Overnight Health Care: Schumer calls for Azar to resign over 'chaos' in coronavirus response

Overnight Health Care: Schumer calls for Azar to resign over 'chaos' in coronavirus response
© Greg Nash

Welcome to Tuesday’s Overnight Health Care.

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi orders Capitol flags at half-staff to honor Ginsburg Ginsburg in statement before her death said she wished not to be replaced until next president is sworn in Democrats call for NRA Foundation to be prohibited from receiving donations from federal employees MORE called on HHS Secretary Alex Azar to resign, claiming he had failed to stand up to President TrumpDonald John TrumpObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg's vacancy until after election Planned Parenthood: 'The fate of our rights' depends on Ginsburg replacement Progressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy MORE on the coronavirus. Meanwhile, a top HHS official has apologized to staff after launching into a tirade full of conspiracy theories on Facebook. And the number of uninsured Americans was increasing even before the pandemic, according to new data released by the Census Bureau. 

 

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We'll start with Schumer:

Schumer calls for Azar to resign over 'chaos' in coronavirus response

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) is escalating things against HHS Secretary Alex Azar. 

"It has become abundantly clear that the leadership of the Department of Health and Human Services has allowed perhaps the most important federal agency right now to become subservient to the president's daily whims," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "So today, I am calling on Secretary Azar to resign immediately. We need a Secretary of Health and Human Services who will look out for the American people, not President Trump's political interests."

The call from Schumer comes amid a series of controversies at the Department of Health and Human Services. 

On Monday, The New York Times reported that a top HHS official under Azar, Michael Caputo, accused government scientists of plotting against Trump and told supporters to buy ammunition. Politico also reported that Caputo and his communications team have sought to edit important scientific reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Big picture: It’s notable that Schumer is aiming for the top of HHS. Azar oversees the department but has not been directly involved in most of the recent controversies. Other top Democrats have called for Caputo to step down. 

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Read more here.  

 

Uninsured Americans increased even before pandemic, Census Bureau finds

The number of people without health insurance increased last year, even before the coronavirus pandemic struck, according to new federal figures released Tuesday.

The Census Bureau found nearly 30 million people were not covered by health insurance at the time they were interviewed in 2019, up from 28.6 million in 2018. 

The number of uninsured Americans has been increasing for the past three years, after seeing a massive decline in the wake of the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Notably, the Census survey was taken before the worst of the pandemic hit, before millions of Americans lost their jobs and job-based insurance.

The report did not speculate why the numbers have been rising, but some experts point to a steady attack on the health law by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans. 

The law's individual mandate, which requires people to have health insurance or pay a fine, was eliminated as part of the GOP tax bill.

Federal advertising and outreach for the law's open enrollment period has been slashed, and the administration has allowed states enormous amounts of flexibility to make it harder for people to obtain Medicaid coverage. 

Nineteen states saw a statistically significant decline in coverage last year. Only Virginia, which expanded Medicaid in 2019, recorded an increase in the number of people with insurance.

Read more here

 

120 young people died of coronavirus in six months, most were people of color

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More than 120 people aged 21 and younger died of COVID-19 between February and July, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Most had underlying health conditions or were people of color, the report said

Most of the deaths occurred in people between the ages of 14 and 20, according to the report; nearly half of all deaths in that age group were among people ages 18-20. 

Why it matters: The data indicates that teenagers and young adults are more likely to die of COVID-19 than younger children, though both groups are overall far less likely to die than older adults.

Seventy-five percent of those who died had at least one underlying health condition, including chronic lung disease, obesity, neurologic and developmental illnesses, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes or other illnesses. Sixty-three percent of deaths occurred in males. While Hispanic, Black and American Indians or Alaskan Natives people younger than 21 years make up 41 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for 75 percent of the deaths in that age group, according to the CDC.

Read more here. 

 

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Top HHS official apologizes for saying scientists are politically motivated, considers medical leave

Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo apologized to Secretary Alex Azar in an emergency meeting Tuesday following comments he made accusing career government scientists of plotting against President Trump

Caputo reportedly expressed regret for embarrassing Azar and the agency at large for saying, among other things, that “there are scientists who work for this government who do not want America to get well, not until after [Democratic presidential nominee] Joe BidenJoe BidenSenate Republicans face tough decision on replacing Ginsburg What Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies Biden says Ginsburg successor should be picked by candidate who wins on Nov. 3 MORE is president.”

According to an HHS official who confirmed the meeting to The Hill, Caputo also said some of his comments have been taken out of context and recommended his staff to listen to music by the Grateful Dead. 

News of the meeting comes after Caputo, during a Facebook Live session on Sunday, alleged that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was harboring a "resistance unit," according to the New York Times. Scientists that worked for the agency, he alleged, "haven’t gotten out of their sweatpants except for meetings at coffee shops” to plot “how they’re going to attack Donald Trump.”

Read more here.

 

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Polls show trust in scientific, political institutions eroding

The American public is beginning to lose trust in political leaders and scientific institutions as the coronavirus pandemic drags into its sixth month, troubling signs that raise the prospect that millions of Americans may not take advice or get a vaccine once one becomes available.

Two new surveys show most Americans still trust leading scientists and institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but that those levels of trust are beginning to erode.

Nearly 8 in 10 Americans trust the CDC, according to a survey conducted by the COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States, a group of researchers at Northeastern University, Harvard, Rutgers and Northwestern University. That figure is down from 87 percent who said they trusted the Atlanta-based CDC in April.

 A poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 67 percent of Americans have a great deal or a fair amount of trust in the CDC to provide reliable information about the coronavirus. That number has dropped 16 percentage points since April. Trust in the CDC among Republicans has dropped a whopping 30 percentage points.

Read more here.

 

What we’re reading: 

NIH and FDA examine serious side effect that surfaced in COVID vaccine trial (Kaiser Health News)

Top mental health leader accused of politicizing US mental health agency (Stat News)

Bill Gates slams ‘shocking’ U.S. response to Covid-19 pandemic (Stat News)

Republican senators in tough races obscure their position on pre-existing conditions (NBC News)

 

State by state

Tough to tell COVID from smoke inhalation symptoms — and flu season’s coming (California Healthline)

North Carolina moving in right direction on key COVID-19 trends, state health secretary says (Winston-Salem Journal

Californians are testing positive for COVID-19 at the lowest rate on record (LA Times)

 

Op-eds in The Hill

The world will breathe easier with Biden and Harris — literally

Black maternal mortality rates and the implicit biases — how can we address them?