HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: States Form Test-Buying Pact in Trump Snub

A bipartisan group of governors across seven states, led by Maryland’s Larry Hogan (R), has formed a pact with the Rockefeller Foundation to buy millions of antigen tests for the coronavirus, the most significant move so far of U.S. states teaming up to fight the pandemic rather than working through the federal government.

The pact currently includes seven states, which together plan to buy 3 million tests, with the foundation helping to marshal funds. But the governors aim to recruit more states, assuring test-makers of the biggest possible market.

The group includes governors of Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia, and the states are already in discussions with manufacturers like Becton, Dickinson & Co., and Quidel. The tests, which search for proteins on the surface of the virus, can deliver results in 15 to 20 minutes.

The agreement is a significant rebuke to the administration of President Donald Trump, which hasn’t formulated a national plan to fight the illness.

“With severe shortages and delays in testing and the federal administration attempting to cut funding for testing, the states are banding together to acquire millions of faster tests to help save lives and slow the spread,” said Hogan, the outgoing chairman of the National Governors Association.

Hogan has openly criticized Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, including in an excerpt from his coming book published by The Washington Post, where he said Trump’s lack of leadership forced governors to confront the virus on their own.

In response to a question about the pact, Brett Giroir, the federal government’s virus testing czar, said only that the White House has “expanded testing capacity so states can access rapid antigen testing” and is currently working with makers of tests “to ensure the most vulnerable populations have access.” David R. Baker and Emma Court have more.

Aid, Research & Treatment

Mnuchin Aiming for Aid Deal This Week: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration and Democrats aim to strike a deal on virus relief legislation by the end of the week even though the two sides remain far apart on some key issues.

“We are not at the point of being close to a deal, but we did try to agree to set a timeline that we’re going to try to reach an overall agreement, if we can get one, by the end of this week, so that legislation could then pass next week,” Mnuchin said yesterday after meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Mnuchin and Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Republicans would agree to a moratorium on evictions through the end of the year and also made an offer on unemployment insurance, one of the primary sticking points in the negotiations. Many lawmakers were skeptical a deal could be in hand by Friday. But in one sign of genuine movement in the talks, Schumer said the two sides were exchanging detailed proposals. Read more from Erik Wasson, Laura Litvan, and Steven T. Dennis.

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Ambulance Companies Seek $3 Billion in Relief: Ambulance companies want the Health and Human Services Department to send some of the $60 billion it’s left in help for health-care providers to their industry. The American Ambulance Association, which represents the ambulance industry, has been lobbying on the issue all year, federal disclosures show, as Americans delay care and avoid going to hospitals. Alex Ruoff has more.

Lilly Targets Mild Cases With Study: One of the first promising treatments for those with mild cases of Covid-19 moved into mid-stage clinical trials yesterday to see if Eli Lilly’s lab-created antibodies can shorted the severity of the disease. The National Institutes of Health announced two clinical trials for “monoclonal antibodies”—proteins developed in the lab to block the virus from infecting the body—for patients with earlier stages of Covid-19, Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, said. Jeannie Baumann has more.

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What Else to Know Today

Climate Change: The House Oversight and Reform Committee holds a hearing on the health impacts of climate change.

Azar to Make Most Senior Visit to Taiwan: Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar will lead a delegation to Taiwan in the highest-level visit by a U.S. cabinet official since Washington cut ties with Taipei more than 40 years ago. Azar is scheduled to arrive in Taiwan “in the coming days” to discuss the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic and give supplies of medical equipment and technology, according to a statement from the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto U.S. embassy in Taipei. Read more from Samson Ellis.

Group Launches Ads Against Trump on Drug Pricing: An influential industry group is expanding its digital and television ad campaign to oppose a potential move by the White House to address high drug costs. The National Association of Manufacturers unveiled the new advertisement that asks viewers to “tell the White House to oppose International Price Indexing,” which would tie the price of drugs in the U.S. to those in other countries. The ad buy, which cost upwards of $1 million, is targeted to the Washington area, according to the group.

The association is among those that argue the move would stifle innovation and make it harder for drugmakers to research and develop treatments for diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s, in addition to future pandemics. “We’re unsure why the White House has chosen to dangle an ax above these manufacturers’ heads by threatening this policy,” said Jay Timmons, who leads the trade group.

NAM, which represents manufacturers across sectors of the economy, is among other trade groups that have also started airing ads blasting the potential move. The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, which represents pharmacy benefit managers, has also run commercials. Trump has fired back over Twitter multiple times over the past two weeks, saying that the ads are false, Megan R. Wilson reports.

DOJ Wants $11 Billion in Purdue Bankruptcy: The Department of Justice is demanding Purdue Pharma, maker of the infamous OxyContin opioid painkiller, pay more than $11 billion in criminal and civil penalties as part of its bankruptcy reorganization plan, according to people familiar with the claims. Read more from Jef Feeley.

CDC Warns of Paralysis in Kids: Parents and pediatricians should be on alert for a rare neurological condition afflicting children that may lead to long-term paralysis and infrequently death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Acute flaccid myelitis has been around for years at low levels, but serious outbreaks began in 2014, when 120 children were afflicted. Since then, it’s struck in growing numbers every other year in late summer and fall. Michelle Fay Cortez has more.

Hospitals Buying Cheaper Drugs See Further Cuts: Hospitals would see even smaller reimbursements for medications bought at a discount next year than in previous years under a Medicare proposal that would hit facilities serving lower- income patients hardest. The U.S. government yesterday suggested a 6% cut to how much it pays certain hospitals for drugs the hospital originally bought at a steep discount, a program known as 340B. Read more from Jacquie Lee.

Public Charge Rule Rejected by Appeals Court: A U.S. appeals court upheld a ruling blocking the White House from denying legal status to immigrants who receive certain public assistance, such as most Medicaid benefits, although the decision won’t have immediate effect because of a decision in January by the Supreme Court, and the order is limited to New York, Connecticut, and Vermont, the states within the appeals court’s jurisdiction. Read more from Bobby Van Voris.

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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

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