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Terri Sewell works to cut prescription costs for seniors

Eddie Burkhalter

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Speaking at a recent U.S. House Ways and Means Committee meeting Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, told the story of a constituent in Tuscaloosa who can’t afford her life-saving insulin medication. 

The single mother works full time as a nurse, Sewell said, and struggled for years to find an insulin that didn’t cause serious side effects. She found the proper drug but the more expensive drug isn’t covered by Medicare, and she spends $700 monthly of her own money to stay healthy and able to work, Swell said. 

‘Earlier this year she had to sell her house in order to pay her medical bills, and she and her child moved back in with her mother,” Sewell said. “No one should be subjected to less mobility or poorer side effects because the drugs that they need are financially out of reach, or that their insurance company will not cover it, and no one should have to sell their house just so they can afford the medicine that they need and deserve.”

Sewell hopes that a provision she wrote into the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act will mean more people like the woman won’t be placed into such desperate situations. 

The act was renamed in honor of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, who champion for lower healthcare costs. He passed away on Oct. 17. Sewell attended his funeral on Friday. 

Currently, many seniors enrolled in the Medicare Part D program have to pay $10,000 or more in out-of-pocket costs annually for medication. Sewell’s addition to the bill caps those out-of-pocket costs at $2,000 and allows seniors to pay that money back in equal installments over the year rather than all at once. 

“Stories like Melinda’s are a heartbreaking reminder of just how out of control drug prices really are, and the impact that their cost have on the lives of countless Americans. She isn’t alone,” Sewell said in a message to APR on Friday. “I’ve spoken to too many Alabamians who make tragic sacrifices to afford the medications they need to survive. In giving Medicare the power to negotiate directly with drug companies and making those lower drug prices available to Americans with private insurance, HR3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, makes critical steps in lowering prescription drug prices for the American people while saving the Medicare program billions of dollars in taxpayer money.”

Speaking at the House Ways and Means Committee hearing along with Sewell, Rep. Tom Souzzi, D-NY., said the majority in the House have passed hundreds of important pieces of legislation “only to see them die in the Senate,” before going on to quote President Trump. “President Trump said back in 2017 – ‘They’re setting prices in other countries and we’re not. The drug companies, frankly, are getting away with murder, and we want to bring our process down to what other countries are paying, or at least close, and let the other countries pay more, because they’re setting such low prices that we’re actually subsidizing  other countries and that’s just not going to happen anymore.’.” 

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According to Congressional Budget Office estimates negotiating drug prices, as the act allows, could save the government $345 billion within six years. The House is likely to pass HR3, but in the Senate, Republican leader Mitch McConnell  has said the plan is dead in the water. 

Socialist price controls will do a lot of left-wing damage to the healthcare system. And of course we’re not going to be calling up a bill like that,” McConnell told Politico in an interview on Oct. 17. 

In a response to Politico, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, used Trump’s own call for reforms against McConnell. 

“Senator McConnell is going to have a hard time explaining why he wants Americans to keep being ripped off by big drug companies that are charging less for the same drugs in other countries. President Trump has said that we should be negotiating prescription drug costs ‘like crazy,’ and it’s clear that Mitch McConnell is the biggest obstacle in the way,” Henry Connelly, a spokesman for Pelosi, told Politico. 

According to a review of Federal Election Commission filings by the investigative news website Sludge, from July 1 to Sept. 30 “McConnell’s joint fundraising committee and campaign committee raised $195,300 from executives and PACs of pharmaceutical companies.” 

McConnell, who is up for reelection, received $85,000 during the first half of the year from pharmaceutical companies, according to USA Today. 

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Governor

Governor prohibits evictions, foreclosures during COVID-19 outbreak

Jessa Reid Bolling

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photo via Governors Office

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued an order on April 3 to suspend the enforcement of any evictions or foreclosures due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The protective order is set to last for the duration of the state of emergency that was declared on March 13.

The order instructs all law enforcement officers to cease enforcement of any order that would leave someone displaced from their residence.

“Because COVID-19 mitigation efforts require people to remain at their place of residence, I find that it would promote safety and protection of the civilian population to grant temporary relief from residential evictions and foreclosures,” the order reads. 

“To that end: All state, county, and local law enforcement officers are hereby directed to cease enforcement of any order that would result in the displacement of a person from his or her place of residence. 

“Nothing in this section shall be construed as relieving any individual of the obligation to pay rent, to make mortgage payments, or to comply with any other obligation that an individual may have under a rental agreement or mortgage.”

The protective order on evictions and foreclosures was issued the same day that Ivey issued a stay-at-home order which will require Alabamians to stay at home as much as possible — except for essential outings like grocery shopping and getting medical care.

The stay-at-home order goes into effect on April 4 at 5 p.m. and will expire on Tuesday, April 30, 2020, at 5 p.m. 

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Congress

Alabama may need 2,500 more ventilators. It’s having to compete to get them

Chip Brownlee

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Alabama may need 2,000 more ventilators than it has, and it’s being forced to compete with other states to get them on the private market.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said Friday that the Alabama Department of Public Health is attempting to source its own ventilators as a number of hospitals in the state are already struggling and asking for more.

The state requested 500 ventilators from the federal government through the Department of Health and Human Services and the national strategic stockpile. It asked for 200 of them to be delivered urgently.

“HHS has indicated that they’re not going to fulfill that anytime soon because they’re still taking care of places like New York City,” Harris said in an interview with APR.

When Alabama nears an expected surge — say 72 hours before hospitals are expected to be overwhelmed with patients requiring life support — they may be able to make the extra ventilators available.

So Alabama, like a number of states, is being forced to try to source ventilators on its own through the private market, where hundreds of hospitals, all the other states and other countries are trying to do the same.

Harris said he signed a purchase order Thursday for 250 more ventilators.

“We’re waiting to see, and then there are others that we’re waiting to hear from,” Harris told APR. “We’re doing our best to try to source these in any way that we can.”

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“We’re attempting to source those ourselves, but as you know, all the states are looking to source their own and in some measure competing with each other,” he said a press conference Friday evening when Gov. Kay Ivey announced a shelter in place order.

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones said Thursday that Alabama will likely make additional requests, but there are only 10,000 ventilators in the national stockpile and in the U.S. Department of Defense surplus. And with every other state in the country also requesting these supplies, the federal government has said that states should not rely on the national stockpile to bolster their ventilator capacity.

By Friday, nearly 1,500 people were confirmed positive with the virus. At least 38 have died. Dire models from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington — models that influenced the state’s decision to issue a stay-at-home order — project that by mid-April, Alabama could have a massive shortage of ventilators and hospital beds.

“The timeline I think makes sense and the time when we’re expected to have a surge is the part that was most useful to us,” Harris said. “We’ve been trying very hard to get an order in place with regards to this surge that we expect to happen.”

The model estimates that Alabama could have a shortage of 20,000 hospital beds, 3,900 intensive care beds and more than 2,000 ventilators.

At least 3,500 ventilators would be needed at the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in mid-April, according to the IHME model. Last month, Alabama Hospital Association President Donald Williamson said the state has a surge capacity of about 800.

The same model projects that about 5,500 people could die from COVID-19 in Alabama by August. However, the model is live and is regularly adjusted. Earlier this week, it suggested that 7,000 people could die by August.

Harris said the state, over the past couple of weeks, has added a few hundred additional ventilators to its capacity by converting anesthesia machines and veterinary ventilators for use on those infected with the coronavirus.

“Yet, even with adding all of those ventilators, going up by a few hundred units, which means to tell you that we’re still using around the same percent of all of our ventilators even though the number [of ventilators] is going up,” Harris said. “So we know that there are more patients on ventilators.”

The state health officer said some hospitals in the state are already struggling but others are cooperating to share resources.

“They are really working hard to make sure that they have what they need, and we’re trying very hard, along with the governor’s office, to make sure that Alabama has enough inventory,” Harris said.

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Courts

DOJ makes $14 million available to public safety agencies to respond to COVID-19

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town announced that the Department of Justice is making $850 million available to help public safety agencies respond to the challenges posed by the outbreak of COVID-19, which has already killed over 6,000 Americans, including 32 Alabamians.

The Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding program was authorized in the recent stimulus legislation signed by President Donald J. Trump (R). The program will allow eligible state, local and tribal governments to apply immediately for these critical funds. The department is moving quickly to make awards, with the goal of having funds available for drawdown within days of the award.

“Law enforcement are – and always have been very best among us. They continue to solidify that fact during this pandemic,” Town said. “It is important that our state and local partners have the resources they need to ensure public safety during this time. These additional resources will allow that to continue.”

Katherine T. Sullivan is the Office of Justice Programs Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General.

“This is an unprecedented moment in our nation’s history and an especially dangerous one for our front-line law enforcement officers, corrections officials, and public safety professionals,” said Sullivan. “We are grateful to the Congress for making these resources available and for the show of support this program represents.”

The solicitation was posted by the Bureau of Justice Assistance in the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and will remain open for at least 60 days. The program can be extended as necessary. OJP will fund successful applicants as a top priority on a rolling basis as applications are received. The funds may be used to hire personnel, pay overtime costs, cover protective equipment and supplies, address correctional inmates’ medical needs and defray expenses related to the distribution of resources to hard-hit areas, among other activities.

The grant funds may be applied retroactively to January 20, 2020, subject to federal supplanting rules.

Agencies that were eligible for the fiscal year 2019 State and Local Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program are candidates for this emergency funding. A complete list of eligible jurisdictions and their allocations can be found here.

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For more information about the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding program click here.

As of press time, there were 1,270 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alabama. 32 Alabamians have already died. There have been deaths in Jefferson, Shelby, Mobile, Lee, Madison, Chambers, Washington, Baldwin, Jackson, Tallapoosa, Lauderdale, Marion, Etowah, and Baldwin Counties.

 

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Economy

Fifty major American companies join effort to fight the coronavirus

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, the White House announced that fifty major American firms have answered the White House’s call to join the national war on the coronavirus.

“The private sector is responding to President Trump’s call to step up and help combat the coronavirus,” the White House said Tuesday.

Many of the companies are shifting their focus and even assembly lines to deliver needed supplies to the doctors, hospitals, and first responders against the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Most did so voluntarily and were not coerced by government or threatened with the Defense Production Act.

Major corporations including: Facebook; Anheuser-Busch; Ford; Fiat Chrysler; Toyota; GE Healthcare; 3M; Jockey; Hanes; Ralph; Lauren; GE Healthcare; General Motors; and My Pillow have all stepped up and are contributing to the COVID-19 war effort.

. “While by no means comprehensive, these are some notable examples of the private sector stepping up,” said an administration official.

The National Sheriffs’ Association have cited: Home Depot, Grainger, and Staples as well as a half-dozen national restaurant chains for their help.

Their pleas for help have been “enthusiastically welcomed” by some top corporations, said National Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director and CEO Jonathan Thompson. “What they are doing is more than impressive. It’s heartening,” he said.

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My Pillow has dedicated 75 percent of its production to the effort making PPE.

President Trump has highlighted the role that our corporate partners are playing in the COVID-19 effort during his daily coronavirus task force press conferences.

“With our great president, vice president and this administration and all the great people in this country praying daily, we will get through this and get back to a place that’s stronger and safer than ever,” said My Pillow founder and CEO Mike Lindell.

“Joining us this afternoon are CEOs of the great American companies that are fulfilling their patriotic duty by producing or donating medical equipment to help meet our most urgent needs,” Pres. Trump said on Monday. “What they’re doing is incredible. And these are great companies.”

Ford, 3M and GE Healthcare are making ventilators in a joint effort.

Toyota is using their facilities to produce face shields and collaborating with medical device companies to speed up manufacturing of vital medical devices.

General Motors is manufacturing respiratory masks and working with Ventec Life Systems to mass produce ventilators.

Fiat Chrysler is manufacturing and donating more than 1 million protective face masks a month.

Honeywell has doubled their production of N95 masks and intends to increase its capacity 500 percent over the next 90 days.

3M doubled their global output of N95 respirator masks and plans to make 100 million a month.

SpaceX is making hand sanitizer and face shields for local hospitals.

Lockheed Martin donated use of their corporate aircraft and vehicle fleet for medical supply delivery,

Boeing will print 3D face shields for healthcare workers and offer its Dreamlifter aircraft to help coronavirus response efforts.

Anheuser-Busch is working to produce hand sanitizer.

Bayer, Novartis, and Teva Pharmaceuticals donated millions of doses of hydroxychloroquine, an experimental treatment for COVID-19 that has shown some early promise.

·Johnson & Johnson has partnered with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to commit more than $1 billion to co-fund vaccine research, development, and clinical testing.

Procter & Gamble is ramping up its production capacity for hand sanitizer, and is working to produce face masks.

Medtronic is increasing its production of ventilators.

Panera Bread is partnering with USDA to serve meals to children throughout Ohio.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones said, “The private sector has the ability to move with incredible speed. Many companies already own the equipment that can produce various items and have tweaked processes to manufacture products our country needs. For example, clothing companies such as Ralph Lauren, Hanes, and Brooks Brothers are making gowns and masks. Ford and GE combined forces to produce ventilators. Alcoholic beverage companies repurposed what would be normally be discarded into hand sanitizers. All of these are examples of American workers’ willingness to step up at a critical time in United States and world history.”

(Original reporting by the Washington Examiner contributed to this report.)

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