.
“John Cox, who’s never held elected office, has been consistent in one way, and that is as an anti-choice leader,” she said. “His values lie far outside mainstream California values.”
She said the group considers Newsom as someone who has been a strong supporter of abortion rights throughout his political career.
California’s lieutenant governor, formerly the mayor of San Francisco, boasted during the gubernatorial primary campaign about his efforts to raise money for Planned Parenthood to increase access to abortion and other healthcare services for women.

Newsom also has called for the state to increase Medi-Cal reimbursement rates to healthcare providers, including Planned Parenthood, and to provide a permanent $100-million allocation for reproductive healthcare from the money raised by Proposition 56, the tobacco tax increase approved by voters in 2016.

Newsom said California’s next governor needs to be a leader in defending abortion rights throughout the country.
“There’s a deliberative effort to roll back reproductive rights in the country, to attack women, to demean women,” Newsom said during a candidate forum sponsored by NARAL Pro-Choice California in January.
“You need leaders to step into that debate. You need to call it out. You need to explain it. You need to expose it.”
Organizers said Cox was invited to the NARAL event, but that he did not respond. It ultimately featured only Democratic candidates.
California first legalized abortion in 1967, years before the Roe vs. Wade decision, and those protections have since been expanded and solidified through legislative statute and rulings by the California Supreme Court. Those protections include the right for funding for abortions provided to women covered by the Medi-Cal program and the right of minors to obtain an abortion without parental consent.
Still, a California governor who opposes abortion possesses enough executive authority to, at the very least, disrupt access, said Susan Berke Fogel, director of the reproductive health and justice programs at the National Health Law Program in Los Angeles. The governor could appoint an anti-abortion director to the California Health and Human Services Agency and cut funding for state programs that help pay for abortions and provide access to birth control, she said.
The governor also appoints judges, including to the state Supreme Court, and could attempt to reshape the judiciary and subsequent legal decisions regarding abortion rights in California.

Decades ago, Republican Gov. George Deukmejian made several cuts to the state’s family-planning programs. Fogel doubts a similar move would survive a legal challenge, but that wouldn’t stop an activist anti-abortion governor from trying, and “it would be disruptive,” Fogel said.

Unlike the U.S. Constitution, California’s Constitution includes a clear-cut right to privacy, a legal foundation protecting a woman’s right to choose to have a child or a legal abortion.

Wynette Sills, director of the anti-abortion organization Californians for Life, agrees with Fogel that even if Roe vs. Wade was overturned, abortion would still be legal in the state.
Still, electing Cox to be the next governor would help prevent the Legislature from making abortion even more prevalent in California. Cox, for example, could use his veto power to reject Senate Bill 320, pending legislation that would require health clinics on University of California and California State University campuses to provide drugs prescribed for medication abortion by 2022.

“Reasonable citizens of California will agree that our state Legislature is to the far extreme in promoting abortion,” Sills said. “We are seeking a reasonable and critical balance to the aggressive abortion actions we’re seeing at the Capitol, and John Cox would provide that balance.”

Most Californians consider abortion to be a settled issue in the state, Han said. For years, they have rejected every attempt to chip away as those protections, including voting against statewide initiatives to require greater parental consent for minors seeking abortions.

A 2017 poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that more than 70% of Californians believe government should not interfere with a woman’s access to abortion, compared with the 27% who wanted the government to pass more restrictions. That view was held across the political spectrum, including by a majority of Republicans, and the overall findings were consistent in surveys going back to 2000.


‘Everyone is focused on Lisa and Susan’: The two most powerful senators in the fight to replace Kennedy

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The Democrats’ hopes of sinking President Trump’s upcoming nominee for the Supreme Court hinge on a pair of Republican women who have broken with their party over abortion and dismantling the Affordable Care Act.

With the GOP holding a 51-to-49 majority in the Senate, the votes of Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) will almost certainly be needed for Trump’s eventual nominee to be confirmed, making them the most influential senators in the battle to replace Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who announced Wednesday that he is retiring.

Both will be the target of intense lobbying as Trump is expected to put forward a pick who would shift the court rightward, putting in play issues such as abortion, gay rights and the government’s role in health care.

The two senators are trying to play down their influence as the frenzy over the Supreme Court opening grows and the pressure on them builds.

“It’s been kind of interesting in this firestorm. Afterward, everyone is focused on Lisa and Susan,” Murkowski said in an interview Thursday. “If I were John or Jerry or Bill, I’d say, ‘Wait a minute. How come I’m not being viewed as an important voice in this process?’ ”

But Murkowski and Collins are the rare elected Republicans in Washington who support abortion rights and voted against repealing the Obama-era Affordable Care Act — issues Democrats are using to frame the battle over the Supreme Court nominee.

“A woman’s right to control her body is at stake with this next nominee,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), who as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee will lead her party’s scrutiny of Trump’s nominee. Asked how much Collins and Murkowski should weigh abortion in their decision, Feinstein said, “That’s up to them. But for me, it’s huge. Because I know what life was like before and most young women don’t.”

Murkowski called the future of Roe v. Wade — the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide — a “significant factor,” but she stressed that in no way will that landmark ruling be the sole factor for her.

“And I don’t think it should be the only factor for anybody,” Murkowski said. “It’s not as if those are the only matters that come before the Supreme Court.”

Collins said Thursday that although she wouldn’t ask Trump’s pick how he or she would rule on specific issues, she always presses judicial nominees about their views on legal precedent.

“I do get a sense from them on whether or not they respect precedent,” Collins said. “And from my perspective, Roe v. Wade is an important precedent and it is settled law.”

Republicans, well aware that Democrats will try to pin down Trump’s pick on contentious issues, are already making the case that any nominee should abide by the standard Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg used during her 1993 hearings: To give “no hints, no forecasts, no previews” on how they might rule.

“I think the only thing that’s going to influence those two very good senators is . . . how they perform in the hearing,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). “Because Collins and Murkowski would obviously respect the Ginsburg rule.”

The scrutiny the two senators face is far from unfamiliar. Collins is one of a dwindling core of moderate Republicans who have been willing to defect from the party on contentious issues, including abortion and guns. And like Collins, Murkowski has an independent streak — one that helped her win reelection in 2010 through a write-in campaign after she lost in the GOP primary. Both senators also opposed the nomination of Betsy DeVos as education secretary, forcing Vice President Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote to confirm her.

But they have been consistent “yes” votes on Trump’s picks for federal courts.

The two senators have voted on five of the most recent Supreme Court justices, with Collins serving as a reliable “yes” while Murkowski rejected both of President Barack Obama’s nominees: Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

Of the 25 names Trump has listed as potential justices, 17 have been confirmed by the Senate for federal judgeships, while two are pending. Murkowski has supported all of the candidates nominated during her time in the Senate while Collins voted against one: Judge William Pryor of the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

Groups that favor abortion rights have begun flooding Senate offices with phone calls and are widening the universe of targeted Republicans beyond Collins and Murkowski to Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.), the most politically vulnerable Senate Republican on the ballot this fall.

Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said calls from her group’s activists to Senate offices in the 24 hours after Kennedy’s retirement announcement Wednesday were three times the volume of the calls that resulted immediately after Neil M. Gorsuch was nominated in January 2017 to replace the late Antonin Scalia.

“Sens. Murkowski and Collins have already laid down the marker saying that they stand by Roe, they believe in legal access to abortion,” Hogue said. “It’s about upholding their word through this vote, and we’re going to make sure that the public support is there for them in their states and that there will be a lot of frustration and anger if they don’t.”

Public polling indicates a nation split over abortion. The most recent nonpartisan survey to ask whether the procedure should be legal in all or most cases is a Public Religion Research Institute poll in March, which found 54 percent of respondents saying that abortion should be legal in most or all cases vs. 43 percent saying it should be illegal in most or all cases.

Collins and Murkowski — as well as a small cadre of moderate Democratic senators — are likely to receive heavy attention from Trump administration officials as the White House tries to secure support for the president’s yet-to-be-named nominee.

The two Republicans, as well as Grassley and the three Democrats who voted in favor of Gorsuch, met with Trump on Wednesday evening at the White House to discuss the vacancy, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Murkowski already had one suggestion for the administration: Consider people who may not be on the short­list crafted during Trump’s presidential campaign with heavy input from the Federalist Society. She said she wants a chance to weigh in on potential candidates.

“I don’t know how we got so wedded to that list. That was not created by senators here,” she said.

Marc Short, the White House’s director of legislative affairs, noted that he, Pence and White House counsel Donald McGahn had met with Collins, Murkowski and swing Democrats such as Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) as they considered Gorsuch last year.

“I think that you will see continued White House outreach,” Short said. “Stay tuned on the specifics.”



Trump revives policy eliminating funding for foreign groups that provide abortion services

President Trump on Monday reinstated a US policy preventing foreign nonprofit groups that receive federal funds from administering abortions or providing abortion counseling or referrals.

Originally enacted by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, the “Mexico City Policy” was rescinded by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — and reinstated by George W. Bush and now Donald Trump — in the first days of each new administration.

Known as the “global gag rule” by pro-abortion rights groups, the Mexico City Policy goes a step further than existing legislation, which prevents federal dollars from being used for abortions. Instead, it prevents organizations that receive any federal funds from paying for their own abortion programs.

Existing legislation known as the Helms Amendment already prevents federal funding of foreign abortions “as a method of family planning,” a restriction abortion rights advocates say has led to excessive interpretation. George W. Bush’s administration clarified that the amendment exempted abortions performed in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life would be endangered by the pregnancy.

Trump’s move forces nonprofit groups to choose between cutting abortion services altogether or looking to fill a major budget gap left by the withholding of federal dollars.

The executive order comes as part of a broader salvo on federally funded abortion and contraceptive coverage.

Separately, a bill under consideration by the House rules committee aims to change the Hyde Amendment, a provision in annual appropriations bills that prohibits federally funded abortions, into permanent law. The proposal would also make employers with insurance plans that cover abortion ineligible for tax credits under the Affordable Care Act.

Trump also issued an executive order on Friday that, depending on how the Department of Health and Human Services interprets it, could eliminate the ACA requirement that private insurers include contraception in their coverage.

Supreme Court strikes down Texas abortion clinic restrictions

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down Texas abortion restrictions that have been widely duplicated in other states, a resounding win for abortion rights advocates in the court’s most important consideration of the controversial issue in 25 years.