HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: House to Vote on Abortion Access This Week

The House will vote this week on a bill that would protect the right to abortion services across the country, a move spurred by a Texas-led effort to restrict abortion access.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced the chamber will vote on H.R. 3755, which would enshrine abortion rights into law and protection health care providers who provide abortion services. Democrats have fiercely opposed the new Texas law that bans abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, generally around six weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest.

“We must ensure that women and health care providers are protected and that a woman’s access to health care is not determined by where she lives,” Hoyer said in a letter to colleauges.

The bill has widespread support among House Democrats; 214 of the 220 Democrats in the chamber have co-sponsored the bill. A Senate companion has the support of 48 of the 50 Democrats. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) are the lone Democratic holdouts. Neither bill has any Republican supporters.

The legislation can pass the House with only Democratic votes but would need at least 10 Senate Republicans in support to reach the president’s desk, unless Senate Democrats first gather 50 votes to dissolve the chamber’s filibuster rule to circumvent the 60-vote threshold for the abortion measure. But Manchin has said he opposes killing the filibuster.

The issue of abortion has become increasingly partisan as anti-abortion Democrats leave Congress. Only three Democrats voted in support during one of the last times the full House explicitly voted on the issue of abortion access: an amendment to an appropriations bill to restore a regulation restricting federal funding for abortion services in June of 2019. Only one of those lawmakers, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), remains in office, Alex Ruoff reports.

BGOV Bill Summary: H.R. 3755, Access to Abortion Services

HHS Reinforces Hospital Duties After Texas Abortion Law: Meanwhile, at the White House, the Biden administration said that in light of a new Texas anti-abortion measure it will fortify the enforcement of existing federal laws mandating hospitals to take care of pregnant women and to protect health-care workers who have performed abortions from employment discrimination. “We are telling doctors and others involved in the provision of abortion care, that we have your back,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra wrote.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a memo Friday reinforcing that doctors, nurses, and other health-care providers must screen and stabilize any patients, “irrespective of any state laws or mandates that apply to specific procedures,” under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. Read more from Shira Stein.

Also Happening on the Hill

Biden’s $4 Trillion Agenda, and Drug Price Overhaul, at Risk: The fate of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda rests largely on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) navigating deep Democratic rifts and the minefield of promises she’s made to keep the party’s moderate and progressive wings moving toward her goal. Pelosi, who has only three votes to spare on any party-line votes, has a jam-packed September agenda that includes the tax and spending bill, averting a government shutdown and addressing the debt limit.

How she manages the stream of consequential legislation and the competing demands within her own party could come to define Biden’s presidency and what may be her last term as speaker. The emerging strategy, to be carried out over the next two weeks, is as risky as it is high-stakes.

Pelosi and her team are, for now, sticking to a commitment to emboldened centrists to hold a vote by Sept. 27 on the portion of Biden’s agenda already passed by the Senate that would deliver $550 billion in new infrastructure spending. That comes at the heavy price of breaking an earlier promise to progressives that she would hold up the public works bill until the Senate passes the larger package of as much at $3.5 trillion for social, climate and other programs.

There are lingering disagreements over specific policies, including drug prices. Three moderates blocked Democrats’ drug price negotiation proposal from advancing out of the Energy and Commerce Committee last week. The moderates won that battle, but eliminating that revenue-generating proposal makes it all the more difficult to meet a key centrist demand: that the plan be fully paid for. Read more from Billy House and Erik Wasson.

Meanwhile, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) told the White House she opposes the current prescription drug plan in the House and Senate bills, Politico reports, citing two unidentified people familiar with her thinking. Sinema also doesn’t support an alternative plan from House Democratic centrists that would limit the drugs subject to Medicare negotiation, according to the report. Sinema met with Biden on Sept. 15 to discuss the spending package.

Hearings on the Hill:

  • Nomination: The Senate Finance Committee meets for a hearing Wednesday on the nomination of Christi A. Grimm to be inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Virus & Children: The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations plans a hearing Wednesday on Covid-19’s effect on children.
  • Virus Relief Programs: The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis meets for a hearing Wednesday on pandemic relief programs.

Democrats Want to Allow Vaccinated Canadians by October: Senate Democrats urged the Biden administration to ease travel restrictions on fully vaccinated Canadians before October. “Canadians come to our states to conduct business, enjoy recreational opportunities, buy goods, and visit friends and family,” senators from border states including Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) wrote in a letter on Friday.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Biden Booster, Export Plans Clash at U.N.: Biden will set a new course for global vaccine allocation this week, hosting a summit on the shortage of shots in poorer countries even as the U.S. moves to give booster doses to millions of fully inoculated Americans.

The U.S.’s push for boosters will steer tens of millions of doses into the arms of many U.S. adults starting as soon as Friday. That has angered nations where many people are still struggling to obtain a first shot. As world leaders gather for the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week, Biden aims to counter their criticism by hosting a virtual summit on Wednesday where he’ll propose a target of fully vaccinating 70% of the world by September 2022.

The U.S. has donated more doses of vaccine than any other country, according to UNICEF data, and Biden’s team wants other wealthy nations to increase their donations to offset any strain on supply from the U.S. booster program. The administration is negotiating with Pfizer to buy an additional 500 million vaccines to donate globally, which would double the U.S. commitment to helping less-wealthy countries. But the U.S. government’s booster policy could instead put political pressure on other countries to follow suit with their own plans for extra doses, further exacerbating global inequities. The Pfizer deal is expected to be announced in the coming days, ahead of Wednesday’s virtual vaccine summit. The White House declined comment on any planned purchase. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

  • Biden’s chief medical adviser said booster shots for more of the U.S. population remain a possibility soon, as additional data on the outbreak come in. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke two days after an advisory panel to the FDA rejected a national rollout of boosters for all ages, approving them only for people 65 and older and those who are medically vulnerable. Read more from Ian Fisher and Yueqi Yang.
  • Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine declined in protection against hospitalization after four months, while Moderna’s remained stable, U.S. researchers found in an analysis of data from 21 hospitals in 18 states. Two doses of either vaccine provided more protection against hospitalization than the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the study found, though Pfizer’s advantage over J&J narrowed over time, the study published Friday by the CDC shows. Fiona Rutherford has more.

CDC to Spend Billions to Fight Hospital Infections: U.S. public health authorities plan to spend $2.1 billion to improve infection prevention and control across the health care system, by far the largest single such outlay in U.S. history. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to distribute the funds over the next several years to health departments and medical providers like hospitals and nursing homes. Those funds were authorized as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. John Tozzi has more.

Vaccine Rule Likely to Clash With State Mandate Bans: Biden’s workplace vaccine mandates set up a conundrum for employers in places where state law limits their ability to mandate Covid-19 shots for their workers. Montana businesses in particular face the challenge of a law enacted this year banning private employers from requiring emergency-authorized vaccines for employees and banning discrimination by vaccine status. Similar proposals are pending in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Chris Marr has more.

More U.S. Headlines:

Global Headlines:

What Else to Know Today

Biden Fights to Keep Trump-Era Immigration Policy: The Biden administration is heading to a federal appeals court to defend a Trump-era border policy that critics have decried as inhumane. Justice Department lawyers filed a notice of appeal Friday, urging a three-judge panel in Washington to scrap a recent lower court decision that bars U.S. officials from immediately expelling migrant families at the border under a health order that claims it is necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Ellen M. Gilmer has more.

DOJ Targets Health-Care Fraud Involving $1.4 Billion: The Department of Justice Friday announced criminal charges against 138 defendants, including doctors, nurses, and other licensed medical professionals for their alleged participation in health-care fraud schemes that caused approximately $1.4 billion in losses. Those charges include fraud committed through telemedicine, Covid-19 services, substance abuse treatment facilities, and other illicit opioid distribution schemes across the U.S., Megan Howard reports.

HHS Extends ACA Open Enrollment by 30 Days: The 2022 Affordable Care Act marketplace enrollment period will increase from 45 to 75 days this year, and states will have the option to permit people with low incomes to sign up for coverage year-round, the administration said. Over the objections of Obamacare marketplace insurers, a final rule by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services extends open enrollment from Nov. 1 to Jan. 15, 2022, for states that use the federal website. Read more from Tony Pugh.

More Headlines:

With assistance from Alex Ruoff

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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