HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Trump Tests Positive for Covid-19

President Donald Trump said early today that he has tested positive for coronavirus along with his wife and one of his closest aides, throwing an already volatile campaign into deeper disarray just one month before the election.

“Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!,” the president said on Twitter, hours after Bloomberg News reported that the adviser, Hope Hicks, had fallen ill with the virus.

The election campaign against Democrat Joe Biden has focused heavily on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, which has already killed more than 200,000 Americans and deepened inequalities. Biden and others have criticized Trump’s response as slow off the mark and ineffective.

The White House already announced that Trump was canceling all public events, including a rally in Florida, today. Normal virus protocols could keep him off the campaign trail at least 10 days and possibly longer at a critical moment when he was trying to gain ground on Biden, who polls show is holding steady with about a 7 percentage-point lead nationally.

In a memo released early this morning, Trump’s physician said that the president and first lady plan to remain at the White House “during their convalescence” and that the medical unit would “maintain a vigilant watch.”

“Rest assured I expect the president to continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering, and I will keep you updated on any future developments,” White House physician Scott Conley said. Read more from Jordan Fabian.

  • Trump is 74 years old and overweight, putting him into a higher-risk category of Covid-19 patients and thrusting his health into the spotlight just a month before the U.S. election. The positive diagnosis for the world’s most powerful man and First Lady Melania Trump threw a new wrench into the gears of a chaotic campaign that many see as a referendum on his handling of the virus. Trump’s age, weight and gender all make him more susceptible to complications than his wife, who’s 24 years younger. Read more from Lisa Du and Sybilla Gross.
  • Trump interacted or traveled with a large coterie of top aides and advisers in the days before he was diagnosed with Covid-19, raising the risk of a widespread outbreak within the White House. The circle of close contacts with the infected president and his wife, Melania, begins with his adviser Hope Hicks, who fell ill on Wednesday night. She traveled with Trump to the presidential debate on Tuesday and to campaign stops in Minnesota on Wednesday. She was seen in close quarters with several other officials, including White House senior adviser Stephen Miller and Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller. Read more from Jordan Fabian.

CDC Funding for Covid Testing Stalled

The bulk of a $1 billion funding package meant to help the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention battle the Covid-19 pandemic in the U.S. has remained unspent since being authorized over five months ago, people familiar with the matter said.

The funds were set aside by Congress in April for “surveillance, epidemiology, laboratory capacity expansion, contact tracing,” improvements to data systems and boosting testing for Covid-19. Trump administration officials directed $200 million of the money to a $300 million ad campaign about the virus, according to a CDC spokesman. The ad campaign is being developed outside the agency.

CDC Director Robert Redfield said last month the agency needs billions more to help distribute a vaccine. Other funds allocated to the agency have been steered to the administration’s “Operation Warp Speed” vaccine development program, of which the CDC is a part.

But most of the allocation has sat idle despite requests over the summer from CDC to access some of the funding, one person familiar with the matter said. Two of the people familiar with the issue confirmed the CDC didn’t have access to the money as recently as September. The people asked not to be identified discussing information that wasn’t public.

The CDC said in a statement the rest of the funds would be spent later: “CDC will begin to use the remainder of the PPP funding to support planned activities.” A senior administration official said that no money has been held up and that the White House Office of Management and Budget approved the CDC’s use of the funding. Read more from John Tozzi and Shira Stein.

House Expands PR Contracts HHS Probe: The House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis expanded their investigation into HHS’s public relations contracts to advertise the president’s virus response in the runup to the election with inquiries sent to two more companies: Atlas Research and DD&T Group. The panels had earlier called for HHS and another contractor, Fores Marsh Group, to suspend $250 million contracted to create ads, which the Democratic lawmakers called “political propaganda”, according to a press release.

Senate Blocks Bipartisan Effort to Stop Attacks on ACA

The Senate yesterday blocked a bill to prohibit the Department of Justice from supporting a legal challenge against the Affordable Care Act. The Senate voted 51-43 on the measure (S. 4653), not enough to move to a vote on passage. The measure was put on the Senate’s calendar this week in a rare move by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that allowed him to force a vote on the bill.

The legislation takes aim at a Trump administration-backed lawsuit challenging the legality of the ACA that’s set to go before the Supreme Court shortly after the Nov. 3 elections. “I think my Republican colleagues are the dog that caught the car,” Schumer said yesterday.

Republicans up for re-election this year—Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Martha McSally (Ariz.), and Dan Sullivan (Alaska)—joined Senate Democrats in supporting the bill. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is not up for reelection this year, also voted for the bill.

Overturning the Affordable Care Act by a court order would “wreak havoc” on insurance markets, leaving more than 23 millions without insurance coverage, Senate Democratic leaders and their allies argued yesterday.

More people than ever rely on the ACA’s insurance subsides and the Medicaid expansion that occurred under the health law in most states, according to a new analysis by the left-leaning Center for American Progress. The CAP analysis also found that nearly 7 million people diagnosed with Covid-19 this year would have a pre-existing condition that could make it difficult for them to obtain insurance coverage without the ACA.

Trump has said if the ACA is struck down he will replace it with a cheaper, “better” system. Trump has yet to unveil the details of the plan or explain broadly how it would work.

Republicans in Congress say they will step in to ensure millions of Americans don’t lose their health insurance if the ACA is overturned by a court and that Democrats are politicizing the issue. “Every single Senate Republican supports protecting people with pre-existing conditions,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said earlier this week, Alex Ruoff reports.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Azar Testifies: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is scheduled to testify today before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

House Passes Stimulus Without GOP Support: House Democrats narrowly passed their $2.2 trillion compromise coronavirus bill last night, but it hasn’t gotten lawmakers any closer to a bipartisan deal that can become law.

The House voted 214-207 to pass the measure, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continued to try to negotiate a bipartisan deal that could clear both chambers. Seventeen Democrats voted against the measure, and no Republicans supported it. Pelosi said late yesterday she planned to review some documents Mnuchin sent as part of the negotiations, Jack Fitzpatrick reports.

Read more on the stimulus from Billy House and Erik Wasson.

  • Hospitals and other health providers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic can apply for $20 billion in federal aid, the Department of Health and Human Services announced yesterday. HHS has distributed more than $100 billion to health-care providers that experienced revenue losses as a result of Covid. Read more from Fawn Johnson and Shira Stein.

Democrats Unveil Bill to Expedite Covid Test Results: Reps. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), and Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) yesterday unveiled a bill that would encourage “diagnostic laboratories to maximize testing volume and turnaround Covid-19 test results faster,” they said in a statement. “Delivering results faster improves the diagnostic value of the result and can mitigate the spread of the virus,” it said. Read text of the bill.

‘Crazy Fast’ Vaccine Race Has Drug Companies Pushing Limits: On March 16, just two months after researchers deciphered the genetic code of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, Moderna’s vaccine began human trials. Now, no less than four Covid vaccines are hurtling toward the finish line in the U.S. Moderna and Pfizer, along with its German partner BioNTech, are leading the pack with vaccines that require two doses, while a single-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson began a late-phase trial last week. “This is beyond unprecedented,” says Otto Yang, a viral immunologist at UCLA. “It is crazy fast.” Read more from Robert Langreth.

Answers Sought After Apollo’s Hospitals Get Aid: Three Democrats asked the federal government for an accounting of aid grants and loans to private equity-backed health-care companies. In a letter yesterday to Azar, they requested information on which providers had been denied taxpayer relief and on the process behind allocating those loans. Reps. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and others also sought a breakdown of taxpayer funding by provider type as well as ownership. Read more from Sabrina Willmer.

Hospitals Ask for Covid Data Guidance: Hospitals say they’re driving blind without guidelines to interpret a new rule from the Trump administration requiring them to report daily Covid-19 data to the federal government. The interim final rule, which took effect last month, requires the nation’s 6,200 Medicare- and Medicaid-certified hospitals to provide daily updates to HHS on numerous Covid-related measures like infections, test results, intensive-care patient counts, and supplies of protective gear. Read more from Tony Pugh.

Situations Across States:

Response & Coordination:

More on the Pandemic:

What Else to Know

SCOTUS Asked to End Split on Family Planning Rule: Three national health-care groups yesterday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a Ninth Circuit decision upholding a Trump administration rule that prohibits federally funded family planning service providers from referring patients for abortion. The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the rule is in line with federal law and that HHS acted properly in adopting it. Mary Anne Pazanowski has more.

In the Courts:

More Headlines:

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: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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