Overnight Healthcare

Overnight Health Care: Senate Democrats block GOP relief bill | Democrats reveal Medicaid chief’s spending on high-paid consultants | Trump calls question about why he ‘lied’ about COVID-19 a ‘disgrace’

Bonnie Cash

Welcome to Thursday’s Overnight Health Care.

A Democratic investigation showed the extent of Seema Verma’s spending on outside consultants, President Trump tried to blunt the impact of the revelations in Bob Woodward’s book, and Senate Democrats blocked the GOP coronavirus relief bill.

We’ll start in the Senate:

Not looking great for a COVID relief deal

Senate Democrats blocked a GOP coronavirus bill on Thursday amid a deep stalemate over the next relief package. 

Senators voted 52-47 on the roughly $500 billion Republican bill, which marked the first coronavirus-related legislation the chamber has voted on since it passed a $484 billion package in April. 

GOP leadership worked behind the scenes to lock down 51 votes, a U-turn from last month when GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) predicted that up to 20 GOP senators wouldn’t vote for any additional legislation. GOP Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) was the only Republican to vote against the bill on Thursday.

The big picture: Republicans acknowledged that the Thursday vote would fall short. But GOP leadership faced pressure to come up with a plan to vote upon weeks before the election to give their vulnerable incumbents in key battleground states something to tout back home. Democrats called it a “check-the-box” vote.

There is no clear path for a deal now, as Democrats are still calling for a much larger measure. The House passed a comprehensive bill in May, but McConnell has shown no interest in it.

Read more here

Democrats reveal Medicaid chief’s spending on high-paid consultants

Seema Verma, the Trump administration’s top Medicaid official, spent over $3 million in taxpayer funds on hand-picked GOP consultants to boost her public image, write speeches and arrange media interviews, a congressional investigation found.

In less than two years, Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), spent nearly $6 million in taxpayer money on highly paid consultants who charged rates of up to $380 an hour, according to the sweeping report from House and Senate Democrats.

Most of the work was organized by Pam Stevens, a GOP media consultant and former Trump administration official who once worked in the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy. She was paid more than $115,000 for about nine months of work.

The highlights: Stevens was paid $13,000 to nominate Verma for awards, such as Washingtonian’s “Most Powerful Women in Washington” list, and to make sure she appeared on high-profile panels around town. 

In another instance, taxpayers were billed almost $3,000 for Stevens to arrange a “Girl’s Night” to honor Verma at the home of a prominent Washington journalist. According to documents obtained by the investigators, Stevens called the event a “networking opportunity” for Verma.

What happens next: It’s unclear if there will be consequences. The Democrats called for Verma to personally reimburse taxpayers, but the Department of Health and Human Services says she did nothing wrong. 

Read more here.

Trump calls question about why he ‘lied’ about COVID-19 a ‘disgrace’

President Trump on Thursday scoffed at a question about why he lied to the American public about the severity of COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic, calling it “disgraceful” in a contentious press conference amid fallout over his comments to Bob Woodward.

“Why did you lie to the American people, and why should we trust what you have to say now?” ABC News correspondent Jon Karl asked during a news conference, referencing the president’s comments in audio recordings from February that COVID-19 was “deadly” even as he publicly minimized the threat of the virus.

“That’s a terrible question and the phraseology,” Trump said. “I didn’t lie. What I said is we have to be calm. We can’t be panicked.”

Trump has been on the defensive since Wednesday afternoon when the first excerpts of Woodward’s book were published. 

The president’s remarks to the Watergate journalist underscored how Trump privately talked about the severity of COVID-19, even as he brushed it off in public remarks in January and February.

Read more here

Poll: Most Americans wouldn’t take a COVID-19 vaccine before the election

A majority of Americans are concerned that a COVID-19 vaccine will be rushed to the market before it’s ready because of political pressure from the Trump administration, according to a new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).

Even if a vaccine is available before Election Day, about half of all respondents said they would not want to get vaccinated.

The survey, released Thursday, found 62 percent of respondents said they were concerned about a vaccine being authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before it is proven to be safe and effective. That number included 85 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of independents and 35 percent of Republicans.

If a vaccine were approved before Nov. 3 and made freely available to anyone who wanted it, 54 percent of respondents said they wouldn’t take it.

The reality check:  81 percent respondents said they don’t believe a coronavirus vaccine would be available before the election.

Takeaway: Vaccine skepticism is real. Amplify it with the political issues, and it’s a recipe for a disaster.

Read more here.

CDC report: Dining out increases risk of contracting coronavirus more than other activities

Evidence that dining indoors increases the risk for catching coronavirus has been scarce, but a new CDC report has finally shed light on the dangers.. 

CDC officials interviewed about 314 people who experienced symptoms of the virus and got tests, about half of whom were positive. Both the positive and the negative subjects said they had engaged in activities such as attending church and in-person shopping.

However, people who tested positive were about twice as likely than those who tested negative to say they had dined at a restaurant. People who tested positive but could not identify a specific occasion when they were exposed to the virus were also more likely to have recently visited a bar or coffee shop.

“Eating and drinking on-site at locations that offer such options might be important risk factors associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the report states. “Efforts to reduce possible exposures where mask use and social distancing are difficult to maintain, such as when eating and drinking, should be considered to protect customers, employees, and communities.”

Read more here.

What we’re reading

Safety review underway of AstraZeneca’s vaccine trial (New York Times)

WHO calls delay in AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine trial a ‘wake-up call’ (CNBC)  

What President Trump said about the coronavirus versus what Bob Woodward recorded in interviews: Timeline (ABC News)

State by state

A 28-year-old elementary teacher dies three days after coronavirus diagnosis in South Carolina (CNN

Seattle team launches clinical trials for COVID-19 treatment using ‘natural killer’ cells (Seattle Times

Gov. Kim Reynolds says Iowa COVID-19 death toll is accurate, despite claims of exaggeration (Des Moines Register

The Hill op-eds

More executive orders will not make medicines cheaper

Tags Donald Trump Mitch McConnell Rand Paul

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