Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — California monitoring 8,400 people for coronavirus | Pence taps career official to coordinate response | Dems insist on guardrails for funding

Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — California monitoring 8,400 people for coronavirus | Pence taps career official to coordinate response | Dems insist on guardrails for funding
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Welcome to Thursday's Overnight Health Care. 

The health care news today was dominated by the latest on the coronavirus, including a whistleblower complaint about HHS and more details on the White House team leading the response. Let's jump right in.



California monitoring over 8,400 people for coronavirus

California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin Christopher NewsomGovernors win high marks for coronavirus response, outpacing Trump Los Angeles mayor says all residents should wear masks The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - All eyes on today's unemployment numbers MORE (D) announced Thursday that 33 people in California have tested positive for coronavirus, with officials monitoring more than 8,400 people for the virus.

Newsom said during a press conference that five people who tested positive have since moved out of the state as officials deal with the spreading virus.

One of those people is from an unknown source, raising the concern that the virus is spreading among the general public for the first time in the U.S.

"We knew this was inevitable," Newsom said.

Read more here.






Whistleblower claims HHS did not train workers caring for coronavirus patients: report

A whistleblower claims the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sent workers to receive the first Americans evacuated from China during the coronavirus outbreak without proper training or protective gear, The Washington Post reported Thursday. 

The complaint was reportedly filed Wednesday with the Office of the Special Counsel. 

The whistleblower is a senior HHS official based in Washington seeking federal protection after alleging they were unfairly reassigned after raising concerns about the safety of these workers, according to the Post. 

The workers did not show symptoms and were not tested for the virus, the Post reported citing the whistleblower's lawyers. 

Read more here.


CDC declined to test new coronavirus patient for days, California hospital says

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initially declined to test a California patient for coronavirus because of narrow testing criteria, delaying the identification of a new possibly pivotal case, according to officials at the hospital treating the patient.

UC Davis Medical Center wrote in a memo to staff that the patient was transferred from another hospital on Feb. 19 with a suspected viral infection. The hospital requested coronavirus testing, but the CDC initially declined because the patient, who had not recently traveled to countries with outbreaks or been in contact with someone with the virus, did not meet the testing criteria.


It was not until Sunday that the CDC agreed to do a test, and the results then came back on Wednesday as positive.

In a statement on Thursday afternoon, the CDC said it is concerned by the reports but said their records showed the CDC only learned of the case on Sunday, and requested specimens for testing that same day.

Read more here.


Pelosi, Schumer insist on guardrails for coronavirus funds

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNJ governor calls for assessment of coronavirus response after crisis abates Overnight Health Care: Global coronavirus cases top 1M | Cities across country in danger of becoming new hotspots | Trump to recommend certain Americans wear masks | Record 6.6M file jobless claims Hillicon Valley: Zoom draws new scrutiny amid virus fallout | Dems step up push for mail-in voting | Google to lift ban on political ads referencing coronavirus MORE (D-Calif.) said lawmakers are close to a bipartisan agreement on emergency funding for the coronavirus response, but Democrats are insisting on specific guardrails. 

In a joint statement, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots Schumer doubles down in call for Trump to name coronavirus supply czar Trump lashes out at Schumer over call for supply czar MORE (D-N.Y.) said they are insisting that any emergency funding supplemental must be entirely new funding, "not stolen from other accounts."


Pelosi and Schumer said they want to ensure President TrumpDonald John TrumpMilitary personnel to handle coronavirus patients at facilities in NYC, New Orleans and Dallas Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort has total of 20 patients: report Fauci says that all states should have stay-at-home orders MORE "cannot transfer these new funds to anything other than the coronavirus and fighting infectious diseases."

Also, they said the eventual vaccine must be made affordable. 

In a press conference, Pelosi went after HHS Secretary Alex Azar for suggesting that the price of a vaccine was out of his control.

Read more here.


Pence taps career official to manage response

Vice President Pence on Thursday tapped longtime health official and ambassador-at-large Debbie Birx to serve as the White House coronavirus response coordinator.


Birx has worked for decades in the medical field, largely focusing on combating and preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. The staffing move is likely intended to appease calls from many lawmakers for the Trump administration to appoint a "czar" to oversee the federal response to the coronavirus.

"She has deep experience in coordinating across agencies," Pence's office said in announcing Birx's new role. "She has worked from the research bench to the clinic, but understands the primary focus must always be to reach the individuals most in need. She will bring her infectious disease, immunologic, vaccine research and interagency coordinating capacity to this position.

Birx currently serves as the ambassador-at-large for the State Department coordinating the U.S. efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. An Obama-era appointee, she has held that role since 2014.

More on Birx here.


And there was some big non-virus news in the House...


Bill banning menthol in cigarettes divides Democrats, with some seeing racial bias

A bill that would ban menthol flavoring in cigarettes is dividing House Democrats, with some arguing it unfairly targets African Americans and could lead police to target communities of color. 

The measure, which the House will vote on Friday, is opposed by some members of the Congressional Black Caucus. House Majority Whip Rep. Jim ClyburnJames (Jim) Enos ClyburnTop GOP lawmakers push back on need for special oversight committee for coronavirus aid Pelosi forms House committee to oversee coronavirus response Pelosi: House 'not prepared' to vote remotely on coronavirus relief bill MORE (D-S.C.), a prominent CBC member, also has concerns with the bill, he told reporters Thursday. 

The bill, sponsored by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Rep. Donna ShalalaDonna Edna ShalalaTrump coronavirus response seen as threat to CDC confidence House Democrats unveil coronavirus economic response package CBS All Access launches animated 'Tooning Out the News' series MORE (D-Fla.), a former health secretary, is meant to reduce youth vaping rates by banning flavors like mint and mango in e-cigarettes. But it also bans flavors in all tobacco products, including menthol in cigarettes.

Congress shouldn't "tell full-grown adults, those over 21, what they can and cannot do with a legal product," said Rep. A. Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinHouse approves bill banning flavored tobacco products Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — California monitoring 8,400 people for coronavirus | Pence taps career official to coordinate response | Dems insist on guardrails for funding Overnight Energy: Murkowski, Manchin unveil major energy bill | Lawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget | GOP lawmaker accuses Trump officials of 'playing politics' over Yucca Mountain MORE (D-Va.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, who also cited concerns about policing communities of color.

"I'm not a smoker, so I would never smoke. But you know, for those who do, they ought to be able to smoke what they want to smoke," he said.

Why it matters: Research shows tobacco companies targeted African Americans in their advertising of menthol cigarettes, leading to higher rates of use compared to white people. But that's exactly why other members of the CBC support a ban. 

"Our work to end the smoking epidemic is not simply a matter of public health," said Rep. Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyMaryland Legislative Black Caucus pushes for state to release racial breakdown of coronavirus impact Pressley experiencing flu-like symptoms, being tested for COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill MORE (D-Mass.), a member of the CBC, at a hearing in December.

"This is and always has been an issue of racial justice." 

Read more here



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/


Top Trump advisers discuss GOP need to act on health care at retreat with senators 

Two top advisers to President Trump on Wednesday discussed with GOP senators the need for Republicans to lower drug prices and act on health care costs ahead of the election, according to people familiar with the meeting. 

The discussion came at a retreat for GOP senators on Wednesday, where Trump's campaign manager Brad ParscaleBradley (Brad) James ParscaleMORE and adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerCongress needs to step up fast to protect abused children Kushner makes first appearance at coronavirus briefing Trump leans on businesses in coronavirus response MORE spoke. 

Kushner made a favorable mention of Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyLawmakers press IRS to get coronavirus checks to seniors Pelosi floats undoing SALT deduction cap in next coronavirus bill Democrats eye additional relief checks for coronavirus MORE (R-Iowa) and his work on drug prices, according to a source familiar with the meeting. The White House is supporting a bill from Grassley and Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Zoom draws new scrutiny amid virus fallout | Dems step up push for mail-in voting | Google to lift ban on political ads referencing coronavirus Democrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots Zoom CEO says company reached 200 million daily users in March MORE (D-Ore.) to lower drug prices, but many GOP senators have pushed back on that measure as well, warning it comes too close to "price controls."

Much of the discussion was more general and focused on the need to act from an electoral perspective, the sources said. 

"Read the polls, for the American people it's drug costs and price of health care overall," Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyTensions boil over on Senate floor amid coronavirus debate  Overnight Energy: Democratic lawmakers seek emissions reductions in airline bailout | House Dems warn Trump against oil industry bailout | GOP senators ask Saudis to stabilize oil market GOP senators ask Saudis to stabilize oil market MORE (R-La.) told The Hill when asked about the meeting. 

Read more here.


What we're reading 

Most Coronavirus cases are mild. That's good and bad news. (New York Times)

A single coronavirus case exposes a bigger problem: The scope of undetected U.S. spread is unknown (Stat News)

1 in 3 Americans worry about being able to afford health care, NBC News/Commonwealth Fund survey says (NBC News

GoodRx saves money on meds--it also shares data with Google, Facebook, and others (Consumer Reports)


State by state

Anti-Medicare for All ad campaign launches in South Carolina (Politico)

A 13-year-old's death highlights Puerto Rico's post-Maria health care crisis (Vox.com)

Abbott says the homeless need mental health care. Advocates say Medicaid expansion would help (Texas Tribune)


The Hill op-eds

Xi Jinping, coronavirus and the new cold war

5 ways we can prepare for coronavirus