HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Trump Pressed for More Virus Data by Race

Lawmakers in the House are turning up the heat on President Donald Trump’s administration to publish more information on Covid-19 patients by race, saying insufficient data is hurting efforts to remedy equities in the U.S.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) called on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to release specific Medicare outcomes data categorized by race, ethnicity and gender, as agency heads have previously promised to do. CMS also should publish a comprehensive strategy for reducing racial disparities in Covid-19 cases, he said.

“This is a wholly inadequate response,” Pallone said at a hearing his panel held yesterday on racial disparities. Pallone sent a letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma Tuesday asking for the outcomes data. Verma had said at an April news conference that her agency would release Medicare demographics data “very shortly.”

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said the “federal data collection is very important” and called on her colleagues to support legislation to direct the government to require new reporting of Covid-19 data.

Black Americans in particular make up an outsized portion of both coronavirus cases and deaths: African Americans make up about 13% of the population but constitute around 33% of the nation’s total Covid-19 cases, current federal data show. Black Americans die due to Covid-19 at a rate of 54.6 deaths per 100,000, over double the death rate among Whites.

Democrats have previously pushed to send federal dollars to both community and faith-based organizations for outreach and public education as well as for collecting data on how the coronavirus affects minority communities.

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, said he agreed lawmakers need to address racial inequities in health outcomes for Americans and urged his colleagues to work on “legislation that can actually become law.” Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Inequality in Medical Research: The disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black communities is also prompting a re-examination of historic inequities in medical research. Breaking through decades of mistrust from Black Americans to ensure medical research adequately reflects the U.S. population means that scientists will need to think more about how they engage with minority groups.

With over $16.5 billion pegged for clinical research in fiscal 2020, the National Institutes of Health could tap the funds to encourage researchers to improve their outreach to minority populations when readying studies, bioethicists say. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

Congressional Virus Efforts

Pelosi Asks Panels to Exclude Maskless Members: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has asked House committee leaders to exclude members who fail to comply with requirements to wear masks during committee proceedings, according to a senior Democratic aide familiar with guidance issued on Tuesday. The members can always choose to participate virtually in committee activities, the aide said.

At a House Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) challenged whether House rules allow him to be required to don a mask. “You choose to wear a mask, I do not,” McClintock said. “I consider masks much more effective at spreading panic and much less effective at stopping a virus” that he contended is “less severe than the flu” for healthy people under age 50. Read more from Billy and Erik Wasson.
Related: Republican Challenges Pelosi Mask Requirement at House Hearing

Equal Pay for Telehealth Called Vital After Pandemic: Virtual doctor visits should pay the same rate as in-office checkups even after the pandemic ends, telehealth advocates told the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. The panel hosted a hearing yesterday to consider what recent telehealth changes to keep once the public health emergency ends. Ayanna Alexander has more.

  • Executives from 20 telehealth, health information technology, and health-care organizations have formed a task force to help advise Congress on telehealth policy. The group has members from telemedicine companies like AmWell and Teladoc as well as the AARP and the federal government. The Taskforce on Telehealth will hold its first meeting on Monday and issue a set of recommendations by September, an announcement by the group said, Alex Ruoff reports.
  • Related: Telemedicine Coverage Expands In N.Y. Under Bill Signed by Cuomo

Democrats Allege Private Equity Covid-19 Favoritism: Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), and Katie Porter (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar requesting details about reports that CMS offered up to $1.5 billion interest-free loans to health care companies “owned by multi-billion dollar Wall Street private equity firms while community hospitals increasingly falter under enormous losses.” Read their letter here.

Spending Packages Delayed by Virus, Policing Efforts: Senate markups of the fiscal 2021 spending bills that were initially planned for next week are being delayed due to disagreements over amendments on the coronavirus and criminal justice issues, a Senate Republican aide said yesterday, Jack Fitzpatrick reports.

Senate appropriators initially planned to issue notice this week of markups next week, but that’s no longer the case, the aide said. Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee told Republicans they plan to offer amendments on additional spending for Covid-19 response and on issues relevant to other legislation on policing, the aide said. Republicans don’t believe those amendments belong in spending legislation, according to the aide.

“There is bipartisan agreement that we need to address the COVID pandemic,” Senate Appropriations Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a statement. “Offering and considering amendments related to appropriations to address the most important issues of the day is not partisan, it is the job the Committee is here to do.”

Pandemic Preparedness: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a hearing today on Covid-19 and international pandemic prevention and response.

Testing, Treatment & Vaccine Efforts

Doctors Fear Arizona Virus Overload: A surge in Covid-19 hospitalizations and cases in states including Arizona, Texas, and Florida is showing signs of straining health systems and increasing concern about how officials will respond to a new wave of infections after loosening lockdowns.

Arizona reported its highest number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients, 1,582 on Tuesday, a count that for the first time exceeds New York. In New York, once the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, the daily death count fell to 17 yesterday, down from a high earlier this year of 799.

In Arizona, where coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are rising to the alarm of experts, hospitals still face a critical limitation: staff. Read more from Emma Court, John Tozzi and Brenna Goth.

  • Texas is struggling to track a surge in Covid-19 cases as hospitalizations accelerate and the reserve of intensive-case beds shrinks in the state’s biggest cities. Read more from Joe Carroll and Susan Warren.
  • The positivity rate among Florida Covid-19 tests surged to the highest daily level since at least April, undercutting Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) case that a recent increase in cases is in part the result of elevated testing. Read more from Jonathan Levin and Michael Smith.

Related:

Trump Should Delay Tulsa Rally Over Virus, Local Official Says: The top public health official in Tulsa, Oklahoma, said he recommended delaying Trump’s rally there on Saturday amid a spike in local coronavirus cases. But the event is moving forward, which has prompted Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Bruce Dart to recommend precautions for those attending. “I recommended it be postponed until it’s safer — until the data tells us that it’s not as large a concern to have people indoors and in enclosed spaces with the threat of Covid-19 transmission,” Dart said at a news conference in Tulsa yesterday. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

Trump Says Coronavirus Will ‘Fade Away’ Even Without Vaccine: The coronavirus pandemic will “fade away” even without a vaccine, but researchers are close to developing one anyhow, Trump said. “We’re very close to a vaccine and we’re very close to therapeutics, really good therapeutics,” Trump said Wednesday night in a television interview with Fox News. “But even without that, I don’t even like to talk about that, because it’s fading away, it’s going to fade away, but having a vaccine would be really nice and that’s going to happen.” Read more from Josh Wingrove.

Hydroxychloroquine Testing Halted in WHO Trial: Researchers decided to halt the hydroxychloroquine portion of a World Health Organization trial of potential Covid-19 treatments, an official said. A group of experts advising the WHO’s Solidarity trial concluded that the drug shows no benefit compared with the standard of care in reducing deaths. Thomas Mulier reports.

Summer Heat Waves Threaten Those Most at Risk From Covid: Many health and city planners predict the Covid-19 crisis could get much worse as the U.S. faces what is expected to be one of the hottest summers on record.

The poor, the elderly, and people of color could face the toughest times yet as they are disproportionately being impacted by the coronavirus, and the economic recession will make it harder for many from these communities to afford basic utilities. The situation will be particularly dangerous for those stuck at home with Covid-19 symptoms, who don’t have—or can’t afford to run—air conditioning. Read more from Maya Earls.

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What Else to Know Today

Senators Push Drug Price Disclosures Bill: Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) lamented a federal appeals court verdict that struck down an HHS rule to require drug advertisements on TV to include the list price of the prescription medicine. “Big Pharma fought for months in court to prevent patients from knowing the price of their drug,” they said in a statement yesterday. “We will continue to advance our bipartisan legislation to get American patients the information they deserve to hear about drug prices.”

  • Sens. Grassley, Durbin, Angus King (I-Maine), and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) last year unveiled a bipartisan bill that would codify the HHS regulation. That measure was reworked as an amendment to a Senate appropriations package, but was ultimately left off.
  • Outside groups are also pushing for legislation to require price disclosures. “Congress must step-in to provide greater transparency into Big Pharma’s pricing practices,” Lauren Aronson, executive director for the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing, said in a statement.

Menthol Said Targeted at Black People: The Food and Drug Administration’s decision to let menthol cigarettes remain on the market is disproportionately killing Black men and women in the U.S., and subjecting them to worsened lung infections including Covid-19, a new lawsuit filed in California yesterday by the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council argued. Read more from Peter Hayes.

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To contact the reporters on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com; Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@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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