Abortion raises stakes in state Supreme Court race

Abortion raises stakes in state Supreme Court race

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With Katherine Ellen Foley, Daniel Lippman, Megan Messerly, Alice Miranda Ollstein and Carmen Paun

Driving the Day

Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates Dan Kelly and Janet Protasiewicz participate in a debate.

Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court race between Janet Protasiewicz and Dan Kelly has attracted significant attention from both abortion-rights and anti-abortion groups. | Morry Gash/AP Photo

‘THIS IS NOT NORMAL’ — Next week’s state Supreme Court election in Wisconsin is shaping up to be the most expensive race of its kind in any state, Zach Montellaro and Megan Messerly report.

Why? The future of Wisconsin’s abortion access hinges on the outcome, as former state Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly, a conservative, and Janet Protasiewicz, a liberal Milwaukee County judge, face off.

Abortion-rights and anti-abortion groups are pouring millions of dollars into the race, hoping their preferred candidate will win and either uphold or strike down the state’s 1849 abortion ban when it eventually reaches the state high court.

In Kelly’s camp: Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, announced last week a $2 million investment through Women Speak Out PAC, with $1.25 million going toward TV and digital ads supporting Kelly.

“These races are more important than ever thanks to the Dobbs decision. If we have activist courts, we’re at risk of having mini Roe decisions across the country that would prevent the states from protecting unborn life,” Kelsey Pritchard, the group’s director of state public affairs, told POLITICO.

Another anti-abortion group, Students for Life, is already knocking on doors, sending emails to supporters and activists in Wisconsin and considering digital ads.

And backing Protasiewicz: Several abortion-rights groups back Judge Protasiewicz, a vocal defender of abortion rights. Analiese Eicher, a consultant for public affairs for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, said the race is drawing more engagement than the state’s last high-profile Supreme Court election in 2011, which garnered national attention as former Republican Gov. Scott Walker battled unions over collective bargaining.

“This is not normal for a spring election. This is not normal for a Supreme Court election. The number of people who know about the Wisconsin Supreme Court is pretty incredible,” Eicher said.

WELCOME TO WEDNESDAY PULSE — An Australian startup has made a wooly mammoth meatball from lab-grown meat derived from the DNA of the extinct animal, which leads us to the obvious question: Would you eat it? Send your answers, news and tips to [email protected] and [email protected].

TODAY ON OUR PULSE CHECK PODCAST, host Megan Messerly talks with Alice Miranda Ollstein, who explains why the Biden administration is facing off with Democratic attorneys general in court over the FDA’s authority to place certain restrictions on abortion pills — and the potential implications for pharmacies dispensing the pills.

A message from PhRMA:

What’s a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM)? They decide if medicines get covered and what people pay for them, regardless of what your doctor prescribes. These middlemen are putting their profits before your medicines. And getting between you and your doctor. You need to see what’s going on.

In Congress

Xavier Becerra speaks.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra testifies in Congress today. | Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

HEAR(INGS) WE GO AGAIN — HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra will return to the Hill today to defend the Biden administration’s proposed budget for his agency, Daniel reports.

But don’t be surprised if it sounds a lot like the previous hearing when Becerra testified — or the hearing before that.

On Tuesday, Republicans focused on what they see as political weak spots for Becerra at the House Ways and Means Committee and Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Subcommittee. In both hearings, Becerra was quizzed on why more HHS staff hadn’t returned to the office and shown a photo of an empty HHS parking lot taken mid-morning Monday, according to the representatives.

HHS employees are hard at work, Becerra insisted, adding that a parking lot doesn’t indicate workers’ productivity.

Across the hours of hearings, the GOP continued to hammer on enforcement of the No Surprises Act, health care for transgender kids, CMS’ approval of fast-tracked Alzheimer’s drugs and alleged waste in the agency. Becerra highlighted what he said are agency successes: record health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, improvements in behavioral health services and a move toward preventing illness instead of treating it.

Expect more of the same today.

SENATE REJECTS PANDEMIC TREATY AMENDMENT — Senators rejected an amendment Tuesday introduced by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) that would have required any future international conventions or agreements reached at the WHO on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response to be subject to Senate ratification, Carmen reports.

The amendment, which failed to garner the necessary 60 votes, targeted an accord that nations are negotiating at the WHO. A first draft lays out mechanisms to boost information-sharing between countries and distribute vaccines more equitably in a future global outbreak.

Why it matters: Numerous Republican lawmakers have said the agreement would strip power from the U.S. government and hand it over to the WHO. Both the U.S. government and the WHO have denied this would be the case. It’s unclear whether the U.S. will have to formally ratify the accord.

HOUSE GOP PROBE FDA’S TOBACCO PROGRAM — Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, said Tuesday he will launch a formal probe into the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, Katherine reports.

In a letter to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, Comer called out CTP’s opacity around its requirements for marketing authorizations for new products like e-cigarettes and its failure to pull unauthorized tobacco products from the market. It also noted that some comments submitted to the Reagan-Udall Foundation’s independent panel of experts, who evaluated CTP last year, suggested it was subject to external political influence.

Documents, please: The Oversight Committee asked Califf and the FDA for several communications records, including federal communication involving nicotine and tobacco policy decisions, communications between the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about application decisions and education campaigns and all internal documents related to enforcement actions by April 11.

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JUDGE WEIGHS LAWSUIT AGAINST FDA ABORTION PILL RESTRICTIONS — The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington heard arguments Tuesday from about a dozen Democratic state attorneys general challenging the remaining federal restrictions on abortion pills, Alice reports.

Biden administration lawyers also defended the FDA’s authority to regulate the drugs.

Judge Thomas O. Rice, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, said at the conclusion of about 45 minutes of arguments that he would issue a written order in the coming days.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson told Alice after the hearing that he was pleased Judge Rice grilled the Biden administration on the restrictions placed on abortion pills that aren’t applied to any other kind of medication.

“The judge did pointedly ask the attorney for the federal government if mifepristone was the only drug that required pharmacies to get certification for dispensing, and there was a lot of hemming and hawing before answering that no, there are no other drugs,” Ferguson said. “A huge part of our case is: Why is mifepristone under unique restrictions that no other drugs have? And the federal government, I think, did not have a good answer on that.”

A source familiar with the Biden administration’s case disputed that characterization, telling Alice that the DOJ lawyer “was not aware of other examples off the top of his head” but stressing that other drugs require pharmacy certification, such as the antipsychotic clozapine.

A message from PhRMA:

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Public Health

WHY THE FEDS ARE SO WORRIED ABOUT ‘TRANQ’ — The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration alerted doctors and people working in substance use treatment this week about the dangers of xylazine, also known as “tranq.” The drug, which is circulating in the U.S. illegal drug supply, has been linked to a growing number of overdose deaths.

The letter follows a DEA alert issued last week warning the public about a sharp uptick in imports of xylazine-laced fentanyl. “Xylazine is making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, fentanyl, even deadlier,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram.

What is it? Xylazine is a non-opioid that’s increasingly paired with opioids, including fentanyl. It’s approved as a veterinary drug, but the FDA hasn’t approved it for human use, nor is it listed as a controlled substance. Xylazine can “cause severe circulatory changes with devastating effects on human tissue leading to painful open lesions, necrosis, and potentially limb loss,” SAMHSA says. It can also “depress breathing, blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature to critical levels.”

Between 2020 and 2021, overdose deaths in which the victims tested positive for xylazine sharply rose. In the South, it jumped from 116 xylazine-positive deaths to 1,423 during that time — an increase of 1,127 percent.

Three things keep the feds up at night: One, routine toxicology tests don’t detect xylazine, so it’s unclear how the drug impacts overdoses. Two, since xylazine isn’t an opioid, the drug that reduces opioid overdoses, naloxone, is ineffective against it. And three, medications for opioid use disorder, like methadone and buprenorphine, aren’t likely to help manage withdrawal from the drug.

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Names in the News

John Barkett is joining Berkeley Research Group as a managing director in its health care transactions and strategy practice in Washington. Barkett was previously a senior policy adviser for health care delivery system reform at the Domestic Policy Council.

The American Health Information Management Association has two new members: Caterina DiBiase has joined as a legislative health policy associate, and Tara O’Donnell has joined as a regulatory health policy associate. DiBiase was previously at Research!America, and O’Donnell was at the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Richard Buckley has joined Rational 360 as managing director. He was most recently vice president of global corporate affairs at AstraZeneca.

Rob Clark has joined FGS Global as a managing director based in Chicago. He most recently served as senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer for Caris Life Sciences and is an Exxon Mobil and Medtronic alum.

What We're Reading

In Mississippi, rural hospitals are disappearing as they struggle to foot their bills without Medicaid expansion, The New York Times reports.

Stat reports on how the pharmaceutical industry uses the nation’s growing fear of fentanyl to market high-cost naloxone products.

A message from PhRMA:

Insurers and their PBMs don’t want you to see that you could be paying more than they are for your medicines. Rebates and discounts can significantly lower what insurers and PBMs pay for medicines. These savings can reduce the cost of some brand medicines by 50% or more. But insurers and PBMs aren’t required to share those savings with you at the pharmacy counter.

They don’t want you to see that they use deductibles, coinsurance and other tactics to shift more costs on to you. Or that the three largest PBMs control 80% of the prescription drug market. Or that last year they blocked access to more than 1,150 medicines, including medicines that could have lowered costs for you at the pharmacy. 

PBMs and insurance practices are shrouded in secrecy,  they need to be held accountable.  

( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )

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