The Trump administration is weighing whether to use a national disaster program to pay providers for treating uninsured patients for the new coronavirus, as Vice President Pence on Tuesday announced that CDC will lift its current restrictions on testing Americans for the virus.
About the coronavirus epidemic
Reports of the new coronavirus first surfaced in early December 2019 in Wuhan, China. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the main symptoms of the virus are fever and lesions in both lungs. Some patients also have reported difficulty breathing, WHO said.
As of Wednesday, officials reported more than 94,300 cases of the virus globally, with most of those cases occurring in mainland China, the New York Times reports. Officials said as of Wednesday there had been at least 3,210 deaths linked to the virus, and all but 229 of the deaths occurred in mainland China.
WHO officials on Tuesday said the global mortality rate for new coronavirus infections, known as COVID-19, is about 3.4%, which is higher than the 2% rate officials previously had reported. WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris said COVID-19's updated mortality rate is a "crudely calculated" snapshot based on the growing number of cases outside of China and is expected to "change over time, and vary from place to place."
US coronavirus cases exceed 100, as death toll rises to 9
In the United States, state and federal officials as of Wednesday reported a total of 129 confirmed or presumed positive cases of COVID-19 and nine deaths linked to the virus, the Times reports. CDC as of Wednesday said 49 of the cases involved Americans who contracted the virus elsewhere and then repatriated to the United States, 24 cases involved patients who had contracted the virus while traveling abroad and were diagnosed after returning to the United States, and 16 cases involved patients who contracted the virus via human-to-human transmission in the United States. CDC said 40 cases were under investigation.
CDC has noted that several U.S. patients with the virus—including patients in California, Oregon, and Washington—have no known connections to individuals who had either traveled to other countries affected by the virus or who had a suspected or confirmed case of the virus. That indicates the cases likely stemmed from so-called "community spread" of the virus in the United States.
All nine COVID-19 deaths reported so far in the United States occurred among patients in Washington State. Two of the deaths occurred among patients who were diagnosed with COVID-19 posthumously. Those patients died on Feb. 26, making it likely that they were the first patients to die from the virus in the United States. Officials previously believed that the first COVID-19 death in the United States occurred among a Washington patient who passed away last Friday.
Trump admin expands testing, considers paying providers to treat uninsured coronavirus patients
Trump administration officials have warned there likely will be more cases of COVID-19 identified in the United States, particularly as testing for the virus expands.
Pence on Tuesday said CDC will lift all of its current restrictions on testing patients for the new coronavirus, meaning all patients who receive a clinician's order for a coronavirus test can receive one. Previously, CDC had limited testing to individuals who were exhibiting symptoms of infection and had recently visited countries with coronavirus outbreaks, had contact with someone who had a confirmed or suspected case of the virus, or had a serious respiratory illness with no clear cause.
Pence also said CDC will release guidelines on how to fast-track testing for individuals believed to have the virus, even if their symptoms are mild. "We're issuing clear guidance that subject to doctors' orders, any American can be tested," Pence said.
In addition, administration officials are considering whether to use a federal national disaster program to pay providers for treating uninsured patients with the virus, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Robert Kadlec, HHS' assistant secretary for preparedness and response, during a congressional hearing on Tuesday said administration officials are discussing whether to use the National Disaster Medical System reimbursement program to compensate providers for coronavirus treatments, similar to the way CMS uses the program to pay providers for treating patients affected by areas hit by natural disasters.
Tom Nickels, EVP of the American Hospital Association, said, "We encourage [HHS] to look at using a national disaster program as an option because no one should think twice about seeking screening or treatment due to costs." He continued, "We also urge them to cover both patients who have coronavirus and those who are under investigation for coronavirus" (Armour, Wall Street Journal, 3/3; New York Times, 3/4; Lai at al., New York Times, 3/4; CDC website, 3/3; Weixel, The Hill, 3/3; New York Times, 3/4; Chappell, "Shots," NPR, 3/3; Chalfant, The Hill, 3/3; Min Kim et al., Washington Post, 3/3).