Happy Friday! Where yours truly is a little in awe and a little dazed at the idea of China in the span of six days building an entire hospital to handle patients of the coronavirus. The pictures from the construction site with what looks like a toddler’s toy box’s worth of excavators alone are worth clicking through for.
Speaking of, you may have — just may have — heard there’s a coronavirus outbreak happening in China. Considering I’ve processed nearly 40 stories per day on the topic, I found it impossible to link to just one. If you’d like to thoroughly check out the full onslaught, we’ve got you covered. But here are some highlights:
— Although the death toll has climbed to 26 people, there are more than 800 confirmed cases, which means the death rate is not startlingly high. On top of that, mostly older men with underlying illnesses are the ones who have succumbed to the virus.
— One case has been confirmed in the United States and one possible case reported. Airports in five major U.S. hubs ramped up their screenings of passengers coming in from China.
— The World Health Organization is holding off on declaring a global emergency since there have been few cases outside China, and the disease doesn’t seem to be spreading within other countries.
— This happened at possibly one of the worst times it could have, as millions of Chinese had been preparing to travel to their hometowns for the Spring Festival.
— How do you avoid the coronavirus? Wash your hands. That’s way more effective than those face masks.
Bottom line is, right now, unless you just came back from the Wuhan area in China, you probably don’t need to worry about getting infected. But it does raise a good question: Is the United States ready to handle a pandemic? Experts say that, although strides have been made in recent years, no, now we are not.
And don’t forget to get your flu shot! So far, in the U.S. 6,600 have died and 120,000 have been hospitalized during the 2019-20 flu season.
Whew! OK, believe it or not there was other news beyond the coronavirus.
The Supreme Court gave Republicans some breathing room when it declined a request to fast-track the health law case. The Democrats defending the law wanted the justices to make a decision before the 2020 elections and (nervous) Republicans were like, “Nooo, please take your time.” Any decision would have been ammo for Democrats right at the height of election season. Dems used Republicans’ attacks on the increasingly popular law to surge into the House during the previous midterms.
Meanwhile, the debate over contraception coverage is going to land back in front of the justices. At the heart of the case the justices agreed to hear lies the question: Can the Trump administration allow all sorts of employers with religious or moral objections to contraception to opt out of the coverage requirement? The overarching issue is no stranger to the Supreme Court, but it comes with the caveat that most lawsuits will come within the coming year: With conservative Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch now on the bench, past cases won’t dictate what we can expect from current ones.
On that note, March for Life swept into the nation’s capital Friday, but many advocates on both sides of the culture war have their sights trained a little further in the distance — namely, at Supreme Court oral arguments a little more than a month away. The case over a Louisiana law requiring hospital admitting privileges for abortion providers will be the first big abortion case in front of the newly conservative court.
If all goes as scheduled, President Donald Trump will become the first sitting president to speak in person at the March for Life event. Trump, who in the past called himself “very pro-choice,” has found a fierce political ally in the anti-abortion movement — in fact, the announcement that he would speak at the event came just a few days after the Susan B. Anthony List said it would spend $52 million to help the president’s reelection.
In other news, Trump restored women’s health funding in Texas, rolling back an Obama-era punishment for the state for excluding abortion providers from its program. The decision could give other conservative states the green light to cut off family planning funding for groups like Planned Parenthood.
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Trump handed Democrats a gift this week when he mused that the idea of cutting entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare were on the table as a way to rein in the deficit. Dems sprang into action as might be expected — voters have a history of being, uh, less than receptive to that idea — by highlighting Trump’s previous campaign promises to protect such safety-net programs. Trump then walked back the statement, tweeting: “I have totally left [Social Security] alone, as promised, and will save it!”
CMS is apparently full steam ahead in crafting guidance that would help states transform their Medicaid programs into a block-grant model. Although some say the rules could come as early as this month, there’s still some disagreement over the scope of the plan. The terminology might even get a rebranding away from “block grant,” as the phrase has quite a bit of partisan baggage.
Insurers are getting in on the hot new trend for curbing high drug prices —manufacturing your own generics. Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and 18 of its health plans are teaming up with Civica Rx to make up to 10 yet-to-be-determined high-cost generics in an effort to increase competition and address shortages. The move comes not long after California Gov. Gavin Newsom floated a similar proposal for his state.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar apparently had to bear the brunt of Trump’s anger after the president got polling data showing Democrats are more trusted than Republicans on such health care topics as controlling high drug prices.
In the miscellaneous file for the week:
— Workers who struggle with depression or other mental health issues can’t get fired because of existing federal protections. But churches are exempt. Pastors routinely lose their positions after church officials learn of their diagnoses.
— After a Native American girl’s disappearance, state and federal law enforcement quickly mobilized a search instead of letting the case go cold. This shouldn’t be notable, and yet it is.
— Should congressional candidates be able to use campaign funds to pay for health care? One progressive Georgia Democrat says that not allowing candidates to do so creates structural barriers that make running for office cost-prohibitive for middle-class Americans.
— A new wave of state-level laws have been introduced to penalize medical providers who give certain types of care to young transgender patients. The speed and sheer number of bills introduced in recent weeks have prompted transgender advocates to mobilize in response.
That’s it from me! Have a great weekend.