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Monthly Archives: August 2020



Ramsey Touchberry  3 hrs ago-Newsweek

As the White House repeatedly downplayed the state of the pandemic throughout the summer, its own coronavirus task force was quietly sending reports to states that directly contradicted the public remarks offered by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, showed documents that were unveiled Monday by a congressional panel.Donald Trump et al. standing next to a person in a suit and tie: President Donald Trump, with Response coordinator for White House Coronavirus Task Force Deborah Birx (L) and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci (R), speaks on vaccine development on May 15 in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC.© Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty President Donald Trump, with Response coordinator for White House Coronavirus Task Force Deborah Birx (L) and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci (R), speaks on vaccine development on May 15 in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC.

The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released eight reports, ranging from June 23 to August 9, from the White House Coronavirus Task Force that were provided to states.

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Further, the Democratic-led committee concluded, “many states are still failing to comply with key Task Force recommendations, including some recommendations first made nearly two months ago.”

The panel specifically references four states—Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma—that it said “acknowledged” receiving the private reports and recommendations, yet largely ignored them by not “implementing additional public health measures recommended by the Task Force to stop the spread of the virus.”

The earliest report to states on June 23 stated that seven states were in a “red zone” and that new cases were up by 70 percent in Arizona, 72 percent in Texas, 87 percent in Florida, 93 percent in Oklahoma and 134 percent in Idaho. One week earlier, on June 16, Pence penned an op-ed that “panic is overblown” about a second wave.

A July 5 report stated 15 states were now in the “red zone” and that Florida “has seen a significant increase in new cases and a significant increase in testing positivity over the past week continuing from the previous 4 weeks.” Two days later, on July 7, Trump rebuked a grim assessment by Dr. Anthony Fauci, a task force member and the country’s top infectious disease expert, saying that “we’ve done a good job” and “I think we are going to be in two, three, four weeks, by the time we next speak, I think we’re going to be in very good shape.”

A July 14 report said 19 states were in the “red zone” and that “more testing is needed.” That same day, Trump inaccurately claimed that “no other country tests like us. In fact, I could say it’s working too much. It’s working too well.”

An August 2 report said 23 states were in the “red zone” and warned about the spread in Louisiana, South Carolina and Oklahoma. The week prior, on July 28, Trump told Axios that “it’s under control as much as you can control it.”

“They are dying, that’s true. And you have—it is what it is,” the president continued. “But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can.”

On August 3, Trump tweeted that “cases up because of BIG Testing! Much of our Country is doing very well. Open the Schools!”

An August 9 report showed that 48 states and the District of Columbia were in red or yellow zones.

The congressional panel concluded that many states refused to implement recommendations from the White House Coronavirus Task Force meant to curb the spread.

In a letter to the coronavirus subcommittee, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R), who recently dropped a lawsuit against the Atlanta mayor Kesha Lance Bottoms over a mask mandate, wrote that Americans in both Georgia and the U.S. “grew complacent.”

“Summer holidays coupled with televised protests caused many to let their guard down and abandon guidance provided by public health officials,” Kemp wrote.

In other examples, the committee noted that Florida has declined to initiate a mask mandate, despite the task force’s June 29 advice to do so; Tennessee refused a mask mandate and to close bars and limit restaurant activity in red and yellow zones; and Oklahoma rebuffed the task force’s mask mandate recommendation.

In total, the committee concluded after reviewing the task force reports, “14 states that have been in the ‘red zone’ since June 23 have refused to impose statewide mask mandates per Task Force’s recommendations—including states with severe case spikes like Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee.”

This is a developing story and will be updated with additional information as it becomes available

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Ab Goodnough, The New York Times August 30, 2020 0:36 0:45   

WASHINGTON — Marilyn Cortez, a retired cafeteria worker in Houston with no health insurance, spent much of July in the hospital with COVID-19. When she finally returned home, she received a $36,000 bill that compounded the stress of her illness.

Then someone from the hospital, Houston Methodist, called and told her not to worry — President Donald Trump had paid it.

But then another bill arrived, for twice as much.

Cortez’s care is supposed to be covered under a program Trump announced this spring as the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold — a time when millions of people were losing their health insurance and the administration was doubling down on trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, the law that had expanded coverage to more than 20 million people.

“This should alleviate any concern uninsured Americans may have about seeking the coronavirus treatment,” Trump said in April about the program, which is supposed to cover testing and treatment for uninsured people with COVID-19, using money from the federal coronavirus relief package passed by Congress.

Luis Fernandez, who was sick and hospitalized with COVID-19 last month, near his home in Houston, on Aug. 22, 2020. (Michael Starghill Jr./The New York Times)
Luis Fernandez, who was sick and hospitalized with COVID-19 last month, near his home in Houston, on Aug. 22, 2020. (Michael Starghill Jr./The New York Times)

The program has drawn little attention since, but a review by The New York Times of payments made through it, as well as interviews with hospital executives, patients and health policy researchers who have examined the payments, suggest the quickly concocted plan has not lived up to its promise. It has caused confusion at participating hospitals, which in some cases have mistakenly billed patients like Cortez, who should be covered by it. Few patients seem to know the program exists, so they don’t question the charges. And some hospitals and other medical providers have chosen not to participate in the program, which bars them from seeking any payment from patients whose bills they submit to it.

Large numbers of patients have also been disqualified because COVID-19 has to be the primary diagnosis for a case to be covered (unless the patient is pregnant). Since hospitalized COVID patients often have other serious medical conditions, many have other primary diagnoses. At Jackson Health in Miami, for example, only 60% of uninsured COVID-19 patients had decisively met the requirements to have their charges covered under the program as of late July, a spokeswoman said.

Critics say the stopgap program is among the strongest evidence that Trump and his party have no vision for improving health coverage, and instead promote piecemeal solutions, even in a national health crisis. Trump had promised a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act by the beginning of August, but none has been announced and he and other Republicans barely mentioned health policy in their national convention last week.

For now, as tens of thousands of new coronavirus cases are reported each day in the United States — and as Democrats eagerly frame the election as a referendum on Trump’s handling of the pandemic and his efforts to wipe out the health law in the Supreme Court — the COVID-19 Uninsured Program is his best offer.

“This is not the way you deal with uninsured people during a public health emergency,” said Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University.

The program has clearly paid what, in many cases, would be staggering and unaffordable bills for thousands of COVID-19 patients. In addition to hospital care, it covers outpatient visits, ambulance rides, medical equipment, skilled nursing home care and even future COVID vaccines for the uninsured, “subject to available funding.” It does not cover prescriptions once patients leave the hospital, or treatment of underlying chronic conditions that make many more vulnerable to the virus.

Health care providers in all 50 states had been reimbursed a total of $851 million from the fund as of last week — $267 million for testing and $584 million for treatment— with hospitals in Texas and New Jersey receiving the most.

But the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan research organization, has estimated that hospital costs alone for uninsured coronavirus patients could reach between $13.9 billion and $41.8 billion, far more than what the program has paid out so far.

“The claims have just been so much smaller than anyone would have expected,” said Molly Smith, vice president for coverage and state issues forum at the American Hospital Association. “One thing we’ve heard a fair amount of is just serious backlogs and delays. But probably a lot of claims aren’t getting into the system at all because our members have determined they don’t qualify.”

The hospital association says that some hospitals have reported not submitting a substantial number of claims for their uninsured, with estimates ranging from 40% to 70%, because COVID-19 was not ruled their primary diagnosis.

“Either hospitals code inconsistent with ICD-10 rules,” said Tom Nickels, an executive vice president of the hospital association, referring to the diagnostic codes that hospitals use for billing, “or they don’t get paid even though the patient is clearly getting treated for COVID.”

Harris Health, a two-hospital public system in Houston, did not bill the federal fund for 80% of the roughly 1,300 uninsured COVID-19 patients it had treated through mid-July because many of them also had other medical problems — most often, sepsis, an overwhelming reaction to infection that causes blood-pressure loss and organ failure. In other cases, “an underlying health condition was the primary reason for hospitalization, but was exacerbated by the COVID-19 disease,” Bryan McLeod, a spokesman, said.

Nationally, the total average charge for uninsured COVID patients requiring a hospital stay is $73,300, according to FAIR Health, a health care cost database, although they may be able to negotiate a lower amount.

​Reimbursements have varied widely with few obvious explanations; New Jersey providers, for example, have received $72 million in COVID treatment claims while those in neighboring New York have received half as much. Providers in hard-hit Texas and Florida, states that have not expanded Medicaid to cover more poor adults, have received $144 million and $53 million for treatment, respectively.

“It’s just not clear to me what’s going on,” said Jennifer Tolbert, director of state health reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation, who has looked closely at the program and its claims database.

Despite its limitations, some hospital executives said they liked the program because it paid Medicare rates, which are considerably higher than those for Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor, or any normal funding they would receive for charity care.

“This was a really progressive policy we were really surprised by, frankly,” said Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the chief executive of University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, which has received $8.2 million for treating 787 uninsured patients with COVID, about a third of its coronavirus patients.

Unlike previous administrations during public health emergencies, Trump’s has not encouraged even temporary expansions of Medicaid — except for limited COVID testing — in states where the program covers few poor adults. It also declined to broadly reopen enrollment for Affordable Care Act plans once the pandemic began, although people who lose job-based coverage can enroll.

“You’re seeing a clash between enhancing Medicaid to allow it to cover the uninsured, versus providing a fixed amount of bailout money for providers who can figure out how to get to it,” Rosenbaum said.

The Trump administration has not said how much money it will ultimately allot for the COVID-19 program. It is a small part of the Provider Relief Fund, which totaled $175 billion to start but has been spent down to $60 billion. Most of that money has helped health care providers cover financial losses during the pandemic.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services said in an email that it had not set a limit on how much of the fund would be spent on covering uninsured costs. She said the agency had no plans to change the program to cover patients for whom COVID is a secondary diagnosis.

For now, the confusion continues. Luis Fernandez, an oil industry worker in Houston who was laid off in January, had been uninsured for years when he got sick with COVID last month. He spent 16 days at Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital and received bills totaling $85,000.

“I called the financial aid lady, told her I was on unemployment and she said, ‘What are you going to do?’” Fernandez, 33, said. “She wanted me to go back to work, like, tomorrow, so I can start paying them.”

A spokeswoman for Memorial Hermann said he had received the bill due to “a process error.”

“We do expect it to be paid since the primary diagnosis is COVID-19,” said the spokeswoman, Alex Loessin.

Cortez’s latest bill was for $76,363.

“This one scares me,” said Billy Cortez, her adult son, who shared a copy of the bill with The Times.

Stefanie Asin, a spokeswoman for Houston Methodist, said in response to questions from The Times that the program would cover all of Marilyn Cortez’s costs but that the hospital system submitted bills to the program only once a month, creating delays. She described the process as lengthy, with “multiple steps and handoffs,” she said.

“We are looking to improve and accelerate this process for the benefit of our patients,” Asin said, “so they will not inadvertently get an unnecessary bill.”

Cortez still needs an oxygen tank, blood thinners and other medications that cost more than $500 a month. She also needs to start seeing a cardiologist because of all the blood clots she developed during her illness. Oxygen and outpatient visits related to COVID are supposed to be covered by the federal program, but nobody has told her that.

If Cortez lived in a different state, all her expenses would likely have been covered by Medicaid. But, like several million poor Americans, she is in the so-called coverage gap: ineligible for Medicaid because Texas is among a handful of states that have resisted expanding the program under the Affordable Care Act. And because of a glitch with the law, she and others are also ineligible for the subsidies that the law provides to help pay for private insurance.

For now, her son Billy is paying for her medications and praying she gets past the fatigue and coughing that still dog her. He said he was extremely grateful that his mother’s hospital bills would be paid, but worried about what the next two years, before she turns 65 and qualifies for Medicare, might bring.

“I feel like this isn’t going to be over any time soon,” he said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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I have been wondering why the US Congress (the people we elected to represent us) are COLA recipients while we the people who exist on Social security and Medicaid, SSI or some other Government retirement receive little to no increases? The reality is that no matter what the electeds tell us, they take care of themselves and lie to us. Our Taxes pay their salaries (which are too high) and thereby pay for their healthcare and retirement. I have heard folks say there should be term limits, in theory that is fine however we cannot expect these folks to limit themselves to a 2 or 4 years term and stop. We the people are the term limits and we do that by voting for or against. This election season is the opportunity to make adjustments. Another 4 years of TOTUS and his miscreants will prove to be more deadly than it is right now. Remember he is being abetted by the same neer do well Congress we have kept in office for too long. This requires informed voting based on several issues not just your favorite.

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From the Seahawks:

“(White people) need to be coached up and they need to be educated about what the heck is going on in the world,” Carroll said. “Black people can’t scream anymore, they can’t march any more, they can’t bear their souls anymore to what they’ve lived with for hundreds of years because white guys came over from Europe and started a new country with a great idea and great ideals and wrote down great writings and laws and all of that about democracy and freedom and equality for all. And then that’s not what happened, because we went down this road here and followed economics—rich white guys making money—and they put together a system of slavery, and we’ve never left it, really. It has never gone away.

“And Black people know the truth, they know exactly what’s going on. It’s white people who don’t know. It’s not that they’re not telling us; they’ve been telling us the stories. We know what’s right and what’s wrong, we just have not been open to listen to it. We’ve been unwilling to accept the real history. We’ve been taught a false history of what happened in this country, we’ve been basing things on false premises, and it has not been about equality for all, it has not been about freedom for all, it has not been opportunity for all, and it needs to be. This is a humanity issue we’re dealing with. This is a white people’s issue to get over and learn what’s going on and to figure it out and start loving everybody that is part of our country, and that want to our country, wherever they want to come from.”

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In the recent RNC convention, I have noticed that in the remarks, many members of the White House staff and some party members have stated that they get tested daily. If this is indeed the case, then why is it that we do not have national testing yet? These statements are either lies or political rhetoric. Why would “our leaders” withhold testing from the citizenry? This question should puzzle all of us. Why is Dr. Fauci left out of conversations while the CDC issues false information and then is forced to retract it? We already know that the administration has no ability to tell the truth, yet why would testing be withheld from the public as this would be boost for them in this election season? This could be a conundrum if they were honest people however their track record for the truth is full of ruts and potholes. These questions and statements could apply to any political party but it applies to the one currently in control of the White House. It is a long standing sense from many voters that politicians are not trustworthy but we pay attention to what they say and do. If you remove party from politics, you have individuals with their personal faults which influence their actions on their behalf not ours (the people who elected them). It is odd that we (voters) to our detriment have become inured to the ramblings of our elected officials, shouldn’t we take the rose colored glasses off and take a serious look at who we are voting for?


The current election season has shown to be a battle of lies against truth. The truth being somewhere left, right and center of what is evident. The unfortunate part of this is that so many voters are uninformed about the issues. The issues are all clouded by the constant playing on the fears of voters. These fears are what creates and perpetuates the divisions between the various voting blocs. The reality is : “what affects one of us affects all of us in some degree”. While one person who has financial issues due to Government policies another doesn’t, when one person has issues with current health care, another does not. The idea of government policies is to provide equally for all voters. Currently those policies are in limbo at best and nonexistent at worse. The GOP stance generally is smaller government which in theory is ok but in reality is a fairy tale and a good talking point as most people don’t know what that means. The DEM’s stance is government coverage for the most important issues (health care for one). The oddest part of all of this mismatching of ideologies s that IF these two sides would spend less time bashing one another and trying to please big donors we could possible have a United Government that works for ALL of us. It is unfortunate that we have been entertained into believing the ravings of a narcissist and his minions (some of whom have their own unrelated agendas), when what we need are serious minded folks who actually want to serve. There will always be differences of opinions among voters over various issues but these differences do not need more unfounded and just wrong information poured on as fuel on a fire. The real governance has to start at voter level with the removal by vote of ineffective legislators as the current crop has for years stayed in office much too long to be effective for us-the voters.

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There are millions of opinions in this country yet we have failed to learn from the past and we are suffering for it now. If the time were taken to look back on the past 50 years of government we could see the evolution of special interest groups, the conservatives and the “moral’ right. These are groups who have “their” interests which are not necessarily the interests of the country as a whole but they have influenced our elections and policies  which has affected us all up to this day. The ways these efforts have affected us: Botch McConnell- blocking legislation put forth by the Obama administration and taking a neutral stance on legislation by TOTUS. Underneath the public information are the backroom deals and many of those deals are not ultimately good for us and we have no input on their implementation. With all of this, these elected officials come to us each election season as people of good will and ask for another term. Our failure as voters is that we are wont to read the dull and long history of what each of these folks have done to us over time. Perhaps we should look at the ways these people who  we elected to serve ALL of us are serving just some of us on the backs of MOST of us.

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After several days of watching and listening to reports on the Post Master and related, I have wondered if anyone really understands the implications of the current administration’s campaign against mail in votes. First  we should understand that we have essentially a lame duck administration abetted by a neer do well Congress. The original sin of Congress in forcing the Post Office to prepay their pension obligations was the beginning of the money issues within the Department. The post office has not been able to break even since that fateful directive in 2006.- HR 6407. This makes the Postal service pay into the retirement and health care fund the amount shown below:

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`(3)(A) The United States Postal Service shall pay into such Fund–
`(i) $5,400,000,000, not later than September 30, 2007;
`(ii) $5,600,000,000, not later than September 30, 2008;
`(iii) $5,400,000,000, not later than September 30, 2009;
`(iv) $5,500,000,000, not later than September 30, 2010;
`(v) $5,500,000,000, not later than September 30, 2011;
`(vi) $5,600,000,000, not later than September 30, 2012;
`(vii) $5,600,000,000, not later than September 30, 2013;
`(viii) $5,700,000,000, not later than September 30, 2014;
`(ix) $5,700,000,000, not later than September 30, 2015; and
`(x) $5,800,000,000, not later than September 30, 2016.
`(B) Not later than September 30, 2017, and by September 30 of each succeeding year,

This is only part of the entire law, to read it in it’s entirety search: HR6407. The Trump administration and it’s abettors are asserting that the President is correct in his assessment in spite of the fact that many of them benefit from mail in  and absentee votes. This blind following is why we have a raging pandemic and deteriorating economy. It is unfortunate that too many voters latch on to one issue and ignore the wider range of ills brought about by this administration.

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The GOP has referenced the 500 billion dollars already allocated has not been spent, so adding more money to the “cares” act is unnecessary. The article below explains why and how these funds are being spent now and how the balance will be spent. Spending these funds effectively is a complicated action. MA

Scott Patterson, Sarah Krouse  4 days ago

Billions of dollars in federal funds earmarked for boosting nationwide Covid-19 testing remain unspent months after Congress made the money available, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In April, Congress allocated roughly $25 billion for federal agencies and states to expand testing, develop contact-tracing initiatives and broaden disease surveillance.

According to HHS data, only about 10% to 15% of that total has been drawn down, meaning the cash has been spent or committed to various efforts. The funds for various testing initiatives were part of the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act.

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The Trump administration has taken a state-led approach to testing Americans for Covid-19, dispatching funds and helping states procure the swabs and reagents they need to facilitate testing. The strategy, federal officials say, helps states identify and cater to their specific needs.

Of the $25 billion, some $10.25 billion was sent to states and U.S. territories in May to expand testing and develop contact-tracing programs at their discretion, but as of Aug. 14, just $121 million of that pool of funds had been drawn down.

An agency spokesman said HHS won’t know how the funds were used until the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

HHS is focused on expanding testing and sending the right types of tests to the right types of settings, Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the agency, said on a call with reporters Wednesday.

“There are plenty of tests and that’s growing substantially,” said Adm. Giroir, who has overseen U.S. testing efforts.

Still, overwhelming demand for diagnostic tests in July as cases spiked in the southern and western regions of the country led to lab backlogs and weekslong delays for results and hindered contact tracing and containment efforts.

There were about 25 million tests done in July and Adm. Giroir estimated the U.S. will have 90 million tests available in September.

“No health department or state can cry poor during this health crisis,” said Will Humble, executive director for the Arizona Public Health Association. “It’s not a matter of more money. It’s a matter of using the money that has already been given to counties and states effectively,” he said.

More than $8 billion of the $25 billion is to be spent at the discretion of HHS. Much of that money hasn’t been distributed yet, HHS spokeswoman Mia Heck said in response to questions from The Wall Street Journal about the funds.

“HHS continues to monitor the situation and support response and recovery activities supported with additional emergency supplemental resources,” she said.

Sens. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Patty Murray (D., Wash.) in June sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar calling on the Trump administration to disburse the $8 billion immediately, with an emphasis on addressing contact tracing efforts and collecting data on racial and ethnic disparities in coronavirus cases.

Testing for coronavirus is seen as a key part of the nation’s campaign to beat back the disease, allowing officials to track new outbreaks and quarantine people who test positive. While testing capacity has expanded rapidly, some experts say it isn’t enough to capture the full extent of the pandemic.

Federal officials have advocated for testing of those with symptoms and known contact with infected individuals, rather than widespread, regular testing as part of return to work and school plans. Some public health officials argue that broad, regular, widely available testing is critical to safely reopening the economy.

After surging through most of July, U.S. testing rates have slowed somewhat in August.

The seven-day average of new tests run was 709,347 on Thursday, according to the Covid Tracking Project, down from 781,156 a month earlier. There were weekly declines in testing in 21 states as of Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Some of those declines were the result of testing site closures during a hurricane earlier this month and labs clearing backlogs from July, Adm. Giroir said. Some states have also revised testing criteria to reduce demand, while the federal government changed guidance for returning to work, eliminating a recommendation that individuals receive two negative tests.

Of the $25 billion in PPP funds for testing, another $5.7 billion was to be sent to various government agencies involved in testing, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. As of this week, $1.62 billion of those funds had been obligated or committed to the agencies, according to HHS.

Agencies including the National Institutes of Health were to use those funds to buy diagnostic and serological tests, source lab supplies and develop new testing technologies.

Federal relief packages also included $2 billion to pay for testing uninsured individuals. Of that, $235.5 million has been spent.

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