HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: White House Said to Balk at Testing Funds

The Trump administration is balking at $25 billion in new funding favored by congressional Republicans in the next pandemic relief bill to help states with coronavirus testing and contact tracing, a person familiar with the talks said.

Also opposed is a plan to allocate billions of additional dollars for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and extra funding for the departments of Defense and State to address the outbreak around the world, said the person, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

The move comes as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) prepares to release a GOP-only bill this week before engaging in negotiations with Democrats on what would be the fifth legislative action to address Covid-19, and likely the last before the November election.

Talks are ongoing before the bill’s release and the situation is fluid, the person said, with final numbers far from being nailed down. The person said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has proposed that the health funding be cut, and money included instead for a new FBI headquarters, long a priority for President Donald Trump.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the appropriations committee, had been asked to craft a health care section of the bill and has said he wants robust funding for it. Senate Republicans want to provide the means to boost coronavirus testing and contact tracing efforts, but the administration argues that previously-approved funding for tests remains unspent. Erik Wasson, Mario Parker, and Laura Litvan have more.

Talks on the package will start at the White House today with McConnell, Mnuchin, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and others, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said on Fox News Channel yesterday. Mnuchin “is leading it from our side,” Meadows said, Bloomberg News’ Mario Parker, Erik Wasson and Laura Litvan report.

Happening on the Hill

McCarthy to Require GOP Members to Wear Masks: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), in an about-face Friday, will require his GOP colleagues to wear face coverings when they gather for a conference tomorrow, according to a summary of his directive. McCarthy has previously said members should wear masks at the Capitol, but he hadn’t been insisting on it. Democrats have complained that some Republicans have been appearing without masks at in-person hearings or on the House floor. Billy House has more.

Trump Urged to Reverse Virus Data Decision: Senate Democrats called on the Trump administration to reverse recent changes that require hospitals to report coronavirus data to the Health and Human Services Department rather than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those changes pose “challenges to the nation’s response by increasing the data management burden for hospitals, potentially delaying critical supply shipments” and “reducing transparency,” the lawmakers said. Read more from Megan Howard.

CDC’s Testimony Blocked, Scott Says: House Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) accused the administration of blocking testimony by the CDC to his panel. Officials from the CDC were asked to testify in a public hearing on school re-openings, Scott said in a statement. It is “alarming” the White House is preventing CDC testimony “at a time when its expertise and guidance is so critical” to the health of students, parents, and educators, Scott says, Ben Livesey reports.

Appropriations: House leaders on Thursday and Friday plan to take up the first package of fiscal 2021 appropriations measures (H.R. 7608), including the Agriculture-FDA and State and Foreign Operations bills. The State and Foreign Operations measure would require Trump to send $200 million to the World Health Organization and block the U.S. policy, often called the “Mexico City policy,” that bars federal funding for international groups that perform or recommend abortions.

Child Care: Two bills on child care (H.R. 7027) and child safety (H.R. 7327) could get a vote as soon as this week. Many small-scale child-care providers have been required to close because of health and safety restrictions, according to a report in June from center-right think tank American Action Forum. Republicans and Democrats have sought more investment in the child-care industry because workers can’t return without safe child care, Jaclyn Diaz reports.

Hearings on the Hill:

  • The House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations panel holds a hearing tomorrow on the development of a Covid-19 vaccine. Executives from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna, and Pfizer are set to testify.
  • The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis holds a hearing tomorrow on a national plan to contain the coronavirus.
  • The Senate Special Committee on Aging holds a hearing tomorrow on the impact of Covid-19 on seniors and minority groups, and health disparities.
  • The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday plans to mark up 29 bills including: S. 4204 that would create an interagency task force to analyze the nation’s preparedness for pandemics; and S. 4210 that would authorize transfers of certain equipment during public health crises.
  • The House Natural Resources Indigenous Peoples of the U.S. Subcommittee on Wednesday will discuss four bills on indigenous peoples’ health services and child safety.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on Wednesday on zoonotic disease threats from illegal wildlife trafficking.
  • The House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education plans a hearing Thursday on safely reopening schools after Covid-19-related shutdowns.

More on the Pandemic

Pooled Testing Approved to Boost Detection: The FDA has authorized “pool testing” for Covid-19, a move aimed at widening checks for the virus and using fewer testing resources. Quest Diagnostics will be able to test samples with as many as four individual swab specimens, the agency said over the weekend in an emergency-use authorization.

The samples collected would then get tested in a “batch” using one test, instead of running each individual sample through its own test. If the pool is positive, it means one or more of the individuals tested may be infected, so each of those samples in the pool is then tested again, individually. Chinese officials used the “pool” tactic to quickly test vast numbers of people in Beijing and Wuhan earlier this year. Read more from Jim Silver and Ros Krasny.

More on Vaccine, Testing & Research Efforts:

Trump Plays Down Spike in Virus Cases: Trump played down rising cases of Covid-19 in the U.S., saying many experience nothing more than “sniffles,” that positive tests are only up due to broader testing, and that the U.S. response is the “envy of the world.” Trump also said Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious diseases specialist, is a “little bit of an alarmist,” but that the two men have a “great relationship.” He made the comments in a lengthy interview on Fox News yesterday that was recorded Friday. Read more from Mario Parker.

More on Federal Response & Coordination:

Shalala Urges Florida Lockdown: Former HHS chief and Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) said yesterday Florida’s Covid-19 outbreak is “totally out of control” and called for a lockdown of the third most-populous U.S. state. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has declined to impose a mask-wearing mandate in Florida, which reported a record 156 virus-related deaths among residents on Thursday. Read more from Tony Czuczka.

More on Reopenings & State Situations:

What Else to Know Today

Trump Wins on Obamacare Alternative: Short-term health plans that don’t meet Obamacare standards can remain in place after the D.C. federal appeals court said on Friday that they don’t violate the Affordable Care Act. Short-term plans let people buy health insurance when they experience a gap in health-care coverage due to circumstances like being out of work. Those plans aren’t required to offer the same 10 essential benefits required of ACA-backed plans. Read more from Fawn Johnson.

Outpatient Medicare Payment Policy Wins Nod: The Medicare program can continue to pay the same rate for medical services whether they were provided at a doctor’s office or a hospital outpatient clinic, a federal appeals court ruled Friday. The decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reverses a lower court ruling saying the so-called “site-neutral” payment policy was unlawful. Read more from Fawn Johnson and Tony Pugh.

Hospitals File Appeal Over Disclosure Rule: Leading hospital trade groups say a federal district judge was wrong to uphold a Trump administration rule forcing hospitals to publicly disclose prices they negotiate with insurance companies for medical procedures. In an appeal Friday to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, hospital industry groups led by the American Hospital Association allege the Health and Human Services Department overstated the rule’s benefits while inadequately considering its burden. Read more from Lydia Wheeler.

Industry & Regulations:

From the Courts:

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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