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How the likely new leaders of House Democrats have acted on health care

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Hellooo, good morning. Did you see the big game yesterday? Maryland basketball is undefeated. 🐢🐢

Today’s edition: Researchers say a promising Alzheimer’s drug needs to be studied for safety. Twitter will no longer enforce a ban on covid misinformation. But first …

Health care hasn’t been a top focus for the trio of House Democrats who could soon take the helm

It’s a big day for the future of the Democratic Party.

House Democrats are holding their leadership elections, paving the way for a new generation of lawmakers to chart the party’s health agenda for the first time in 16 years.

The results aren’t expected to be a shocker. Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), Katherine Clark (Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (Calif.) recently announced their candidacies for the top three positions, and are widely assumed to be approved as the new party leaders this morning. 

The change represents a significant departure from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (S.C.), who muscled through the Affordable Care Act and have spent the past dozen years aiming to build on the sweeping health law.

The new trio poised to take over House Democratic leadership doesn’t have a lengthy track record on health care, and none of the lawmakers sit on any of the major health committees. So The Health 202 reviewed public statements and the bills they’ve introduced, and talked with people in the Democratic health sphere. Here’s what we learned: 

The Post’s Marianna Sotomayor:

The New York Democrat assumed office in 2013 and has been the chair of the House Democratic Caucus since 2019. He is expected to take Pelosi’s spot as the party’s top leader.

He has referred to himself as a “pragmatic progressive” — a fitting title for his health record. As a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, he has consistently co-sponsored the chamber’s Medicare-for-all bill. But he has also previously signed on to Medicare-X legislation, which would add a public-option plan to the Obamacare marketplaces, though he didn’t add his name to the bill this congressional session. (His office didn’t respond to a question on why he didn’t co-sponsor it this year.)

  • House Democrats are “united behind the principle of universal access to high quality and affordable healthcare for all. There are several pathways to achieve this objective, including implementation of a single-payer system or the adoption of a robust public option,” Jeffries said in a statement in fall 2019.

Bill watch: He has sponsored a handful of bills dealing with health care during his time in Congress, per Congress.gov. This includes legislation aimed at providing manufacturers with incentives to develop a coronavirus vaccine and requiring the surgeon general to send Congress a report on the health effects of young people using synthetic drugs. 

And one more thing. Jeffries has criticized a tactic known as pay-for-delay — which branded drug manufacturers use to stifle competition from generic drugs — saying the practice should be outlawed at a 2019 conference hosted by Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

The Massachusetts Democrat has also been in office since 2013 and is now in the No. 4 spot, serving as assistant speaker. She announced this month that she’d seek the No. 2 position in the caucus. 

Clark serves in the leadership of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus and has been instrumental in working with members to message around access to abortions, our colleague Leigh Ann Caldwell recently reported. She has also spoken openly about her own miscarriage in the months after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case that would eventually overturn Roe v. Wade

She has consistently signed on to Medicare-for-all legislation and is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. 

Bill watch: She worked on creating a law to help babies exposed to opioids in the womb, as well as crafted a student loan repayment program for addiction treatment professionals working in high-need areas. Other legislation has also focused on maternal health and substance use disorders. 

“Assistant Speaker Clark is committed to making health care access a right for all, not a privilege for the few,” her office said in a statement. 

The California Democrat assumed office in 2015 and is poised to fill the No. 3 party leadership position in the House.  

Aguilar is a member of the New Democrat Coalition, a moderate-leaning group of nearly 100 members. His record seems to track with a more centrist health agenda, endorsing a more incremental approach to shoring up the ACA rather than upending the system to create Medicare-for-all. Aguilar has previously signed onto legislation to create a public option, though similar to Jeffries, he didn’t co-sponsor the bill this congressional session (and his office didn’t answer a question as to why). 

Bill watch: According to Congress.gov, Aguilar hasn’t sponsored specific health-care legislation since coming to Congress. But in a statement, he said his top priority would be to protect entitlement programs and Obamacare, as well as “to bring together my colleagues from across our caucus to move legislation that lowers health care costs, improves the quality of care and that builds on the success of the ACA.” 

No matter what, health policy will continue to be a huge part of Democrats’ agenda, particularly since the party thinks it has the edge over Republicans on the issue.

But it may mean the leaders are more deferential to health committee chairs, though they will still need to play the “referee role” when disputes arise, during tense negotiations over government funding bills and amid high-stakes elections. 

“While they don’t have long-standing health records, they cannot escape engaging the issue,” said Chris Jennings, a longtime Democratic health policy consultant who worked in the White House during the Clinton and Obama years. “Every budget bill has a major health-care policy rider and every election has a visible health-care focus.”

Alzheimer’s drug may benefit patients, but needs to be studied for safety

An experimental Alzheimer’s drug moderately slowed the effects of the disease in a highly anticipated clinical trial, but it was also linked to safety risks in some patients, The Post’s Daniel Gilbert writes.

The details published late yesterday have been the subject of intense anticipation by doctors and Wall Street since drugmakers Eisai and Biogen announced in September that the medication, lecanemab, had slowed cognitive decline by 27 percent compared with a placebo.

The newly published study found that lecanemab reduced a key marker of Alzheimer’s disease, the amyloid beta protein, and that patients who received the drug performed better on cognitive and physical measures than a placebo group. 

Concerns about the drug’s safety had been heightened following recent reports of two patient deaths, which Eisai confirmed but denied they were related to the drug. Some patients in the trial experienced brain swelling and bleeding, but the companies said the rates were within expectations. Researchers ultimately concluded that the drug warrants additional study.

Key context: Lecanemab’s results followed a controversy over a different Alzheimer’s drug developed by the companies. That drug, known by the brand name Aduhelm, was approved by the FDA last year despite conflicting data on its effectiveness. Aduhelm fizzled commercially after Medicare declined to broadly reimburse for it, Daniel writes. 

Chinese authorities threaten a crackdown on protesters

“Chinese authorities warned of a sweeping crackdown on ‘zero covid’ protesters and security forces conducted random spot-checks on the streets of major cities, amid widespread confusion over whether Beijing was making a serious attempt to relax its harshest coronavirus measures,” Lyric Li reports.

“Communist Party leaders, who had otherwise avoided directly mentioning the mass rallies challenging their zero covid policy, said for the first time that they would ‘resolutely crack down’ on the demonstrations,” she writes.

Twitter rolls back its coronavirus misinformation policy

Twitter is no longer enforcing its policy against coronavirus misinformation, a move that’s alarming health experts who say it could have consequences in the midst of a still-deadly pandemic, The Post’s Taylor Lorenz reports.

Some experts, such as Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, had previously praised Twitter’s efforts to tamp down on covid misinformation. However, the company has struggled with the policy, recently labeling some factual information about covid as misinformation.

What’s happening: The company didn’t formally announce the rule change; rather, Twitter users spotted an update on the site Monday night saying that the company hadn’t enforced the policy since Nov. 23, the Associated Press noted. The decision comes after Musk laid off at least half of the platform’s staff, including some who oversaw content moderation and enforcement.

Since the covid-19 misinformation policy was enacted in January 2020, Twitter has suspended more than 11,000 accounts and removed roughly 100,000 pieces of content that violated the site’s rules. Musk, who has himself spread falsehoods about the virus on Twitter, has pledged to reinstate many of the previously banned accounts. 

Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.): 

NYC to hospitalize more of the mentally ill involuntarily

New York Mayor Eric Adams (D) issued a directive yesterday to allow police and emergency responders to transport people with severe, untreated mental illness from the city’s streets and subways to hospitals without their consent, the New York Times reports. 

Adams’s announcement comes after a string of high-profile crime incidents involving homeless individuals and mounting calls from some for more aggressive countermeasures. 

The details: State law already lets police and medical workers authorize the involuntary hospitalization of those who seem to pose a threat of “serious harm” to themselves or others. The mayor’s directive expands that policy to give them the discretion to involuntarily hospitalize anyone they deem isn’t meeting their own basic needs.

The city will direct hospitals to hold patients until they are stable and there is a plan to connect them to other care.

The other side: The mayor’s announcement comes at a heated moment in the national debate about rising crime and the role of the police, especially in dealing with people whose mental health is fragile, the NYT’s Andy Newman and Emma G. Fitzsimmons write. Several civil rights groups criticized the plan, describing it as a crackdown on the homeless and mentally ill that comes without the resources necessary to address the issues affecting those communities.

Tiffany Cabán, NYC council member:

PhRMA, once invincible in Washington, has lost its edge (By Rachel Cohrs | Stat )

She Wasn’t Ready for Children. A Judge Wouldn’t Let Her Have an Abortion. (By Lizzie Presser | The New York Times)

Thanks for reading! See y’all tomorrow.



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