The parties are still divided over pandemic response – but some bipartisan cooperation could be on the table
On the docket today: Responding to the current pandemic — and preparing for the next.
🚨 : The White House is planning to notify congressional leadership today about the steps it will start taking to stop certain coronavirus response efforts. The hiatus of certain pandemic measures comes because lawmakers didn’t provide additional coronavirus aid by last week, per a person familiar with the White House’s plan.
Congress’ plan to provide $15.6 billion to fight the coronavirus collapsed last week, leaving lawmakers to pass a long-term government funding bill that excluded the new pandemic aid. The administration has argued that key parts of its covid-19 response would need to be scaled back or halted without more funding — and the letter being sent today is expected to detail the impact.
- Some outside experts said the White House had failed to lay the groundwork for why more dollars were needed, our colleagues Dan Diamond other Tony Romm reported last week. And Republicans have argued they want a full accounting of how the government has spent roughly $6 trillion in pandemic aid approved to date.
- Since January, senior administration officials have held more than three dozen calls and meetings with members on both sides of the aisle on their belief that more covid-19 response funds are urgently needed. That’s in addition to holding at least 10 briefings for congressional committees and sending over tables on the status of covid-19 funds, per person familiar.
The Senate HELP Committee is set to vote today on a sweeping bill to combat future pandemics — a bright spot of bipartisanship amid a pandemic that’s polarized the country. The panel’s chair, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and top Republican, Sen. Richard Burr (NC), hashed out the plan for nearly a year.
The legislation includes measures to improve disease data collection, bolster oversight of health agencies and support research on long covid. The panel also plans to consider establishing a measure President Biden’s new agency to speed up medical research as part of the broader pandemic package dubbed the Prevent Pandemics Act.
- “I look forward to passing this bill out of committee today — and into law soon — to show families across the country there is bipartisan support for making sure we learn from this pandemic,” Murray plans to say at the markup, according to an excerpt of her prepared remarks.
Yet understanding the past is critical for preparing for the future. The bill from Murray and Burr would establish a 12-member independent task force to probe the nation’s response to the coronavirus and the virus’ origins modeled after the 9/11 Commission.
If the measure advances, it’ll be the closest lawmakers have come to supporting such an investigation two years into the crisis, our colleague Dan Diamond reports this morning.
So far, Democrats and Republicans have largely pursued their own probes, as they seek to shape the public’s perception of the pandemic response ahead of the midterm elections. Dan chronicles those partisan efforts:
The Democrats’ panel: A House panel created by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) is slated to finalize a report later this year. The effort has been focused on the Trump administration’s missteps, and in recent weeks, the subcommittee has privately interviewed former top officials, such as Stephen Hahn, who led the Food and Drug Administration, other scott atlas, a former presidential adviser. Robert Redfield — the former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director — is slated to speak privately with the panel.
Republican efforts: The GOP members of two separate House committees and several Republican senators are targeting the government’s top infectious-disease expert, Anthony Fauci. They allege he hasn’t been forthcoming, for instance, into whether his agency played a role in the pandemic by funding “gain of function” research — a charge that Fauci denies, Dan writes.
- Such efforts could intensify if Republicans win back one or both chambers. Sen. Edge Paul (R-Ky.), who would be in line to lead the Senate HELP Committee, has already vowed to probe Fauci after sparring with him in congressional hearings.
- “It’s Benghazi hearings all over again,” Fauci told Dan, referencing the GOP-led probes into Hillary Clintons leadership of the State Department during 2012 attacks on US compounds in Libya. “They’ll try to beat me up in public, and there’ll be nothing there.”
Millions likely to fall off Medicaid coverage once the pandemic’s emergency phase ends
States are facing a herculean mission: They must determine whose incomes have risen above the public insurance program’s eligibility threshold, while others could be removed because of administrative mistakes, our colleague Amy Goldstein reports.
Key context: The federal government has provided states with extra funding since March 2020 in exchange for a moratorium on terminating coverage for Medicaid recipients during the pandemic.
- The additional funding will last no more than three months after the public health emergency expires. As a result, policy analysts said state Medicaid offices may be inclined to move hastily through the renewal process to cut costs despite being allotted over a year to sort through enrollees.
- Many of those who will be removed from Medicaid will likely qualify for private health plans. But it’s unclear how many people will disappear, rather than slide over to other insurances.
A monumental task: Health officials warn that rushing through the process of judging the eligibility of Medicaid beneficiaries — which have swelled 22 percent nationwide since the start of the pandemic — could result in coverage being improperly terminated for vulnerable Americans by mistake.
For Biden health officials, helping states get ready has been a preoccupation for several months. They’ve sent states a detailed punch list of recommended steps, dispatched letters spelling out federal expectations and talked often with local officials.
Joan Alker, executive director of Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families
Medicaid is the backbone of children’s health insurance and has provided stability to families during the pandemic.
Medicaid/CHIP are now covering more than half of children in the United States. The vast majority are in Medicaid. When PHE lifts, this stability will be at risk.
— Joan Alker (@JoanAlker1) February 17, 2022
White House aims to expand federal covid-19 tracking system under CDC
The Biden administration wants to make a pandemic-era hospital data monitoring program permanent so that federal agencies can continue to monitor infection rates and health outcomes once the program’s authorization expires, Reuters reports.
What happened: Last month, the CDC took over management of the data collection system designed by HHS under the Trump administration.
- The transfer of power comes amid criticism surrounding the agency’s lack of transparency, slow analysis of covid-19 data and confusing communication with the public regarding pandemic guidelines.
- But yet … several experts told Reuters the CDC was the appropriate choice to oversee the program, noting the agency received $500 million for data modernization efforts under the American Rescue Plan.
Under the proposed plan, roughly 6,200 hospitals would be required to submit data on the number of flu-like illnesses and other diseases with pandemic potential. Reporting such information would be a condition of hospitals’ participation in the Medicare and Medicaid programs — which is a key funding source for many health-care facilities.
Pfizer tries to distance itself from Russia while keeping supply chains open
Pfizer announced plans to donate all profits from its Russian subsidiary to causes providing humanitarian support to Ukraine. However, the company plans to continue to supply medicines to Russia, believing such a pause could harm patient care.
- The announcement comes amid a mass exodus of Western businesses trying to distance themselves from Russia as the conflict escalates, but pharmaceutical companies have been slow to participate, Kaiser Health News reported last week.
- “Ending delivery of medicines, including cancer or cardiovascular therapies, would cause significant patient suffering and potential loss of life, particularly among children and elderly people,” Pfizer said in a statement.
The drugmaker said it will not start new clinical trials or recruit additional patients for ongoing studies in Russia and will work with the Food and Drug Administration to relocate existing trials out of the country. Pfizer also said it will terminate all planned investments with local suppliers intended to boost drug manufacturing in Russia.
- The Transportation Security Administration has investigated more than 3,800 incidents since February 2021 of maskless passengers violating the agency’s mandate on face coverings and has issued over 900 civil penalties, according to a government watchdog report released yesterday.
- The National Institutes of Health announced it launched its first clinical trial into the use of three mRNA HIV vaccines to gauge whether the technology could be as effective in warding off infection as it has been with the coronavirus.
- The CDC on Monday lowered its warnings for popular destinations in the Caribbean and Atlantic and cruise ship travel amid dwindling coronavirus cases, but said individuals not up to date on their coronavirus vaccines and at increased risk of severe illness should still avoid traveling on the ships, The Post’s Hannah Samson reports.
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