Ted Cruz engages in an online spat over Biden’s HHS secretary nominee who sued the Trump administration more than 100 times

ted cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) during a Senate hearing on November 17, 2020.

  • Ted Cruz opposes the nomination of Xavier Becerra as Secretary of Health and Human Services.
  • Cruz insists that the role should be filled by a scientist and not an attorney.
  • Kevin M. Kruse called out Cruz for dismissing Becerra’s tenure as a former congressman and current attorney general.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, well-known for his public Twitter spats, engaged in an online battle earlier this week regarding the qualifications of Xavier Becerra, the California Attorney General who has been nominated by President Joe Biden to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

Cruz has expressed opposition to Becerra, arguing that the HHS nominee should be a doctor as the country remains mired in the coronavirus pandemic.

“President Biden has nominated an attorney – someone who lacks the necessary experience and skills to serve as Secretary of HHS,” Cruz said earlier this month. “Voting to confirm an HHS Secretary with absolutely no medical or scientific experience is simply irresponsible.”

On Fox News earlier this week, Cruz reiterated his sentiments about Becerra.

“If a Republican nominated a trial lawyer to lead the Health and Human Services department in the midst of a global pandemic, they would be laughed out of the room because it would be absurd,” Cruz said.

Princeton University professor and historian Kevin M. Kruse took notice of Cruz’s comments and pushed back against the questioning of Becerra’s qualifications on Twitter.

“He was a US Congressman from 1993 to 2017, and then served as the attorney general of California, but sure, dismiss him as a ‘trial lawyer,'” he wrote.

Cruz responded, asking Kruse if he would hire him to perform an operation without any medical experience and questioning whether Becerra would “sue the virus.”

“I’ve been a lawyer for 25 yrs & a Senator for 8,” Cruz wrote. “Would you hire me to remove your appendix?”

The tweet continued: “Of course not. I’m not remotely qualified to be HHS Secretary-& neither are you, a history professor & pundit. Bacerra [sic] is a left-wing activist. During a pandemic, we need a scientist.”

Kruse replied back, questioning Cruz about Ben Carson, who was controversially tapped to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development by former President Donald Trump despite little relevant housing-related policy experience.

“When you voted to confirm Ben Carson as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, did you think he was going to perform brain surgery on an apartment?,” he asked.

He continued: “I *am* just a history professor! But maybe I can help you out here by informing you that almost none of the HHS/HEW (Health, Education, and Welfare) secretaries in US history have been scientists or doctors. That includes the last one you happily voted to confirm. He was a lawyer.”

Alex Azar, the most recent Senate-confirmed HHS secretary, was an attorney and pharmaceutical executive.

In his capacity as California’s attorney general, Becerra filed more than 100 lawsuits against the Trump administration.

Despite Cruz’s opposition, along with GOP pushback to the nomination from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Becerra is assured of confirmation if he can retain the support of all 50 Senate Democrats.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Biden to spend another $1.6 billion to expand COVID-19 testing in schools and underserved areas

Walmart covid testing
  • President Joe Biden has announced a $1.6 billion investment in expanded COVID-19 testing.
  • Funds will go to testing K-8 schools and underserved communities, and increased genome sequencing.
  • Biden also called on Congress to pass his stimulus plan, which includes $50 billion for testing.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that he will invest $1.6 billion to expand the availability of testing in K-8 schools and underserved areas, intended to serve as a “bridge” until Congress approves more funding.

During his first presidential town hall in Milwaukee on Tuesday, Biden said that by the end of July, the country will have 600 million vaccine doses available, enough for every American. But in the meantime, safety measures are still needed, and this new funding will be used to expand COVID-19 testing for K-8 schools and underserved populations, along with increased manufacturing for testing supplies and virus genome sequencing.

The Dept. of Health and Human Services and the Dept. of Defense will allocate $650 million to expand testing in K-8 schools and “underserved congregate setting” like homeless shelters, according to the White House, along with an $815 million investment to increase domestic manufacturing of testing supplies, such as filter pipette tips.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will invest nearly $200 million to identify and track emerging COVID-19 strains through genome sequencing, which will allow for a better understanding of how the virus spreads.

“As the Administration is working around the clock to vaccinate the population, we need to continue to do what we know works to protect public health: universal masking, physical distancing, and robust testing,” the White House said in a statement. “These down payments will serve as a bridge to comprehensive testing investments in the American Rescue Plan.”

While the $1.6 billion will significantly improve testing availability, the Biden administration said Congress still needs to pass the president’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which includes $50 billion to be used specifically for testing purposes.

“These investments are only the beginning of what is needed to expand testing nationwide and get the pandemic under control,” the White House statement said. “The American Rescue Plan will invest $50 billion to expand and support testing, including in priority settings like schools and shelters, and invest in US testing capacity so that public health officials can track the virus in real time and Americans can efficiently get results.”

According to the CDC, the US is averaging 1.7 million vaccinations per day, but the need for further testing remains a priority for Biden.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Health officials slam Walgreens and CVS for ‘fiasco’ vaccine rollout to nursing homes

pfizer vaccine covid 19 nursing homes
Vera Leip, 88, receives a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at the John Knox Village Continuing Care Retirement Community on December 16, 2020 in Pompano Beach, Florida.

  • CVS and Walgreens have come under fire from health officials over the slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine to nursing homes, CNN reported.
  • As part of the federal government’s program to vaccinate elderly people in care, the two companies claim to be on track to get the first of the two-part dose done by January 25.
  • But health officials in many states have said the progress is poor, hampered by bureaucracy.
  • West Virginia, which opted out of the program, has made much faster progress by relying on its network of smaller pharmacies with good ties to the community, The Conversation reported.
  • CVS and Walgreens did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

CVS and Walgreens have come under fire from local officials for the slow rollout of their vaccinations program to nursing homes. 

As of January 14, around a quarter of the 4.7 million doses allocated to the companies had been administered CNN reported.

In statements to the network, the companies insisted they are still on track to have the first round of the two-phase vaccine completed by January 25.

But health officials in some states have said that the process has been frustratingly slow.

The director of one LA County chain of nursing homes, Dr. Karl Steinberg, told CNN: “It’s been so much worse than anybody expected. That light at the end of the tunnel is dim.”

Mississippi’s State Health Officer Dr Thomas Dobbs described the partnership between the pharmacy giants and the federal government as a “fiasco.”

President Donald Trump’s administration left the coordination of the vaccination’s overall rollout to states, as Insider’s Hilary Brueck reported

CVS and Walgreens became the sole contractors for vast chunks of the rollout under a deal announced by the Health and Human Services (HHS) department in October 2020. 

The companies’ name recognition and corporate heft is considered a boost to public trust in getting the vaccinations processed, as Business Insider’s Áine Cain, Irene Jiang, and Shelby Livingston reported

Without an overarching federal program for distribution, most states opted into the CVS-Walgreens partnership to get the vaccine into nursing homes. 

A January 6 company statement from CVS 6 said that the company is on track with its target, with incoming president Karen Lynch saying on January 15 that it had administered one million shots in nursing homes. In total, 1.7 million shots have been administered by CVS and Walgreens combined, The New York Times reported on January 16.

A spokesperson for CVS, Joe Goode, told CNN: “Everything has gone as planned, save for a few instances where we’ve been challenged or had difficulties making contact with long-term care facilities to schedule clinics.”

But it has been beset with problems, such as cumbersome bureaucracy and poorly-staffed centers, CNN reported. 

Speaking from Seattle, where Walgreens and CVS are administering the bulk of vaccines to care homes, NPR’s Will Stone said that nursing homes are “absolutely desperate to give out shots,” but they are “basically at the mercy of when CVS or Walgreens schedules them.”

Authorities that didn’t take up the partnership are moving much faster. West Virginia – a state that opted out of the program – is leading the country in the vaccine rollout to care homes, as the Associated Press reported

Care home vaccinations there started two weeks earlier than in most states, NPR reported.

Prof. Tinglong Dai, an operations specialist at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, writing for The Conversation, pointed out that the near-monopoly that CVS and Walgreens have gives them little reason to work faster. 

But in West Virginia, each care home is served by more than one pharmacy for the process, prompting more of a rush to reach out and organize the doses, he wrote. 

They also already have strong ties to the local community and its nursing homes, he wrote – an important factor in a process that requires explanation and consent with vulnerable people and their families. 

Krista Capehart, director of regulation for the state’s Board of Pharmacy, is leading the West Virginia distribution plan.

She told NPR: “When [the vaccine] got here, we already had pharmacies matched with long-term care facilities, so we were already ready to have vaccinators and pharmacists ready to go into those facilities and start providing first doses.”

On January 15, President-elect Joe Biden announced increased federal support for the process – which both Walgreens and CVS have welcomed. 

Lynch, the CVS executive, said in a statement that the federal assistance will enable the company to administer more than 1 million shots per day – vastly more than they have managed so far.

Neither company immediately responded to Insider’s request for comment. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

The US is giving $523 million to 9,000 nursing homes for reducing COVID-19 cases. This is the first time it has given institutions financial rewards for controlling the spread.

nursing home
Two relatives visit their mother (r), in the Johannes Sondermann House of the AWO geriatric centre.

  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will split $523 million in incentive payments among more than 9,000 nursing homes for reducing COVID-19 related infections and deaths.
  • The agency gave the first payments out on Wednesday, and said it is “exhausting all measures to ensure nursing homes nationwide are safe.”
  • Nursing homes have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. Their residents and staff accounting for more than a third of the country’s COVID-19 fatalities.
  • Officials have recommended that healthcare workers and residents of long-term-care facilities are first in line to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The government is giving financial rewards to nursing homes that slowed the spread of COVID-19 among their residents.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will share incentive payments totalling $523 million among more than 9,000 nursing homes, with the first payments given out on Wednesday.

This marks the first time the US has given financial rewards to institutions for maintaining COVID-19 prevention measures, The Washington Post reported.

Around 69% (9,248) of nursing homes in the US that are eligible for HHS support will receive the funding.

“These nursing homes are being rewarded for successfully reducing COVID-19-related infections and deaths between September and October,” HHS said in a statement Monday.

Nursing homes can use the funding to purchase more personal protective equipment “or other efforts to help slow the spread of COVID-19,” HHS said. The virus “continues to take a devastating toll on nursing homes stretched thin,” the agency added.

More than 100,000 nursing home residents and staff have died from the virus in the US, accounting for more than a third of the country’s COVID-19 fatalities, according to Kaiser Family Foundation data.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to recommend that healthcare workers and residents of long-term-care facilities receive a coronavirus vaccine first.

A panel of outside advisors to the FDA is meeting Thursday to vote on whether to recommend that the FDA issues an emergency authorization for the shot. If the FDA agrees with the recommendation and decides to proceed, people may start getting the shot as early as Friday. Though there may be delays to distribution.

Read more: Pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and hospitals are gearing up to give coronavirus vaccines to millions of Americans. Here’s how they’re preparing and how much they stand to profit along the way.

In August, HHS announced plans to distribute an additional $5 billion in Provider Relief Fund (PRF) payments to nursing homes, including $2 billion for an incentive-based program to rewards nursing homes that “create and maintain safe environments for their residents.”

In the first round of funding in October, the agency gave $331 million in emergency funds to nursing homes for keeping new COVID-19 infection and mortality rates among residents “lower than the communities they serve.” This second round of $523 million will be followed by three further rounds.

“Paired with continued funding directly tied to COVID-19 infection and mortality rate reductions, HHS is exhausting all measures to ensure nursing homes nationwide are safe,” the agency said.

This includes free interactive COVID-19 safety training and mentoring through the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which only half of all US nursing homes have enrolled on, HHS said.

“As we approach the rollout of safe and effective vaccines for our most vulnerable, we continue the innovative program we created this year to incentivize and assist nursing homes in battling COVID-19 and applying the right infection control practices,” said HHS secretary, Alex Azar.

“This half a billion dollars in incentive payments will reward nursing homes that have shown results in their tireless work to keep their residents safe from the virus.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Xavier Becerra, California attorney general, is Biden’s pick to lead health department: NYT

GettyImages 628048412
Then-Vice President Joe Biden, center, and then-Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., arrive in the Capitol Visitor Center for a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus, December 06, 2016.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to lead the US Department of Health and Human Services, The New York Times reported on Sunday.

Becerra, 62, previously represented Los Angeles as a member of Congress, where he served in the Democratic leadership. He has served as California attorney general since 2017, succeeding Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

If confirmed, the Times noted, Becerra would be the first Latino to lead the health department.

As head of the health department, Becerra will be charging with helping to tackle a surging pandemic and administration of hundreds of millions of vaccine. Over the past week, hospitalizations due to the coronavirus have increased 11.6%, according to The Covid Tracking Project; deaths have risen 46.5% compared to the week before.

Becerra will also have to undo potential roadblocks set by the outgoing Trump administration. On Friday, he led a coalition of state attorneys general in challenging a “misguided and dangerous attempt at deregulation” within HHS that “would hamstring the incoming Biden administration in the midst of a global pandemic.”

In particular, the Trump administration is seeking to automatically “sunset” any HHS regulation that is not reviewed within a set period of time. Critics maintain that will redirect limited resources toward bureaucratic processes just to preserve existing rules, jeopardizing funding streams for state governments at a time when HHS will need “to enact new regulations aimed at controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

Read the original article on Business Insider