Discussion of Fourth Package Begins as House Passes Stimulus
With the House of Representatives passing the Senate-approved $2 trillion Phase III coronavirus measure this afternoon, congressional leaders are already considering a fourth coronavirus relief measure that may include more money for frontline health-care workers.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that the next coronavirus bill would “lean toward recovery” and look at covering health-care services beyond testing for people who have contracted the illness.
“It’s not just the tests, it’s the doctor’s visits,” Pelosi said. Within her caucus there is a demand for expanding federal enforcement of safety rules for health-care providers and building on the Affordable Care Act to lower what Americans pay for health care.
For Republicans, a fourth stimulus bill could mean aid for rural health-care providers. Some hospital and health-care provider groups are already signaling they are going to need more than the $100 billion included in the bill passed by Congress and on its way to the President’s desk.
Both the House and Senate are expected to go on recess until late April after this week. Vice President Mike Pence said the administration was open to a fourth bill to support states.
FEMA Expected to Direct Virus Supplies Among States
The Trump Administration is expected to direct how manufacturers will distribute crucial medical supplies, including protective gear and ventilators, to combat the coronavirus outbreak, alleviating what many governors have complained is a chaotic marketplace for the products.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will take charge of allocating the supplies nationwide under a clause of the Defense Production Act. The law gives the government vast powers to direct industrial production in crises, but President Trump has repeatedly said he is reluctant to use it.
Governors, however, have complained publicly that they have found themselves in competition with one another and with the federal government to procure equipment including ventilators after the President told them March 19 to try to obtain medical supplies on their own.
Trump has been questioned repeatedly about whether he will use the Defense Production Act to direct the manufacture of specific medical products, including respirator masks and ventilators. The clause of the law FEMA is expected to invoke is different, giving the government the power to control the allocation of goods.
Rural Health Providers Get Extra Time to Seek Telecom Discounts
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is giving rural hospitals and other health care providers two extra months to apply for discounts on telecom services in response to the coronavirus.
The Rural Health Care Program application deadline will be June 30 instead of the end of April, the FCC said in an order adopted Thursday. The order also lets some providers keep existing telecom service contracts for another year, and gives them more time to file invoices and meet other program rules.
“Today’s changes will allow health care providers to focus their attention on their immediate task at hand—addressing the influx of patients associated with the Covid-19 outbreak,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. The program helps subsidize rural telehealth costs and provides a separate 65% discount for providers on some broadband expenses.
Fauci Outlines Ambitious Plan to Scale Up Covid-19 Vaccine
A Covid-19 vaccine will go into production while researchers are still studying if it works, under an ambitious plan by NIH’s Anthony Fauci to get a vaccine across the finish line in record time. The proposal to start ramping up production while the candidate is still in a clinical trial is a risky step for a manufacturer, which would have to start assembling raw materials to make a vaccine without knowing whether it would work.
The plan would make sure a vaccine is ready for patients if Covid-19 comes back next year, Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) in the National Institutes of Health, said Thursday at a White House press conference.
The vaccine candidate, which is being developed by scientists at NIAID, entered into a Phase I clinical trial earlier this month, which means it is being introduced into the human body for the first time to a small group of patients. It is the larger Phase II trials that demonstrate whether the potential vaccine is safe and works well enough to warrant Food and Drug Administration approval.
EPA Takes Steps to Speed Making of Virus-Fighting Disinfectants
The EPA will start allowing manufacturers to obtain certain inert, or inactive, ingredients from different suppliers without checking with the agency first, to increase the availability of disinfecting products to use against the coronavirus. The announcement Thursday followed a meeting that the Environmental Protection Agency held last week with stakeholders about supply chain challenges posed by the pandemic.
“The steps we are taking today are helping put more products on the shelves without sacrificing important public health and environmental protections,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in the announcement yesterday. The EPA also on Thursday added 70 new surface disinfectants to its list of Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2, known as List N, which now includes more than 350 products.