Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, October 2020 # 19

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Your guide to the latest Hill developments, news narratives, and media headlines from Hogan Lovells Government Relations and Public Affairs practice.

In Washington:

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in a Thursday morning letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pressed the White House for a response to the Democrats' latest coronavirus relief package proposal. Pelosi's latest offer sought concessions from the administration on a national coronavirus testing strategy, Obamacare health coverage for jobless workers, child care and unemployment benefits, and more. Republicans continue to seek legal immunity for employers, another sticking point. In response, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the administration has “doubted her seriousness in the recent weeks,” referring to Pelosi. He added, “We continued to negotiate in good faith” but that Democrats “show no evidence of compromising on the very key issues.”
  • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released an interim rule on Wednesday promising free COVID-19 vaccinations for all uninsured, seniors, and poor Americans. The money to pay for the vaccine would come from Medicare for seniors. The administration says a congressional account that is already designated for hospital bailouts is to be used for uninsured people. Those on Medicaid won’t have to pay anything during the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration which runs through at least late January. After that, states would have to evaluate the cost-sharing policies. Private health insurers would also have to cover the vaccines authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for the duration of the public health declaration. The plan does not explicitly address the issues that may arise given that there is no limit put on the vaccines’ costs that private insurers will have to pay and if private Medicare plans balk at the price. Current Medicare rules do not allow Medicare to cover the costs of drugs authorized under emergency use designations.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci believes the Trump administration needs to instate a nationwide mask mandate and said U.S. might not see “some semblances of normality” until 2022 when interviewed by CNBC's Shepard Smith. The government’s top coronavirus expert warned on Wednesday that the U.S. is “going in the wrong direction” with the coronavirus and “if things don’t change, if they continue on the course we’re on, there's going to be a whole lot of pain in the country.” While Fauci acknowledged that there is “little appetite for lockdown” in the U.S., he says Americans must start practicing wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowds. President Donald Trump hasn't met with the White House Coronavirus Task Force in months, Fauci said. The task force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, now meets once a week online. Fauci also admitted that he no longer has the President’s ear anymore; instead, the President listens to Pence and Dr. Scott Atlas. Atlas, a radiologist rather than an infectious disease expert, has become a controversial figure as peers and health experts describe his pandemic responses to be described as "falsehoods and misrepresentations of science.”
  • Dr. Deborah Birx vowed never to sit in another White House task force meeting with Dr. Scott Atlas, according to CNN. The White House Task Force coordinator said the decision was due to Atlas’s misleading messages. Instead, Dr. Birx has been spending her time traveling to all 50 states to directly meet with officials to “sidestep misleading messages” and encourage better compliance.

In the News:

  • Regeneron announced Wednesday that a large trial it is conducting shows that its antibody-drug reduced coronavirus-related medical visits for people who have not been hospitalized. The company says that 57 percent of medical visits were cut among coronavirus patients when compared with standard care. The effect increased to 72 percent for people with one or more risk factors for COVID-19. The data has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
  • U.S. GDP grew by about 7.4 percent during the third quarter of July, August, and September, according to the Commerce Department. That’s an annualized pace of 33.1 percent, a record. GDP had contracted at an annualized 31.4 percent rate in the second quarter. Annualized rates tend to overstate expansion and contraction because they estimate future economic numbers if quarterly trends continue for a full year. The 7.4 percent figure describes a change in pace as compared to the second quarter. The Department reports that the strong economic figures are undergirded by more business reopenings and shopping.
  • Exxon said Thursday that it will cut its U.S. staff by around 1,900 employees as the energy giant continues to see its operations pressured by the coronavirus pandemic. According to Edward Jones, the current layoffs combined with earlier cuts represent about 5 percent of Exxon’s global workforce. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. oil benchmark, has recovered since plunging into negative territory for the time on record in April, but the contract still trades at a deep discount to prior prices.
  • American Express, Mastercard, and Visa all reported double-digit drops in profit for the recent quarter, compared to a year ago. The companies pointed to a plunge in international travel as borders remain closed during the pandemic. Cross-border credit card fees are lucrative for credit card issuers. Visa was the latest major card company to report results on Wednesday. Cross-border transactions fell 29 percent, while Visa’s revenue in the quarter was down 17 percent from a year ago.
  • The housing market is cooling off. According to the National Association of Realtors, pending home sales, a measure of signed contracts on existing homes, fell 2.2 percent in September compared with August. It was the first monthly decline in 4 months.
  • A variant of the coronavirus that is believed to have originated in Spain has spread across Europe and now accounts for most of the new cases reported in several countries in the region, according to the findings of a new study. The research is due to be published on Thursday and has not been peer-reviewed. The study’s authors said they had no direct evidence to suggest the new variant spreads faster or hits patients harder. The study may indicate that vacationers returning from Spain may have helped spread the new variant across Europe. It also may suggest that a recent upsurge in new COVID-19 infections across the region could have been capped by stricter travel measures and improved screening at airports and other transport hubs.

[View source.]

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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