Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response | Top official warns virus appears inevitable in US | Democrats block two Senate abortion bills

Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response | Top official warns virus appears inevitable in US | Democrats block two Senate abortion bills
© getty Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar

Welcome to Tuesday's Overnight Health Care, where the coronavirus response went into overdrive today. 

Let's dive right in...



Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response

Lawmakers in both parties on Tuesday expressed growing alarm that the threat of coronavirus in the United States is serious, and that the Trump administration is not doing enough to fight it. 

Two Cabinet members at separate hearings were grilled over what lawmakers described as an insufficient response so far, while Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyPelosi bullish on COVID-19 relief: 'We cannot leave without it' House Democrats pick DeLauro to lead Appropriations panel The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates MORE (R-Ala.) said the White House's budget request to handle the disease was lackluster.

"It seems to me at the outset that this request for the money, the supplemental, is lowballing it, possibly, and you can't afford to do that," Shelby told Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar during a hearing on the agency's budget request. 

"If you lowball something like this, you'll pay for it later," he added, telling reporters he planned to recommend a "higher" amount without offering details.

The administration has requested $2.5 billion for their response.

Democrats were unsparing on their criticism, with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerBipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package Pelosi, Schumer endorse 8 billion plan as basis for stimulus talks Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms MORE (N.Y.) saying the administration was showing "towering and dangerous incompetence" in its response to the virus.


The broadsides from lawmakers came against the backdrop of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issuing a warning for the country to prepare for an outbreak of cases in the U.S., and another difficult day on Wall Street, where the Dow Jones Industrial Index lost 879 points. The index lost more than 1,000 points the previous day.

Read more here.





Top health official warns coronavirus spread appears inevitable in US

A top U.S. health official said Tuesday the spread of coronavirus in the country appears to be inevitable, while warning that the disruptions could be "severe."

Nancy Messonnier, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters the agency expects to see more cases in the U.S.

"As more and more countries experience community spread, successful containment at our borders becomes harder and harder," Messonnier said.

She said two out of the three requirements for a "pandemic of new disease" have been met, and businesses and families should begin to prepare for a larger outbreak in the U.S.

"It's not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses," she said. "Disruption to everyday life might be severe."

The warnings marked a dramatic escalation from public health officials, but Messonnier said it was better to be overprepared. 

Messonnier added that she can't be sure what the outbreak will look like when it hits the U.S., or when it will occur. It could be mild, or it could be severe.

"So that's why we are asking folks in every sector to start planning for this. It has moved quite rapidly [in other countries] and we want to make sure the American public is prepared," she said. 

Read more on her comments here.


Messonnier's comments were in stark contrast to what President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE and other administration officials said on Tuesday.

At a press conference in Delhi, Trump told reporters the coronavirus was "well under control" in the U.S.

"We have very few people with it," Trump said. "The people are getting better. They're all getting better."


"I think that whole situation will start working out. Lot of talent, lot of brain power is being put behind it," he added.

Later on Tuesday, National Economic Council Director Larry KudlowLarry KudlowMORE also sought to downplay the concerns, in an effort to stop a market sell-off. 

"We have contained this. I won't say [it's] air-tight, but it's pretty close to air-tight," Kudlow, the National Economic Council director, said on CNBC's "The Exchange," adding that while the virus was a "human tragedy," it would not be an "economic tragedy." 

More on Kudlow's remarks here.


When asked about the seemingly different messages during a briefing with reporters, Azar said everyone is on the same page.

"Each of those messages is accurate, but addresses a particular aspect of what we're talking about," Azar said. "In the United States, thanks to the president and this team's aggressive containment efforts, this disease ... is contained."


Azar noted that there have been no additional cases discovered in the U.S. in the past two weeks, aside from citizens with the virus who have been brought home from abroad, including the 40 Americans from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.  

"We are now two weeks, with no additional U.S.-based cases. Fourteen cases on February 11, fourteen cases today," Azar said. 

Azar said the immediate risk to the general public is low, but they want Americans to be aware the situation may change quickly. 

"We don't want people surprised if they see more cases here in the United States, that's an important part of transparency, people shouldn't panic when they see new cases," Azar said.


Public health experts are raising the alarm 

Public health experts are echoing the CDC warning that a global pandemic outbreak of the new coronavirus will almost inevitably spread to the United States. The question is how the administration will respond. 

Those experts, many of whom were on the front lines of the battle against an Ebola outbreak six years ago, said the coronavirus represents an even greater threat to the United States. Though much is still unknown about the virus, which first appeared late last year in Wuhan, China, it's clear it spreads easily between humans.

"We've seen what this disease can do. We've seen what it did in China. We've seen what it did on the cruise ship," said Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development who directed USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance during the Ebola outbreak. "This is a highly transmissible disease, and there's nothing magic about China that means it's going to spread there and not here." 

Read more here.


The Hill event: Wednesday, February 26: America's Opioid Epidemic: Lessons Learned & A Way Forward 

Join The Hill on Wednesday, February 26th in downtown Washington, D.C. as we host a conversation about expanding access to treatment and helping those battling opioid addiction begin the journey toward long-term recovery. We will be speaking with Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Rep. David JoyceDavid Patrick JoyceCandymakers meet virtually with lawmakers for annual fly-in, discuss Halloween safety Stand-alone bill to provide relief for airlines blocked on House floor Republicans shrug off Kasich's Democratic convention speech MORE (R-Ohio) and Rep. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoOvernight Energy: Trump officials finalize plan to open up protected areas of Tongass to logging | Feds say offshore testing for oil can proceed despite drilling moratorium | Dems question EPA's postponement of inequality training Democrats question EPA postponement of environmental inequality training Clark rolls out endorsements in assistant Speaker race MORE (D-N.Y.). RSVP today



More than one million Americans are cared for in skilled nursing centers. See how skilled care gives more patients the opportunity to return home after treatment: https://myskilledcare.org/


In non-virus news: Democrats block two Senate abortion bills

Senate Democrats blocked two abortion-related bills on Tuesday as Republicans look to weaponize the issue ahead of the 2020 elections.

Democrat blocked two measures -- one from Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham reports 'record-breaking' 9M haul during 2020 campaign Lawmakers pressure leaders to reach COVID-19 relief deal Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country MORE (R-S.C.) and the other from Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him McConnell in tough position as House eyes earmark return Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism MORE (R-Neb.) -- from getting the 60 votes needed to overcome an initial procedural hurdle. 

The legislation from Graham would ban abortions after 20 weeks with exceptions for the life of the mother and victims of rape or incest. Doctors who violate the bill could face up to five years in prison.  

The second bill, from Sasse, would penalize doctors who fail to "exercise the proper degree of care in the case of a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion."

Graham's bill failed in a 53-44 vote, with Democratic Sens. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyScranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Grassley tests positive for coronavirus Casey says he isn't thinking about Pennsylvania gubernatorial bid in 2022 MORE (Pa.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSanders says he can't support bipartisan COVID-19 relief proposal in its current form Progressives push for direct payments to be included in COVID-19 relief deal Rubio and Ocasio-Cortez spar on Twitter: 'Work more, tweet less' MORE (W.Va.) voting for it and GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress inches closer to virus relief deal Lawmakers pressure leaders to reach COVID-19 relief deal Biden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress inches closer to virus relief deal Lawmakers pressure leaders to reach COVID-19 relief deal Biden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him MORE (Alaska) voting against it. 

Sasse's bill failed 56-41, with Casey, Manchin and Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) voting for it.

Read more here


39 states to investigate Juul's marketing practices

A coalition of 39 states announced Tuesday that they will collaborate on an investigation into whether e-cigarette manufacturer Juul misled consumers and marketed its products to children.

Attorneys general from Connecticut, Florida, Nevada, Oregon and Texas said in a statement that they would lead an investigation into Juul's marketing practices, particularly to determine whether its products were targeted to young teens and children, and whether consumers were misled about the effectiveness of the products as smoking cessation devices.

"Our state, along with Florida, Nevada, Oregon and Texas, is now leading a bipartisan, 39-state coalition investigating JUUL's marketing and sales practices, including efforts by the company to market their nicotine delivery devices to youth," said Connecticut Attorney General William Tong (D). "We are also looking at claims made by JUUL regarding nicotine content and statements they have made regarding the risks, safety and effectiveness as a smoking cessation tool."

Read more here


What we're reading 

A faulty CDC coronavirus test delays monitoring of disease's spread (Washington Post

Progressive groups launch Medicare for All ad blitz (Daily Beast)

Could a coronavirus pandemic be stopped? US warns of 'severe' disruptions (USA Today)


State by state

Michigan governor wants 'expedited decision' on state's Medicaid work requirements (Detroit Free Press)

Kansas nuns urge Legislature to pass Medicaid expansion (Topeka Capital-Journal)

ACLU sues seven Texas cities that banned abortion (Houston Chronicle)


From The Hill's opinion page

VA could lead way for nation on lower drug pricing