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Good morning, and welcome to The Health 202 on 2-22-22. Today, we’re launching a semiregular series of interviews with power players on the midterm elections and more. Have a suggestion for our next subject? Reach out to rachel.roubein@washpost.com. 

Today’s edition: Key Senate committee chairs are tentatively planning to hold hearings on facets of President Biden’s economic plan in the coming weeks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention isn’t making all its covid-19 data public. But first…

To Marjorie Dannenfelser, a ruling for Mississippi’s abortion ban would be the “culmination of decades of work”

Susan B. Anthony List is planning for a world without Roe v. Wade. 

Founded in 1992, the group is a major player in the antiabortion movement, working to elect antiabortion candidates and advocating for laws aimed at curtailing the procedure. It’s priming itself for what could be the most consequential moment for abortion access in decades.

That’s because the Supreme Court appears likely to uphold a Mississippi law prohibiting most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which would undermine Roe v. Wade’s half-century-old protections. Both supporters and opponents of abortion access are gearing up for an immense fight. 

  • Both sides view the other as extreme. That’ll be one of a slew of arguments put to voters during the midterm election season and as state legislatures work through a slew of controversial bills from limiting the procedure to potentially enshrining access to it in their state’s constitution.

The Health 202 talked to Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of SBA List, about November’s midterm elections; a potential post-Roe landscape; and state and federal action to limit abortions.

The midterms

Roughly 8 percent of adults consider abortion a top priority for 2022 — up from just 2 percent last year. This includes 13 percent of Democrats who named the issue as a priority, and 5 percent of Republicans, according to an AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted in December.

Those numbers could increase this summer. That’s when the high court is expected to hand down its decision in the Mississippi case, likely putting the issue front and center for voters.

  • “It’s the culmination of decades of work, we hope,” said Dannenfelser, who served as the national co-chair of Pro-Life Voices for Trump.

SBA List’s overall budget is $72 million for the 2021-2022 cycle. That’s nearly $20 million more than last cycle, which included a presidential election. The strategy for the midterms is focused on battleground states, and canvassers plan to knock on the homes of 4 million people. Another 4 million voters are expected to be contacted through ads and other forms of communication. 

  • The states include Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Georgia. The others are still being decided.
  • “The voters that we’re talking to are voters who are inclined in our direction, maybe not completely convinced, so they’re persuadables,” Dannenfelser said.

But abortion rights supporters also plan to focus on states with critical Senate and House races. That includes Arizona and Georgia, two states where abortion rights group NARAL is “deeply focused,” according to Kristin Ford, the group’s vice president of communications and research.

State action

SBA List is working with its allies in the states to plan for the Supreme Court to potentially rule in favor of Mississippi. 

What exactly does that look like? The answer varies by state. The group isn’t promoting one approach over another, Dannenfelser said, as Republican-led states eye legislation from 15-week limits to Texas-style six-week bans. 

  • “Our view is be as ambitious as consensus can sustain,” she said. “That is different in each state. You may need to begin at a place and see what reaction you get, and maybe you can go further.”

A snapshot of the last week: Legislation mirroring Mississippi’s 15-week limit passed the West Virginia House of Delegates, Arizona Senate and Florida House of Representatives.

  • Meanwhile, abortion rights advocates are pushing back. Vermont lawmakers have advanced a constitutional amendment to become the first state to guarantee the right to abortion and contraception. In Maryland’s House of Delegates, leading lawmakers say they would back such an effort, the Associated Press reports, which would eventually be put to voters in both states.

And at the federal level … there’s a shift in strategy. On Capitol Hill, getting a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks was SBA List’s priority for “a very long time.” 

  • “Now 15 weeks is the floor, in our opinion, for the same reasons as those states are passing it,” Dannenfelser said.
  • A closely divided Senate blocked the 20-week ban back in 2018 — and both 15- and 20-week limits would be a tall order in the current Congress.
  • Meanwhile, the Senate will vote next week on the Women’s Health Protection Act aimed at guaranteeing the right to an abortion. That measure is also almost certain to fail in the chamber, since it would need 10 Republican votes.

Correction: The Biden administration on Friday said it would extend the national emergency for the coronavirus. It was incorrectly stated in the original version. 

On the Hill

Key Build Back Better policies may get Senate committee hearings

What’s in a name? The way President Biden tells it, Democrats’ Build Back Better plan is “close” to passing the Senate and delivering relief to Americans struggling with the cost of prescription drugs.

And yet … it’s not clear the sweeping economic plan exists anymore — “at least in any recognizable form.” Behind the scenes, discussions between the administration and key senators have “virtually evaporated,” The Post’s Sean Sullivan and Seung Min Kim report. 

 👀 : In the absence of direct talks, a handful of committee chairs have stepped in at the direction of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to talk directly with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on what kind of scaled-back version he might support. 

The chairs are tentatively planning on holding hearings in the coming weeks on various aspects of the bill, as Manchin insists that any package move through the regular legislative process.

  • Key health panel leaders are involved, such as Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Senate HELP Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.), our colleagues write.
  • Reminder: Manchin has been supportive of Democrats’ prescription drug efforts, such as allowing Medicare to negotiate the price of medicines for the first time.


CDC officials hold back on publishing some covid-19 data

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been gathering information on how the coronavirus has affected Americans since the start of the pandemic, but the agency has yet to make portions of the information available to the public, The New York Times reports. 

The details: This includes data on the effectiveness of vaccine boosters for a certain age group; patient demographics for cases that resulted in hospitalization; and previously unreleased wastewater data that could warn of new variants before they emerge — all of which could help local and state officials fine-tune their pandemic response. 

Meanwhile, some say they have been “begging” for the unreleased information. In one case, the CDC left out information from patients ages 18- to 49, so outside health experts used numbers from Israel instead. 

But the agency said it has good reason for withholding some information, which in part, is because the public may misinterpret it. Also, officials must ensure the data is accurate before releasing it to the public, a CDC spokesperson said, which takes time.

Covid-19 restrictions to end Thursday in England, signaling a new era of the pandemic

England will ditch all remaining coronavirus restrictions — including the requirement to self-isolate after testing positive — and shift toward a “living with covid-19” plan, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced yesterday.

The updated guidelines have been called premature — and even reckless — by some public health experts, our London correspondents William Booth and Karla Adam report. And they come a day after an announcement that the country’s 95-year-old monarch Queen Elizabeth II tested positive for the virus. 

  • Johnson said covid-19 was “not over” and the public health system would stay vigilant for potential future surges. But the country will now treat the coronavirus more like the seasonal flu.

This comes as a top White House official said last week that the U.S. is approaching a time when “covid isn’t a crisis” — and that administration officials are “actively planning for this future.” Though the official, coronavirus response coordinator Jeffrey Zients, said the top priority is still fighting the contagious omicron variant. 

State scan

The country’s first public option struggles to get on its feet

States considering creating their own public option health-care plan are eyeing Washington state, whose version of the plan was meant to lower the cost of coverage for residents but has failed to gain traction among hospitals, Kaiser Health News reports. 

But two years in, the plan’s enrollment has been underwhelming. That’s partly due to higher-than-anticipated premiums and because it’s only available in 25 of the state’s 39 counties — which state leaders have blamed on pushback from hospitals. Hospitals in the state will now be required to have a contract with a public health option starting in 2023.

The politics: A federal public option plan has been backed by both the Obama and Biden administration, but failed to progress in Congress, leaving states to draft their own versions. Colorado and Nevada will begin implementing their own plans in 2023 and 2026, respectively.

In other health news

  • Hawaii is the only state that hasn’t announced plans to drop its indoor mask mandate following a wave of Democratic governors lifting the requirement, our colleague Salvador Rizzo reported.
  • New York health officials decided against enforcing a booster-shot requirement for health-care workers that was set to take effect yesterday, citing concerns about possible staffing shortages. Officials will re-assess the decision in three months.
  • Biden said Friday that he would extend the national emergency for the coronavirus.
  • Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy announced Friday that he and his immediate family had tested positive for the coronavirus, The Post reports. Murthy had previously said his 4-year old daughter had contracted the virus.

Health reads

Sugar rush

Thanks for reading! See y’all tomorrow.