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Byrne and Sewell lead a bipartisan letter supporting rural hospitals

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, Representatives Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose), Phil Roe (R-Tenness), Terri A. Sewell (D-Selma), Brad Wenstrup, D.P.M (R-Ohio), Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), and Jason Smith (R-Missouri) led 90 colleagues in a letter to Secretary Alex Azar of the Department of Health & Human Services and Administrator Seema Verma of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in support of finalizing their efforts to reform the Medicare Area Wage Index.

“For thirty years, Medicare dollars that should have gone to Alabama have instead been going to large, urban areas of the country because of the Wage Index,” Congressman Byrne said. “This unjustified disparity in payments has contributed to budgetary shortfalls and hospital closures in Alabama. This is a real crisis. When the Trump Administration came into office, I asked them to take immediate steps to correct this issue, and this letter shows strong, bipartisan support for finalizing the important reforms the Trump Administration has proposed. Rural Americans deserve access to a hospital, and I will continue working with this Administration to advocate for them in Congress.”

“Alabama hospitals have received less than their fair share of Medicare reimbursement dollars for too long,” Congresswoman Terri Sewell said. “I have been working with my colleagues for years to fix the Medicare Wage Index to help struggling Alabama hospitals keep their doors open, especially in rural parts of our state. It is critical that CMS finalizes its proposal, and I will continue to push until our rural hospitals see relief.”

“For too long, rural hospitals have been on an unequal playing field because of the Medicare area wage index, a figure that greatly distorts Medicare payments,” Congressman Roe said. “States like Tennessee have such a low area wage index that it has forced hospital closure and consolidation in some of our most vulnerable communities. There are hospitals in California that get paid over 2.5 times what hospitals in Johnson City and Kingsport receive for the exact same procedure. There is no justification for such a distortion. That’s why the Trump administration’s proposed reform to raise some of the lowest Medicare area wage indexes is critically important to East Tennessee. This change will also help our region recruit and retain quality physicians for our region. I am proud to work with Reps. Byrne, Sewell and others to strongly support this proposal, which has the potential to save rural health care.”

“Communities across Ohio’s Second District and across America rely on rural hospitals for their healthcare needs,” Congressman Wenstrup said. “These hospitals provide the same care as their urban counterparts, yet they are being compensated at lower rates due to the Medicare Area Wage Index. The continually decreasing reimbursements make it harder for rural hospitals to keep their doors open to continue caring for their communities. I strongly support efforts to reform the Wage Index to protect rural hospitals.”

“I applaud the Trump Administration for working to correct the imbalance of health care payments that for far too long have unfairly rewarded wealthy cities and penalized rural areas like southern Missouri,” said Congressman Smith. I urge the Administration to quickly finalize their proposal to help improve rural access to quality health care.”

For decades, hospitals in Alabama have been paid less for the same services as other hospitals by Medicare because government economists have estimated that labor is cheaper here, particularly in rural areas of the state. Advocates for rural healthcare want to see this changed.

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To read the letter that the Congress members sent the administration:

https://byrne.house.gov/sites/byrne.house.gov/files/Medicare%20Wage%20Index%20MEMBER%20COMMENT%20LETTER.pdf

Alabama Congress members Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville), Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), Gary Palmer (R-Hoover), Mike Rogers (R-Saks), and Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) also signed the letter.

Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District and is a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Doug Jones.

Congresswoman Terri Sewell represents Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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COVID-19 kills 228 Alabamians in last three weeks as deaths pass 1,000

At least 1,007 Alabamians have died from COVID-19 since the first case was diagnosed in the state in mid-March.

Brandon Moseley

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At least 1,007 Alabamians have died from COVID-19 since the first case was diagnosed in the state in mid-March. (Stock Photo)

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported Tuesday that more than 1,000 Alabamians have now died from COVID-19. At least 228 of those were killed in just the past three weeks.

At least 1,007 Alabamians have died from COVID-19 since the first case was diagnosed in the state in mid-March, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. Another 26 deaths are listed as probably COVID-19 deaths.

By June 1, 18,246 Alabamians had tested positive. By June 17, 26,914 cases had been diagnosed in the state. In the twenty days that have followed, another 18,349 Alabamians have tested positive. As of Tuesday, 45,263 tested positive, with another 888 positive coronavirus tests announced on Tuesday.

Alabama’s coronavirus epidemic was expected to peak in April while the state was under a shelter in place order. By April 30, the state began lifting restrictions to reopen the economy.

On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters that Alabama and other states may have reopened their economies “too soon.” Since the Memorial Day weekend, cases of coronavirus have risen at an alarming pace. On Monday, hospitalizations for COVID-19 set a new record at 1,016.

The combination of a surge of cases, many Alabamians out and about without masks or face coverings, and large holiday gatherings over the Fourth of July weekend make many public health officials concerned that we could be seeing dramatically higher numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and even deaths moving forward into late July and early August.

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Fauci told members of the Alabama press corps that 20 to 40 percent of people who are infected are not showing any symptoms, but they could still be spreading the virus.

Fauci said that wearing a mask or cloth face covering and staying at least six feet away from other people is the best way to avoid becoming infected with the coronavirus — or transmitting the virus to other people if you are already infected, but just don’t know it.

Several cities and counties in Alabama have already implemented a mask requirement.

State officials are urging Alabamians to take personal responsibility for their own health.

Thus far the global pandemic has killed 543,596 and known coronavirus cases are rapidly approaching twelve million.

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Jones says Alabama is “in very dangerous territory” with the coronavirus

“We are still in very dangerous territory,” Jones said. “We are in the middle of this first wave, not in a second wave.”

Brandon Moseley

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Sen. Doug Jones speaks at a press conference on COVID-19. (Sen. Doug Jones/Facebook)

As cases continue to mount and hospitalizations related to COVID-19 rise, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, said Tuesday that Alabama remains “in very dangerous territory” when it comes to the coronavirus.

“We are still in very dangerous territory,” Jones said. “We are in the middle of this first wave, not in a second wave.”

As of Tuesday, 45,263 Alabamians have tested positive for the virus. The state has recorded record hospitalizations in the last week.

National Institutes for Allergies and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci, who joined Jones on a press call Tuesday, said he favored requiring masks, requiring social distancing and closing bars as steps that will work on controlling the virus.

“Any covering is better than no masks,” Fauci said. “The best masks are the N95 masks, but we need to reserve those for healthcare workers.”

Fauci said that we have reopened the economy and sometimes it was opened “a bit soon,” adding that the U.S. has recently been reporting more than 50,000 cases of coronavirus per day — ”almost double what it was during our high baseline,” he said.

Fauci said that we should reopen the economy, but it should be done with precautions.

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“I don’t think it should be all or none — a complete shutdown or throw caution to the wind,” Fauci said.

Fauci said the coronavirus is being spread through the respiratory route.

“Twenty to 40 percent of the people who are infected have no symptoms at all,” he said. “If you are within six feet of someone who is infected, even if they have no symptoms, you can be infected.”

Jones said that the median age for persons being infected has dropped fifteen years in recent weeks, but Fauci noted that the issue of young people getting infected has two issues: It is true that young people typically have less incidence of serious cases, but young people are still getting sick, being hospitalized and dying, just at rates lower than older populations. But Fauci also said that young people getting infected are propagating this epidemic, which could end up affecting more vulnerable populations.

“We should try to get the schools back open,” Fauci said. Closing the schools, he said, “has ripple effects for the family that override the health effects.”

Fauci said that the death rate for COVID-19 has dropped as the median age of persons infected has dropped and also because hospitals are doing a better job of treating COVID-19 patients, adding that there is no conclusive evidence that the virus has mutated into a less dangerous strain.

Fauci said that schools will reopen with different rules based on the level of infection in the community on a county-by-county basis. Masks may be required at all times, while schools should be working to increase the distance between desks modifying their schedules.

“It is not going to be a one size fit all,” he said.

Fauci was asked if a coronavirus vaccine, when it is developed, will be mandatory.

“I don’t think we have ever had a situation where we mandate a vaccine for the general population,” Fauci said. “That has not ever happened at a national level or even a state level.”

Fauci said that individual employers, like hospitals, may mandate the vaccine, but that he doubted there would be a vaccine mandate for the general population because it would be “encroaching on a person’s ability to make their own choices.”

Fauci said that we already have two therapeutics for COVID-19 for patients in advanced stages, including dexamethasone but more treatments are still needed.

“Over a thousand Alabamians have now died from this,” Jones said. “That is not acceptable.”

“30 percent of Alabama’s cases have come in the last two weeks,” Jones explained.

Most have come since Memorial Day and the weeks since Gov. Kay Ivey began loosening state restrictions. Many citizens are ignoring the warnings by not wearing a mask.

Jones said that four of Alabama’s five largest cities already have county-wide ordinances or the largest city has passed ordinances requiring masks in public places, adding that he has talked with Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, where the number of cases have tripled and hospitalizations are up 660 percent.

“We talk about how we are doing in the United States,” Jones said. “Only Brazil has done worse than we have, and we just received news that the president of Brazil has tested positive. The United States has not done a good job.”

Jones said that the number of tests in Alabama that come back positive has gone up in recent weeks. “That shows that we are getting community spread,” he said. The Alabama Political Reporter’s tracking of COVID-19 trends shows that the percentage of tests that are positive has gone up to 14 percent in recent weeks.

Jones said that Perry, Dallas, Bulloch, Marshall, Montgomery and Conecuh counties have been especially hard hit and some of those areas already have access to healthcare problems.

“We have seen some movement from Sen. McConnell” on another coronavirus relief bill, Jones said. “He says that he will have a package.”

While the House has passed a third relief package, that bill is not perfect, Jones said, but he said there are a lot of good things in that bill, the HEROES Act.

“He wants to write this bill himself,” Jones said. “We have no early idea what will be in that package. He is going to write this himself behind closed doors.”

Jones said that another red state has opted to expand Medicaid when voters in Oklahoma passed that last week. Alabama is now among just thirteen states that have not expanded Medicaid.

The Senate will be working on the National Defense Authorization Act as well as the coronavirus relief bill when they return this month, Jones said.

“We have got to take care of our military,” Jones said. “Several amendments will be offered, but I expect that it will pass in a bipartisan way.”

Reporters asked Fauci if Alabama would benefit from a statewide mask requirement.

“I do believe that a statewide mask order is important,” Fauci said. “Masks are important. … We should all be wearing masks when we are out in public.”

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Health

Fauci calls on governors in states with surging cases to issue mask orders

As COVID-19 deaths in Alabama passed 1,000 on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci called on governors to issue face mask orders to slow the spread of the virus.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during a video press conference with Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.

As COVID-19 deaths in Alabama passed 1,000 on Tuesday, a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force called on governors to issue face mask orders to slow the spread of the virus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, when asked by APR whether he’d like to see governors in states with surging cases institute statewide orders to wear masks, said yes.

“I do believe a statewide mask order is important because there is a variability in people taking seriously or even understanding the benefit of masks,” Fauci said during a press conference, hosted by U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama on Tuesday. “Masks make a difference. It is one of the primary fundamental tools we have.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on June 30 extended her “safer-at-home” order until July 31, but declined to institute any further mandates despite surging new cases and hospitalizations.

Fauci also said that social distancing and the closure of bars are important to communities looking to slow the spread.

“Fundamental things like masking, distancing, washing hands, closing bars — if you do that, I think it will be a giant step toward interfering with the spread in your community,” Fauci said.

At least 1,007 people have died statewide from COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

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New daily COVID-19 cases in Alabama dipped below 900 for the first time in six days, but just barely, with 888 new cases on Tuesday. Thirty-one percent of the state’s total confirmed cases have come within the last two weeks.

Alabama’s hospitals on Monday were caring for more COVID-19 patients than at any time since the pandemic began.

UAB Hospital had 86 coronavirus patients on Monday, the highest the hospital had seen. Huntsville Hospital had 72 COVID-19 patients on Monday, and the surge in cases prompted the hospital to cancel elective surgeries and convert three surgical floors to COVID-19 care, according to AL.com.

At East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika there were 41 COVID-19 patients on Monday, which was the highest the hospital has seen in weeks and not far from the hospital’s peak of 54 patients on April 11.

The average age of those becoming infected with coronavirus has dropped by 15 years since the beginning of the pandemic, Fauci said, which has lowered the overall death rate due to the virus, as younger people usually fair better, but not if that young person has an underlying medical condition.

“We are now getting multiple examples of young people who are getting sick, getting hospitalized and some of them even requiring intensive care,” Fauci said, adding that even those young people who have coronavirus but are asymptomatic can spread the virus to others, who may be more compromised.

Fauci warned against pointing to the overall declining death rate and becoming lax about coronavirus, and said that “it’s a false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death.”

“There’s so many other things that are very dangerous and bad about this virus. Don’t get yourself into false complacency,” Fauci said.

Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, told APR on Monday that it may take several weeks to learn whether the increasing number of those hospitalized in Alabama will worsen and require ICUs and ventilators, and possibly lead to a rise in deaths.

“We just don’t know yet. We don’t know which way we’re going to go,” Williamson said Monday. “We just know we got a whole lot more cases than we had a month ago, and we’ve got a lot more hospitalizations than we had a month ago.”

Asked about his thoughts on the state of the virus in Alabama, Fauci said that what’s alarming is the slope of the curve of new daily cases.

“When you see a slope that goes up like that you’ve got to be careful that you don’t get into what’s called an exponential phase, where every day it can even double, or more,” Fauci said. “You’re not there yet, so you have an opportunity, a window to get your arms around this, and to prevent it from getting worse.”

Speaking on what’s become the politicization of the wearing of face masks, Fauci said that politicization of any public health matter has negative consequences. President Donald Trump does not wear face masks in public, prompting concern from many that by doing so he’s suggesting to the public that masks aren’t needed. The issue is divided rather sharply along partisan lines.

In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, two-thirds of voters, 67 percent, said Trump should wear a face mask when he is out in public, but while 90 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of independents say the president should wear a mask in public, just 38 percent of Republicans said the same.

“I mean, obviously today, it’s no secret to anybody who lives in the United States that we have a great deal of polarization in our country, unfortunately,” Fauci said. “We hope that changes, but there’s no place for that when you’re making public health recommendations, analysis of data, or any policies that are made. That will always be a detriment to do that.”

 

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Elections

GOP candidate Tommy Tuberville leads Trump “boat parade” in Orange Beach

Brandon Moseley

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Tommy Tuberville participates in a Trump "boat parade." (Contributed)

Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville rode in the lead boat in a “boat parade” on Sunday in Orange Beach, celebrating Independence Day and the launch of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

Hundreds of boats participated in the Trump parade in the Perdido Pass area. WKRG TV estimates that more than 8,000 people joined. Orange Beach and Gulf Shores boats joined boats from Pensacola and Dauphin Island.

Trump supporter and Alabama Republican Executive Committee member Perry Hooper Jr. was also present.

“It was Awesome having Coach Tommy Tuberville on The TRUMP Boat at Orange Beach Alabama,” Hooper said. “Tommy was a Great Coach and he will be a Great US Senator. It’s Great To Be A TRUMP/ TUBERVILLE AMERICAN. Everybody was so Happy cheering for The President and Tommy on! Fun Day!”

Hooper is a former state representative from Montgomery.

Tuberville is a former Auburn University head football coach. The Arkansas native lives in Auburn.

President Donald Trump spoke at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota on Friday.

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“Today we pay tribute to the exceptional lives and extraordinary legacies of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt,” Trump said. “I am here as your president to proclaim before the country and before the world, this monument will never be desecrated, these heroes will never be defamed, their legacy will never ever be destroyed, their achievements will never be forgotten, and Mount Rushmore will stand forever as an eternal tribute to our forefathers and to our freedom.”

Trump accused opponents of trying to dismantle America.

“Make no mistake. This left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution,” Trump alleged. “In so doing they would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress. To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage.”

“President Trump has given several good Speeches,” Hooper said. “This Speech was by far his best! It was straight up AWESOME! His speech was all about the Greatness of America! President Trump loves our Country and its great History. President Reagan has given some of the best speeches ever. This speech topped Reagan’s best. As for Perry O. Hooper Jr., I would get in a foxhole and fight for him to the end. God Bless President Donald J. Trump and GOD BLESS THE USA!”

Trump faces a stiff challenge from former Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading in the polling.

Tuberville has been endorsed by Trump in the July 14 Republican primary runoff for U.S. Senate. Tuberville faces former Sen. Jeff Sessions.

 

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