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This was the week the coronavirus hit the U.S. in general and Washington, D.C., in particular in a big way. More than a half-dozen lawmakers are in self-quarantine after being exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus; stocks officially entered a bear market; and the White House and Congress are scrambling to try to get ahead of a fast-moving public health crisis.
In the early part of the week, while the Trump administration downplayed the threat from the coronavirus, officials issued a long-awaited set of regulations aimed at making it easier for electronic medical records programs made by different companies to talk to one another ― and to patients.
This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times, Paige Winfield Cunningham of The Washington Post and Kimberly Leonard of Business Insider.
Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:
- A large number of members of Congress are 65 or older — as many as 48 of the senators and more than 150 House members ― and should be taking precautionary measures to avoid the coronavirus, including not attending large gatherings. But there are no provisions for handling votes and congressional business remotely.
- In his speech Wednesday night, President Donald Trump highlighted his hopes of getting Congress to pass a payroll tax holiday to help consumers affected by the virus or suffering from the illness it causes, COVID-19, and to help stimulate the economy. But that proposal seems to be running into bipartisan objections. One problem: It doesn’t help people whose pay is lost because of the loss of work, such as gig workers.
- Democrats have offered instead an ambitious package of initiatives to help cover expenses for workers who may be out of work because of the outbreak. But they have to hammer out many details to get Republican approval.
- Insurance companies have agreed to the government’s request that they cover testing at no cost to customers, but many people could still face out-of-pocket expenses for treatment.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a plan this week to upgrade consumer provisions in the Affordable Care Act. She did not take sides in the party’s debate on switching to a “Medicare for All” single-payer plan versus adding a government-run public option to the ACA. But her efforts are designed to help House members campaign on health care fixes that are popular with voters.
- The federal government released a rule this week to make electronic health records more easily transferrable and allow consumers to have computer apps that hold their records. Although the concept of getting records sent between medical offices more easily is broadly popular, the effort could raise privacy issues, industry groups allege.
Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read too:
Julie Rovner: The New York Times’ “Strikes and Attack Ads: The Hard Roads to Universal Health Care,” by Quoctrung Bui and Sarah Kliff
Kimberly Leonard: Mother Jones’ “Schools Can No Longer Use Electric Shock Devices on Students, Says the FDA,” by Russ Choma
Margot Sanger-Katz: The Atlantic’s “Cancel Everything” by Yascha Mounk
Paige Winfield Cunningham: Politico’s “How Testing Failures Allowed Coronavirus to Sweep the U.S.” by Joanne Kenen
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