Latest Morning Briefing Stories
Lawyers at the Justice Department are still studying whether the president has the legal authority to unilaterally suspend the issuance of green cards. President Donald Trump’s announcement earlier in the week that he was going to suspend all immigration visas drew vocal criticism from business groups whose members rely on guest workers.
After tense negotiations between Democrats and White House representatives, the Senate passed a $484 billion coronavirus relief bill. Democrats claimed a victory in securing more money for health systems and expanded testing, along with the funds to supplement the depleted small business fund. What’s next? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) slams the brakes on any talks of additional stimulus packages even as Democrats pitch a next stop-gap measure.
LabCorp says its nasal swab test will be available first to health care workers and first responders. The kit will cost $119, which consumers will have to pay out of pocket and ask their insurer for reimbursement. “This is not a game-changer, but it’s potentially another piece of the large and rather messy puzzle we’re assembling to test enough people to stop Covid-19,” Dr. Sheldon Campbell, of Yale, tells The New York Times. But experts still caution that the tests can be inaccurate. Meanwhile, without a national strategy, testing across the country is still completely uneven.
Read about the biggest pharmaceutical development and pricing stories from the past week in KHN’s Prescription Drug Watch roundup.
Nearly half of U.S. states have logged double-digit percentage declines in their trust-fund balances since the end of February. Meanwhile, unemployment aid offered by Congress’s $2.2 trillion package creates a tough situation for some businesses whose employees are better off filing for benefits. And some citizens won’t be getting stimulus checks because their spouse is an immigrant.
Even as health-worker shortages undermine efforts to battle the pandemic, providers who aren’t dealing directly with the pandemic are getting swept up into the economic downturn in a way that’s rarely been seen before. Meanwhile, medical staffing companies cut pay for ER workers at the same time as they spent millions in political ads. And media outlets offer glimpses from the front lines as workers tell their stories.
Republicans and Democrats have agreed to allocate $25 billion for testing in the newest stimulus funding legislation. But Democrats want a national system put into place, while Republicans think the money should be given to the states. The deal is also set to include $75 billion in assistance for hospitals. Meanwhile, banks say the new $500 billion plan still won’t be enough to meet the demand from small businesses.
In terms of political vulnerabilities, sometimes a simple statement can balloon into a defining issue of a campaign. For President Donald Trump, the administration’s missteps on testing in the early days of the outbreak may do just that. Meanwhile, as some governors and the president continue to trade accusations over testing, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced that he has obtained 500,000 kits from South Korea, crediting his wife Yumi Hogan in helping lock down the deal.
Tensions have been boiling up across the country over personal protective equipment for health workers and the hospitals that have been trying to control any negative messaging during this time of crisis. Some workers who have been forced to choose between safety and their jobs are distraught that they’re not able to help. Meanwhile, health systems look for ways to safely reuse N95 masks.
President Donald Trump predicts that, once the nation returns to work, economic health “comes back quickly.” Other economists are not forecasting as rosy a picture. “The more unemployment, the more workers lose their jobs, the harder and slower the recovery is going to be,” Claudia Sahm, director of macroeconomic policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a think tank, tells The Hill. Other stories on the pandemic’s economic toll report on rent negotiations, small business loan payouts and regional unemployment.
Some hospitals are transforming hooded hair salon dryers into personal negative pressure chambers while others are repurposing sleep apnea machines. Meanwhile, it’s not just ventilators that are on the brink of devastating shortages.
The study will be a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study, unlike the research being done on the fly treating severely ill patients. The decision was announced as emerging data show people who are taking hydroxychloroquine are still becoming infected with the virus. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s tendency to tout possible cures in the early stages of testing is upending pharma’s traditional PR machine. And Reuters offers an overview of where we stand on drug and vaccines.
Governors across the country pushed back against President Donald Trump’s claims that the country had the capacity to complete more testing but that the states weren’t utilizing their resources properly. “We are fighting a biological war,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said. “We have been asked as governors to fight that war without the supplies we need.”
Democrats and Republicans have been at an impasse at how to supplement the fund to help small businesses, which was depleted last week. The new bill proposes an additional $300 billion for that fund.
Delays in guidance from the Trump administration about how to pay for COVID-19 care have patients and hospitals worried about being on the hook for potentially massive costs. Meanwhile, workers who lost jobs because of the pandemic struggle to find affordable coverage.
Although Congress has focused much attention on air ambulance bills, the cost of normal ground emergency transportation is a more wide-spread issue. In other health industry news: ambulatory surgery centers, Medicare payments for inpatient rehab, and fees for a cancer center.
In four weeks, the country has plunged into Great Depression-levels of unemployment, and the swift economic devastation shows just how vulnerable the system was at a time that appeared like great growth and prosperity. “We built an economy with no shock absorbers,” said Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel-winning economist. “We made a system that looked like it was maximizing profits but had higher risks and lower resiliency.”
Only about $30 billion has been distributed thus far from a pot of $100 billion earmarked for hospitals and health-care providers. In addition to that, the distribution of the relief money didn’t take hot spots into account, so the places that in most need say they are getting shortchanged.
The emergency fund for small businesses ran out this week, but lawmakers haven’t been able to reach an agreement on supplementing the relief money. The swift, bipartisan action seen on the $2.2 trillion stimulus package has become the exception instead of the rule even in the midst of staggering economic devastation. Meanwhile, as that cash is being dispersed, there’s still little oversight on the spending, even though Democrats pushed hard for that concession.
The coronavirus has exacted a severe toll on the patchwork of community clinics and storefront doctors in New York City’s central Queens neighborhoods. In other news on health-care providers: a respiratory therapist talks about working “code to code;” workers staying at hotels; recovered doctors go back to the front lines; and more.