America’s nightmarish year is finally ending

America's nightmare year of COVID is finally ending

One year after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the end of that pandemic is within reach.

The big picture: The death and suffering caused by the coronavirus have been much worse than many people expected a year ago — but the vaccines have been much better.

Flashback“Bottom line, it’s going to get worse,” Anthony Fauci told a congressional panel on March 11, 2020, the day the WHO formally declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic.

  • A year ago today, the U.S. had confirmed 1,000 coronavirus infections. Now we’re approaching 30 million.
  • In the earliest days of the pandemic, Americans were terrified by the White House’s projections — informed by well-respected modeling — that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could die from the virus. That actual number now sits at just under 530,000.
  • Many models at the time thought the virus would peak last May. It was nowhere close to its height by then. The deadliest month of the pandemic was January.

Yes, but: Last March, even the sunniest optimists didn’t expect the U.S. to have a vaccine by now.

  • They certainly didn’t anticipate that over 300 million shots would already be in arms worldwide, and they didn’t think the eventual vaccines, whenever they arrived, would be anywhere near as effective as these shots turned out to be.

Where it stands: President Biden has said every American adult who wants a vaccine will be able to get one by the end of May, and the country is on track to meet that target.

  • The U.S. is administering over 2 million shots per day, on average. Roughly 25% of the adult population has gotten at least one shot.
  • The federal government has purchased more doses than this country will be able to use: 300 million from Pfizer, 300 million from Moderna and 200 million from Johnson & Johnson.
  • The Pfizer and Moderna orders alone would be more than enough to fully vaccinate every American adult. (The vaccines aren’t yet authorized for use in children.)

Yes, millions of Americans are still anxiously awaiting their first shot — and navigating signup websites that are often frustrating and awful.

  • But the supply of available vaccines is expected to surge this month, and the companies say the bulk of those doses should be available by the end of May.
  • Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all falling sharply at the same time vaccinations are ramping up.

The bottom line: Measured in death, loss, isolation and financial ruin, one year has felt like an eternity. Measured as the time between the declaration of a pandemic and vaccinating 60 million Americans, one year is an instant.

  • The virus hasn’t been defeated, and may never fully go away. Getting back to “normal” will be a moving target. Nothing’s over yet. But the end of the worst of it — the long, brutal nightmare of death and suffering — is getting close.

THE BIG DEAL—House passes $1.9T coronavirus relief bill

https://thehill.com/policy/finance/542448-heres-whats-in-the-19t-covid-19-relief-package

Will there be a third stimulus check? Biden's Deputy Press Secretary on American  Rescue Plan: 'The time for bold action is now' - ABC11 Raleigh-Durham

The House on Wednesday passed the mammoth $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, which President Biden is expected to sign Friday.

The House approved the relief package in a starkly partisan 220-211 vote, sending the legislation to the White House and clinching Democrats’ first big legislative victory in the Biden era. No Republicans voted for the package and all but one House Democrat—Rep. Jared Golden of Maine—supported it. The Hill’s Cristina Marcos has more here.

The political split: Unlike the previous relief measures enacted last year, Democrats barely bothered to negotiate with Republicans and pushed the relief package through Congress along party lines using the budget reconciliation process. That allowed them to go as big as they wanted to go without running into a Senate GOP filibuster.

  • Republicans argue the use of a process dodging the filibuster shows Biden wasn’t serious about bringing unity, and House GOP lawmakers on Wednesday warned of the bill’s total cost.
  • But Democrats think Republicans will pay for their opposition to the popular bill and argued that they would oppose anything Biden proposed.

What’s in the $1.9T COVID-19 relief packageAlong with $1,400 direct payments to households, an extension of expanded unemployment benefits, and aid for state and local governments, the package is loaded with other provisions intended to speed up the recovery from the recession and help struggling families fight the impact of COVID-19.

  • Tax credits: The bill increases the child tax credit for households below certain income thresholds for 2021 and makes it fully refundable, and also expands the earned income tax credit for the year.
  • Child care: $15 billion for grants to help low-income families afford child care and increases the child and dependent care tax credit for one year.
  • Pensions: $86 billion to bailout struggling union pension funds.
  • Transportation: $30 billion to bolster local subway and bus systems, $8 billion for airports, $1.5 billion for furloughed Amtrak workers, and $3 billion for wages at aerospace companies.
  • Housing: $27.4 billion in emergency rental assistance, another $10 billion to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, $5 billion in vouchers for public housing, $5 billion to tackle homelessness and $5 billion more to help households cover utility bills.
  • Small businesses: The American Rescue Plan broadens eligibility guidelines for the Paycheck Protection Program, allowing more nonprofit entities to be eligible, adds $15 billion in emergency grants and also sets aside more than $28 billion in funding for restaurants.
  • ObamaCare subsidies and Medicaid expansion: The bill increases ObamaCare subsidies through 2022 to make them more generous, a longtime goal for Democrats, and opens up more fully subsidized plans to individuals. It also would provide extra Medicaid funding to states that expand the program and have yet to do so.

The Burdens Grow Heavier for COVID-19 Health Care Providers

Dr. Christine Choi, a second year medical resident at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center
Dr. Christine Choi, 32, a medical resident at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, prepares to enter an isolation area for COVID-19 inpatients. Health care providers must face daily patient death and suffering.

Soon after the COVID-19 pandemic began last spring, Christine Choi, DO, a second-year medical resident at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, volunteered to enter COVID-19 patient rooms. Since then, she has worked countless nights in the intensive care unit in full protective gear, often tasked with giving the sickest patients and their families the grim choice between intubation or near-certain death.

Essential Coverage

I’m offering this guy two terrible options, and that’s how I feel about work: I can’t fix this for you and it sucks, and I’m sorry that the choices I’m giving you are both terrible,” Choi told the Los Angeles Times’ Soumya Karlamangla about one patient encounter.

While Choi exhibits an “almost startlingly positive attitude” in her work, it’s no match for the psychological burdens placed on her shoulders by the global pandemic, Karlamangla wrote. When an older female COVID-19 patient died in the hospital recently, her husband — in the same hospital with the same diagnosis — soon began struggling to breathe. Sensing that he had little time left, Choi held a mobile phone at his bedside so that each of his children could come on screen to tell him they loved him. “I was just bawling in my [personal protective equipment],” Choi said. “The sound of the family members crying — I probably will never forget that,” she said.

It was not the first time the young doctor helped family members say goodbye to a loved one, and it would not be the last. Health care providers like Choi have had to work through unimaginable tragedies and unprecedented circumstances because of COVID-19, with little time to dedicate to their own mental health or well-being.

It has been nearly a year since the US reported what was believed at the time to be its first coronavirus death in Washington State. Since then, the pandemic death toll has mushroomed to nearly 500,000 nationwide, including 49,000 Californians. These numbers are shocking, and yet they do not capture the immeasurable emotional weight that falls on the health care providers with the most intimate view of COVID-19’s deadly progression. “The horror of the pandemic has unfolded largely outside public view and inside hospitals, piling a disproportionate share of the trauma on the people whose work takes them inside their walls,” Karlamangla wrote.

Experts are deeply concerned about the psychological and physical burdens that providers must bear, and the fact that there is still no end in sight. “At least with a natural disaster, it happens, people get scattered all over the place, property gets damaged or flooded, but then we begin to rebuild,” Lawrence Palinkas, PhD, MA, a medical anthropologist at USC, told Karlamangla. “We’re not there yet, and we don’t know when that will actually occur.”

Burned Out and Exhausted

A new CHCF survey of 1,202 California doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and behavioral health specialists confirms that levels of burnout and exhaustion are rising as the pandemic wears on. The survey, conducted January 4 to 14, 2021, is the second in a three-part series assessing COVID-19-related effects on health care providers.

Sixty-eight percent of providers said they feel emotionally drained from their work, 59% feel burned out, 57% feel overworked, and 50% feel frustrated. The poll asked providers who say they feel burned out what contributes most to that viewpoint. One doctor from the Central Valley wrote:

“Short staffed due to people out with COVID. I’m seeing three times as many patients, with no time to chart or catch up. Little appreciation or contact from my bosses. I have never had an N95 [mask]. The emotional toll this pandemic is taking. Being sick myself and spreading it to my wife and young kids. Still not fully recovered but needing to be at work due to physician shortages. Lack of professional growth, and a sense of lack of appreciation at work and feeling overworked. The sadness of the COVID-related deaths and the stories that go along with the disease. That’s a lot of stuff to unpack.”

Safety-net providers and health care workers with larger populations of patients of color are more likely to experience emotional hardships at work. As we know well by now, COVID-19 exacerbates the health disparities that have long burdened people of color and disproportionately harms communities with fewer health care and economic resources.

Women Bear the Brunt

The pandemic has been especially challenging for female health providers, who compose 77% of health care workers with direct patient contact. “The pandemic exacerbated gender inequities in formal and informal work, and in the distribution of home responsibilities, and increased the risk of unemployment and domestic violence,” an international group of experts wrote in the Lancet. “While trying to fulfill their professional responsibilities, women had to meet their families’ needs, including childcare, home schooling, care for older people, and home care.”

For one female doctor from the Bay Area who responded to the CHCF survey, the extra burdens of the pandemic have been unrelenting: “Having to work more, lack of safe, affordable, available childcare while I’m working. As a single mother, working 15 hours straight, then having to care for my daughter when I get home. Just exhausted with no days off. So many Zoom meetings all day long. Miss my family and friends.”

It is unclear how the pandemic will affect the health care workforce in the long term. For now, the damage “can be measured in part by a surge of early retirements and the desperation of community hospitals struggling to hire enough workers to keep their emergency rooms running,” Andrew Jacobs reported in the New York Times.

One of the early retirements Jacobs cited was Sheetal Khedkar Rao, MD, a 42-year-old internist in suburban Chicago. Last October, she decided to stop practicing medicine after “the emotional burden and moral injury became too much to bear,” she said. Two of the main factors driving her decision were a 30% pay cut to compensate for the decline in revenue from primary care visits and the need to spend more time at home after her two preteen children switched to remote learning.

“Everyone says doctors are heroes and they put us on a pedestal, but we also have kids and aging parents to worry about,” Rao said.

Working Through Unremitting Sickness and Death

In addition to the psychological burden, health care providers must cope with a harsh physical toll. People of color account for most COVID-19 cases and deaths among health care workers, according to a KFF issue brief. Some studies show that health care workers of color “are more likely to report reuse of or inadequate access to [personal protective equipment] and to work in clinical settings with greater exposure to patients with COVID-19.”

“Lost on the Frontline,” a collaboration of Kaiser Health News and the Guardian, has counted more than 3,400 deaths among US health care workers from COVID-19. Eighty-six percent of the workers who died were under age 60, and nurses accounted for roughly one-third of the deaths.

“Lost on the Frontline” provides the most comprehensive picture available of health care worker deaths, because the US still lacks a uniform system to collect COVID-19 morbidity and mortality data among health care workers. A year into the project, the federal government has decided to take action. Officials at the US Department of Health and Human Services cited the project when asking the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine for a rapid expert consultation to understand the causes of deaths among health care workers during the pandemic.

The National Academies’ report, published December 10, recommends the “adoption and use of a uniform national framework for collecting, recording, and reporting mortality and morbidity data” along with the development of national reporting standards for a core set of morbidity impacts, including mental well-being and psychological effects related to working through public health crises. Some health care experts said the data gathering could be modeled on the federal government’s World Trade Center Health Program, which provides no-cost medical monitoring and treatment for workers who responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks 20 years ago.

“We have a great obligation to people who put their lives on the line for the nation,” Victor J. Dzau, MD, president of the National Academy of Medicine, told Jacobs.

Why vaccine production is taking so long

Illustration of a turtle carrying a vial of liquid

COVID-19 vaccine makers are under intense pressure to rev up production, but the scale of the challenge is unprecedented — and the speed of production is limited.

Why it matters: Even with help from the federal government and outside companies, vaccine-making is a complex, time-consuming biological process. That limits how quickly companies like Pfizer and Moderna can accelerate their output even during a crisis.

The big picture: With new, more transmissible variants emerging, we’re in a race to get shots into more people’s arms. What would normally take years to set up is being compressed into less than a year, leaving engineers to adapt manufacturing processes on the fly.

  • “The bottlenecks keeps moving. It keeps changing,” said Chaz Calitri, who leads the COVID-19 vaccine program at Pfizer’s Kalamazoo, Mich., facility.
  • “It’s a dream project, but at the same time, it’s the weight of the world,” he tells Axios.

Between the lines: Making vaccines is complex, and the process can be hindered at different steps.

  • “There’s a lot of science and engineering that goes into the manufacturing of any vaccine,” adds Margaret Ruesch, a vice president of Worldwide Research and Development at the company. “It’s molecular biology at a large scale.”

How it works: Axios got a deep dive into the making of Pfizer’s vaccine, a three-phase process that takes weeks from start to finish and involves three different facilities.

1) DNA manufacturing: At a plant near St. Louis, Mo., Pfizer produces DNA that encodes messenger RNA — instructions for cells to make part of the spike protein on the surface of the coronavirus. That primes the immune system to defend against future encounters with the virus.

  • The DNA is produced by bacterial cells, then purified, frozen and shipped to another Pfizer facility in Andover, Mass.

2) Making the mRNA: In Andover, the template DNA is incubated with messenger RNA building blocks in a reactor to make the mRNA. Pfizer has been making two, 40-liter batches per week — up to 10 million doses worth —but expects to double that to four batches per week.

  • After purification and quality checks, the frozen mRNA is shipped to a Pfizer plant in Kalamazoo, Mich.

3) Formulating the vaccine: In Kalamazoo, the mRNA and lipid nanoparticles (oily envelopes that deliver mRNA to cells in the body) are combined and go through a series of filtrations.

  • The bulk vaccine is then transferred to sterile vials, capped, inspected, labeled and packed into containers the size of pizza boxes. Those containers are then stored in sub-zero freezers to await shipment to vaccine distribution sites.

Where it stands: Both Pfizer and Moderna say they’re on track to meet their commitments to deliver 200 million doses each to the U.S. over the first half of the year.

  • The Biden administration yesterday announced it had secured deals for another 200 million doses, bringing the total to roughly 600 million doses, enough to fully vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of July.
  • Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech recently upped supplies 20% by getting FDA approval to squeeze a sixth dose (instead of five) out of every vial.
  • Yes, but: Extracting a sixth dose requires the use of specialized syringes, which have their own production constraints, as Reuters explained.

The latest: The Biden administration said last week that it will use its wartime powers under the Defense Production Act to give Pfizer priority access to critical components such as filling pumps and filtration units to try to help address bottlenecks.

  • Meanwhile, Pfizer continues to tweak its processes to boost output and says it is adding more suppliers and contract manufacturers to the vaccine supply chain.
  • Novartis, Sanofi and Merck KGaA are among 10 contract manufacturers that will help the company manufacture more doses, a Pfizer spokesman tells Axios.
  • Pfizer and BioNTech will still do most of the work in their facilities, but contract manufacturers will help with specific tasks like formulating lipid nanoparticles, sterile filling, inspection and packaging.

Ordering other drug manufacturers to stand up manufacturing lines to whip up extra batches of Pfizer’s or Moderna’s vaccines is not an efficient or practical way for the federal government to quickly increase supplies, some experts say.

  • “Making vaccines is not like making cars, and quality control is paramount,” Stanley Plotkin, a vaccine industry consultant, told Kaiser Health News. “We are expecting other vaccines in a matter of weeks, so it might be faster to bring them into use.”

What to watch: Johnson & Johnson has requested emergency use authorization from the FDA for its single-dose vaccine, but is reportedly lagging in production, the NYT first reported last month.

Where the pandemic has been deadliest

Image result for Ratio of COVID-19 deaths to population Map: Michelle McGhee and Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

In the seven states hit hardest by the pandemic, more than 1 in every 500 residents have died from the coronavirus.

Why it matters: The staggering death toll speaks to America’s failure to control the virus.

Details: In New Jersey, which has the highest death rate in the nation, 1 out of every 406 residents has died from the virus. In neighboring New York, 1 out of every 437 people has died.

  • In Mississippi, 1 out of every 477 people has died. And in South Dakota, which was slammed in the fall, 1 of every 489 people has died.

States in the middle of the pack have seen a death rate of around 1 in 800 dead.

  • California, which has generally suffered severe regional outbreaks that don’t span the entire state, has a death rate of 1 in 899.
  • Vermont had the lowest death rate, at 1 of every 3,436 residents.

The bottom line: Americans will keep dying as vaccinations ramp up, and more transmissible variants of the coronavirus could cause the outbreak to get worse before it gets better.

  • Experts also say it’s time to start preparing for the next pandemic — which could be deadlier.

Biden ramps up vaccine distribution to 200 million doses by the end of summer

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/biden-ramps-vaccine-distribution-200-million-doses-end-summer

Biden administration to buy 200 million more doses of Covid vaccine -  POLITICO

The death toll from the pandemic is projected to climb to 500,000 by the end of  February.

President Joe Biden yesterday announced he is ramping up COVID-19 vaccine distribution to have 200 million doses delivered by the end of the summer.

This is an additional 100 million doses Biden set as his goal for his first 100 days in office.

In remarks yesterday, Biden directed COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zeints to work with the Department of Health and Human Services to increase the nation’s total supply. 

“And we believe that we’ll soon be able to confirm the purchase of an additional 100 million doses for each of the two FDA-authorized vaccines: Pfizer and Moderna,” Biden said. “That’s 100 million more doses of Pfizer and 100 million more doses of Moderna — 200 million more doses than the federal government had previously secured. Not in hand yet, but ordered. We expect these additional 200 million doses to be delivered this summer.”

After review of the current vaccine supply from manufacturing plants, the federal government believes it can increase overall weekly vaccination distribution to states, tribes, and territories from 8.6 million doses to a minimum of 10 million doses, starting next week.  

But the pandemic is expected to get worse before it gets better, Biden said, with experts predicting the death toll as likely to top 500,000 by the end of  February.

But the brutal truth is: It’s going to take months before we can get the majority of Americans vaccinated. Months. In the next few months, masks — not vaccines — are the best defense against COVID-19,” he said.

WHY THIS MATTERS

The increases in the total vaccine order in the United States from 400 million ordered to 600 million doses will be enough vaccine to fully vaccinate 300 Americans by the end of the summer or the beginning of fall, Biden said.  

“It’ll be enough to fully vaccinate 300 [million] Americans to beat this pandemic — 300 million Americans,” he said. “And this is an aggregate plan that doesn’t leave anything on the table or anything to chance, as we’ve seen happen in the past year.”

Biden’s team said they found the vaccine program to be in worse shape than they thought it would be and that they were starting from scratch.

“But it’s also no secret that we have recently discovered, in the final days of the transition — and it wasn’t until the final days we got the kind of cooperation we needed — that once we arrived, the vaccine program is in worse shape than we anticipated or expected,” Biden said. 

Governors have been guessing at what they’ll receive for vaccine shipments, the president said.

The federal  government is working with the private industry to ramp up production of vaccine and protective equipment such as syringes, needles, gloves, swabs and masks. The team has already identified suppliers and is working with them to move the plan forward.

Also, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is being directed to to stand up the first federally-supported community vaccination centers and to make  vaccines available to thousands of local pharmacies beginning in early February.

THE LARGER TREND

Last week, Biden signed a declaration to begin reimbursing states 100% for the use of their National Guard to help the COVID-19 relief effort, both in getting sites set up and in using some of their personnel to administer the vaccines. 

Biden has also said he wants to expand testing, which will help reopen schools and businesses.

He has formalized the Health Equity Task Force to ensure that the most vulnerable populations have access to vaccines. 

He is also pushing for a $1.9 trillion relief package.

Report American Billionaires have added more than 1 trillion in wealth during pandemic

Report: American Billionaires Have Added More Than $1 Trillion In Wealth During Pandemic

America’s billionaires have added a staggering $1.1 trillion to their collective wealth since the pandemic began. Their combined fortunes now sit at $4.1 trillion — $1.7 trillion more than the amount of wealth held by the bottom half of Americans.

Meanwhile, the country’s poverty rate increased by 2.4 percentage points in the latter half of 2020 — the largest increase in poverty since the 1960s. And to think that Senate Republicans are decrying a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill as too expensive.

Please. America’s billionaires alone could finance most of that bill, just with the increase in their wealth over the last 10 months. An emergency wealth tax that used their $1.1 trillion windfall to pay for the COVID survival plan would put these billionaires back to where they were 10 months ago (still very comfortable, to say the least) while helping the rest of America survive.

This is the sort of trickle-down economics that could actually work. What do you think?

Biden to reopen ACA insurance marketplaces as pandemic has cost millions of Americans their coverage

President Biden is scheduled to take executive actions as early as Thursday to reopen federal marketplaces selling Affordable Care Act health plans and to lower recent barriers to joining Medicaid.

The orders will be Biden’s first steps since taking office to help Americans gain health insurance, a prominent campaign goal that has assumed escalating significance as the pandemic has dramatized the need for affordable health care — and deprived millions of Americans coverage as they have lost jobs in the economic fallout.

Under one order, HealthCare.gov, the online insurance marketplace for Americans who cannot get affordable coverage through their jobs, will swiftly reopen for at least a few months, according to several individuals inside and outside the administration familiar with the plans. Ordinarily, signing up for such coverage is tightly restricted outside a six-week period late each year.

Another part of Biden’s scheduled actions, the individuals said, is intended to reverse Trump-era changes to Medicaid that critics say damaged Americans’ access to the safety-net insurance. It is unclear whether Biden’s order will undo a Trump-era rule allowing states to impose work requirements, or simply direct federal health officials to review rules to make sure they expand coverage to the program that insures about 70 million low-income people in the United States.

The actions are part of a series of rapid executive orders the president is issuing in his initial days in office to demonstrate he intends to steer the machinery of government in a direction far different from that of his predecessor.

Biden has been saying for many months that helping people get insurance is a crucial federal responsibility. Yet until the actions planned for this week, he has not yet focused on this broader objective, shining a spotlight instead on trying to expand vaccinations and other federal responses to the pandemic.

The most ambitious parts of Biden’s campaign health-care platform would require Congress to provide consent and money. Those include creating a government insurance option alongside the ACA health plans sold by private insurers, and helping poor residents afford ACA coverage if they live in about a dozen states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs under the decade-old health law.

A White House spokesman declined to discuss the plans. Two HHS officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity about an event the White House has not announced, said Monday they were anticipating that the event would be held on Thursday.

According to a document obtained by The Washington Post, the president also intends to sign an order rescinding the so-called Mexico City rule, which compels nonprofits in other countries that receive federal family planning aid to promise not to perform or encourage abortions. Biden advisers last week previewed an end to this rule, which for decades has reappeared when Republicans occupied the White House and vanished under Democratic presidents.

The document also says Biden will disavow a multinational antiabortion declaration that the Trump administration signed three months ago.

The actions to expand insurance through the ACA and Medicaid come as the Supreme Court is considering two cases that could shape the outcome. One case is an effort to overturn rulings by lower federal courts, which have held that state rules, requiring some residents to work or prepare for jobs to qualify for Medicaid, are illegal. The other case involves an attempt to overturn the entire ACA.

According to the individuals inside and outside the administration, the order to reopen the federal insurance marketplaces will be framed in the context of the pandemic, essentially saying that anyone eligible for ACA coverage who has been harmed by the coronavirus will be allowed to sign up.

“This is absolutely in the covid age and the recession caused by covid,” said a health-care policy leader who has been in discussions with the administration. “There is financial displacement we need to address,” said this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe plans the White House has not announced.

The reopening of HealthCare.gov will be accompanied by an infusion of federal support to draw attention to the opportunity through advertising and other outreach efforts. This, too, reverses the Trump administration’s stance that supporting such outreach was wasteful. During its first two years, it slashed money for advertising and for community groups known as navigators that helped people enroll.

It is not clear whether restoring outreach will be part of Biden’s order or will be done more quietly within federal health-care agencies.

Federal rules already allow people to qualify for a special enrollment period to buy ACA health plans if their circumstances change in important ways, including losing a job. But such exceptions require people to seek permission individually, and many are unaware they can do so. Trump health officials also tightened the rules for qualifying for special enrollment.

In contrast, Biden is expected to open enrollment without anyone needing to seek permission, said Eliot Fishman, senior director of health policy for Families USA, a consumer health-advocacy group.

In the early days of the pandemic, the health insurance industry and congressional Democrats urged the Trump administration to reopen HealthCare.gov, the online federal ACA enrollment system on which three dozen states rely, to give more people the opportunity to sign up. At the end of March, Trump health officials decided against that.

During the most recent enrollment period, ending the middle of last month, nearly 8.3 million people signed up for health plans in the states using HealthCare.gov. The figure is about the same as the previous year, even though it includes two fewer states, which began operating their own marketplaces.

Leaders of groups helping with enrollment around the country said they were approached for help this last time by many people who had lost jobs or income because of the pandemic.

The order involving Medicaid is designed to alter course on experiments — known as “waivers” — that allow states to get federal permission to run their Medicaid programs in nontraditional ways. The work requirements, blocked so far by federal courts, are one of those experiments. Another was an announcement a year ago by Seema Verma, the Trump administration’s administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, that states could apply for a fundamental change to the program, favored by conservatives, that would cap its funding, rather than operating as an entitlement program with federal money rising and falling with the number of people covered.

“You could think about it as announcing a war against the war on Medicaid,” said Katherine Hempstead, a senior policy adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Dan Mendelson, founder of Avalere Health, a consulting firm, said Biden’s initial steps to broaden insurance match his campaign position that the United States does not need to switch to a system of single-payer insurance favored by more liberal Democrats.

The orders the president will sign “are going to do it through the existing programs,” Mendelson said.

Deborah Birx says Trump received a “parallel set of data” on the coronavirus

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/01/25/health-202-hospitals-drag-feet-new-regulations-disclose-costs-medical-services/

The former White House coronavirus response coordinator told CBS News’s “Face The Nation” that she saw Trump presenting graphs about the coronavirus that she did not help make. Someone inside or outside of the administration, she said, “was creating a parallel set of data and graphics that were shown to the president.”

Birx also said that there were people in the White House who believed the coronavirus was a hoax and that she was one of only two people in the White House who routinely wore masks.

Birx was often caught between criticism from Trump, who at one point called her “pathetic” on Twitter when she contradicted his more optimistic predictions for the virus, and critics in the scientific community who thought she did not do enough to combat false information about the virus from TrumpThe Post’s Meryl Kornfield reports.

“Colleagues of mine that I’d known for decades — decades — in that one experience, because I was in the White House, decided that I had become this political person, even though they had known me forever,” she told CBS. “I had to ask myself every morning, ‘Is there something that I think I can do that would be helpful in responding to this pandemic?’ And it’s something I asked myself every night.”

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the New York Times that Trump repeatedly tried to minimize the severity of the virus and would often chide him for not being positive enough in his statements about the virus. 

Fauci also described facing death threats as he was increasingly vilified by the president’s supporters. “One day I got a letter in the mail, I opened it up and a puff of powder came all over my face and my chest,” he said. The powder turned out to be benign.

Fauci: Lack of facts ‘likely did’ cost lives in coronavirus fight

Fauci: Lack of facts 'likely did' cost lives in coronavirus fight | TheHill

Anthony Fauci on Friday said that a lack of facts “likely did” cost lives over the last year in the nation’s efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

In an appearance on CNN, the nation’s leading infectious diseases expert was directly asked whether a “lack of candor or facts” contributed to the number of lives lost during the coronavirus pandemic over the past year.

“You know it very likely did,” Fauci said. “You know I don’t want that … to be a sound bite, but I think if you just look at that, you can see that when you’re starting to go down paths that are not based on any science at all, that is not helpful at all, and particularly when you’re in a situation of almost being in a crisis with the number of cases and hospitalizations and deaths that we have.”

“When you start talking about things that make no sense medically and no sense scientifically, that clearly is not helpful,” he continued.

President Biden on Thursday unveiled a new national coronavirus strategy that is, in part, aimed at “restoring trust in the American people.”

When asked why that was important, Fauci recognized that the past year of dealing with the pandemic had been filled with divisiveness.

“There’s no secret. We’ve had a lot of divisiveness, we’ve had facts that were very, very clear that were questioned. People were not trusting what health officials were saying, there was great divisiveness, masks became a political issue,” Fauci said.

“So what the president was saying right from the get-go was, ‘Let’s reset this. Let everybody get on the same page, trust each other, let the science speak.’”

Fauci, who was thrust into the national spotlight last year as part of former President Trump‘s coronavirus task force, often found himself at odds with the former president. Trump frequently downplayed the severity of the virus and clashed publicly with Fauci.

Speaking during a White House press briefing on Thursday, Fauci said it was “liberating” to be working in the Biden administration.

There have been more than 24,600,000 coronavirus infections in the U.S. since the pandemic began, according to a count from Johns Hopkins University. More than 410,000 people have died.