HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: CDC Overhaul, Funds Needed, Lawmakers Say

Congressional lawmakers are calling for changes at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before giving it a new injection of federal funding, citing mistakes at the public health agency during the coronavirus pandemic.

The agency needs a major investment of billions of dollars over several years to better prepare for virus outbreaks, many lawmakers agree. However, they want the CDC to avoid repeating the same errors that led to delays in rolling out tests for Covid-19 and muted important health messages.

Some lawmakers blame the CDC, while others fault President Donald Trump‘s administration for interfering with CDC scientists’ work.

“I don’t know what the problem is—there’s just a problem,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said. “I’m not going to give them more funds unless they reform, unless that money goes toward reform,” Cassidy, himself a physician, said in a statement to Bloomberg Government.

This demand for changes at the agency could make it difficult for lawmakers to reach consensus on how to improve the nation’s public health system. Years of cuts to federal and state public health funding have undermined the country’s health infrastructure and left health departments without the tools and people they needed to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, public health advocates contend. Preparing for a future virus outbreak, they say, requires a consistent flow of money to health programs.

The coronavirus has strained the CDC, widely seen as the world’s premier health agency. In the U.S., there are more than 2.4 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 and more than 122,000 people have died due to it, according to data from Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg News. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

NDAA Bill Eyes Pandemic National Security Fund: A pandemic preparedness and resilience national security fund would be established under a draft of the House Armed Service Committee’s fiscal 2021 defense authorization legislation. The fund of around $1 billion would include funds for research for fast medical countermeasures “against novel threats, at population scale, and approved for use in people,” according to copy obtained by Bloomberg Government. The full committee is scheduled to consider the legislation July 1, Roxana Tiron reports.

Virus Response Draws Criticism

Trump Won’t Detail National Reserve, GAO Says: Congress isn’t the only one waiting for details about a strategic national medical supply stockpile during the pandemic. The Government Accountability Office yesterday reported that the White House won’t detail what’s in the reserve or what supplies have been shared with states. The report came a day after a Senate committee also said it’s waiting for those details. The Strategic National Stockpile contains reserves of medical supplies to be deployed during public health emergencies. Shira Stein has more.

The GAO yesterday also released the most comprehensive assessment to date of the government’s efforts to battle the public health and financial consequences of the pandemic, outlining, among other points, that:

  • Despite Trump’s boasts about the U.S. leading the world in Covid-19 testing, the watchdog said the CDC reported incomplete or inconsistent data on virus testing from state and local health departments. This made it harder to track and mitigate infections and guide decisions about re-opening communities, the GAO said.
  • The HHS has spent only $18 million of a nearly $5.5 billion war chest meant for a vaccine and therapeutics. The GAO said it intends to continue to monitor government efforts to accelerate and coordinate Covid vaccine testing and development. Read more from Laura Davison and Mark Niquette.

The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis will hold a hearing on the GAO’s recommendations to bolster the federal response to Covid-19 today, with the head of the watchdog, Gene Dodaro, testifying.

Record Virus Cases in U.S. Defy States’ Efforts at Control: U.S. governors are reversing plans to reopen their states as the country registered the biggest-ever jump in coronavirus cases, in a growing recognition that the contagion is increasingly dictating events in much of America. Governor Greg Abbott halted the reopening of the Texas economy, as Houston runs out of intensive-care beds for Covid-19 patients and the workers needed to trace their contacts. North Carolina also paused plans to loosen restrictions this week, along with Louisiana and Kansas.

The rollback reflects a growing caution nationwide as the virus races across the U.S., extending its tentacles into places largely spared at the beginning of the outbreak three months ago. “We reopened too early,” said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “Masks alone are not going to be adequate.”

On Thursday, America recorded more than 39,000 new Covid-19 cases, surpassing the previous daily peak on April 24, when the virus was hammering New York. Florida, California, Arizona and Texas account for almost half of all new cases, an outsize proportion even after adjusting for their large populations. Read more from Joe Carroll, Emma Court and Jonathan Levin.

Trump Ignores Spikes as Cases Near Records: Trump has paid little heed to a resurgence in U.S. virus cases, announcing no new steps to curb the outbreak as infections jump to near-record levels and continuing with a normal schedule of meetings and travel as hospitals fill with ill patients. He hasn’t asked Americans to change their daily routines, and White House officials say there won’t be any more lockdowns. And when Trump travels or stands by others, he doesn’t wear a mask, a precaution urged by health officials. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

Happening on the Hill

Testing Site Funding: House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Chairman James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and House Democrats from Texas, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania wrote to HHS Secretary Alex Azar asking him to reverse the administration’s decision to end federal funding for 13 coronavirus testing sites in those states at the end of the month. HHS has denied this change will affect the testing sites, Alex Ruoff reports. Read the letter here.

Dunford Is Leading Contender for Chairman of Oversight Panel: Retired Marine General Joseph Dunford, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the leading candidate to head the bipartisan Congressional Oversight Commission that’s policing about $500 billion in coronavirus rescue loans made to industries, according to two people familiar with the matter. Read more from Billy House.

Democrats’ ACA Measure: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement yesterday the House will vote Monday on H.R. 1425, a bill to bolster Obamacare and allow the government to negotiate the price of some medicines.

Related: Obamacare Coverage Spikes After Covid-Related Job Losses

Testing, Treatment & Research

Pregnant Women Are at Higher Risk: Pregnant women with Covid-19 are at higher risk for being hospitalized and ending up in an intensive-care unit than those who aren’t pregnant, the CDC said yesterday. The CDC added pregnancy to a list of conditions that make Covid-19 patients more likely to suffer from severe complications. A study from the agency found pregnant women were 5.4 times more likely to be hospitalized, 1.5 times more likely to be admitted to ICUs and 1.7 times more likely to receive mechanical ventilation. Anna Edney has more.

Moderna, Catalent Collaborate to Fill-Finish Vaccine: Moderna and Catalent will collaborate for a large-scale, commercial fill-finish production of Moderna’s mRNA-based new Covid-19 vaccine candidate at Catalent’s 875,000 square-foot biologics facility in Bloomington, Ind. Catalent will provide vial filling, packaging, and necessary staff to support the manufacturing of an initial 100 million doses of the candidate, which is intended to supply the American market beginning in the third quarter, Malak Saleh reports.

  • Meanwhile, the departments of Defense and Health and Human Services are rolling out a joint push to purchase surplus manufacturing capacity to produce millions of doses of a Covid-19 vaccine once it becomes available. The government will pay manufacturers to reserve unallocated production slots and cover the facilities and labor costs associated with freeing spare capacity, according to a notice, Chris Cornillie reports.

Texas Halts Reopening as Cases Surge: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) halted the phased reopening of the state’s economy, citing a surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations. Under Abbott’s executive order signed yesterday, businesses that were already permitted to open can continue to operate under their existing occupancy limits. Meanwhile, Houston’s Covid-19 outbreak is accelerating at an exponential rate that will swamp the fourth-largest city’s medical infrastructure by the Independence Day holiday, just two weeks away, a leading disease specialist warned. Read more from Joe Carroll.

Nursing Home Staffing Rules Eased During Virus Go Back in Effect: The Trump administration is once again requiring nursing homes to submit payroll-based staffing data to federal regulators to provide a more accurate assessment of workforce levels during the Covid-19 pandemic. Read more from Tony Pugh.

More Headlines:

What Else to Know Today

Trump Administration Urges Court to Topple Affordable Care Act: Trump’s administration told the Supreme Court that the Affordable Care Act is invalid, including its protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Filing a brief late Thursday in a case the court is set to hear around the time of the November election, the administration said “the entire ACA thus must fall” because of a tax law change made by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2017. The administration is backing efforts by Republican-controlled states to invalidate the 2010 law, which is being defended by 20 other states and the District of Columbia. A federal appeals court found part of the measure unconstitutional and left doubt about the rest of it. Greg Stohr and Steven T. Dennis.

Pandemic Not a Reason for Upholding ACA, Red States Say: The Democratic states fighting to uphold Obamacare were wrong to cite the pandemic as a key reason to uphold the law, a coalition of Republican-led states told the Supreme Court. Justices are set to hear arguments next term, starting in October, in the high stakes fight over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. The GOP-led states say the entire law must be struck down because the ACA contains an unconstitutional mandate that can no longer be labeled as a tax. Lydia Wheeler has more.

  • Separately, former Vice President Joe Biden assailed Trump’s efforts to undo the Affordable Care Act, imploring him yesterday to drop a suit he said was “unconscionable” during a public health crisis. Biden said he was concerned the Supreme Court would strike down the health care law, but he vowed to pass a “beefed-up” version if he is elected president. Tyler Pager has more.

More Headlines:

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

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

Top