2020-3-12

Health insurers say they'll waive coronavirus testing fees; Trump, Congress weigh payroll, industry aid

By BRYAN GALLION and NICOLE WEINSTEIN, Capital News Service
 
WASHINGTON — Major health insurance companies will waive copayments for novel coronavirus testing, Vice President Mike Pence said at a briefing with firm executives and President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday.

“While the risk to the average American of contracting the coronavirus remains low, we want a full partnership with industry and give the American people all the information they need to avoid contracting or spreading the coronavirus,” said Pence, who’s chairing the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

The companies at the table — which insure nearly 240 million Americans through private insurance and support of Medicare and Medicaid, according to Pence — will also extend coverage for treatment in benefit plans and telemedicine while avoiding surprise billing. 

“We have been very focused on ensuring access to care and that cost is not an issue for people to have the testing appropriately done,” Gail Boudreaux, president and CEO of Anthem Inc., said. “So we’re pleased that we’re able to continue to expand this access.”

Telemedicine options aim to aid the country’s vulnerable senior population, allowing them to receive the necessary care without visiting a hospital or their doctor. 

“I would just like to say as a large servicer of Medicare, that we are very oriented to the aging population, and most importantly, how do we make it as easy as possible for them to receive their tests,” Humana CEO Bruce Broussard said. 

Over 8,500 specimens have been tested for the coronavirus in the United States since Jan. 18, while the number of cases ticks up across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Almost 650 cases have been confirmed so far, and 25 people have died from the virus across the 36 U.S. jurisdictions that have been affected.

Some healthcare professionals and members of Congress have expressed worry that not enough tests are available nationwide. 

“We are very worried about the president’s incompetence and lack of focus on fighting the spread of coronavirus,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, told reporters. “We believe that his lack of focus is hamstringing efforts to address this public crisis and inflicting pain on the stock market.”

Pence said an additional 4 million tests are expected to be distributed this week on top of the more than 1 million that are ready at CDC and U.S. Public Health Labs.

Members of Congress grilled CDC Director Robert Redfield about the shortage of testing at a House Appropriations Committee labor and health subcommittee hearing. Redfield pointed out the growing capacity for testing now that clinical laboratory networks LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics can administer them.

“We have slowed the spread of COVID19 through the United States as a consequence of the positive impact of the investment in public health that there has been at the federal, state, local and tribal level,” Redfield said in his testimony.

As cases of the coronavirus multiplied, schools and universities announced plans to close or move to remote teaching, airlines continued cutting schedules and major events — like Washington’s Gridiron Spring Dinner, an annual gathering of media and political people — were canceled. 

Both former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, who are vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, announced they were scrubbing planned rallies.

And Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League issued a joint statement that they were closing their team locker rooms to reporters because of the virus threat.  

The administration and Congress also are exploring potential economic aid to industries that will be hit hard by a major consumer slowdown. 

Trump said his administration is working closely with the cruise line and airline industries as people are canceling their travel plans, instead opting to stay home to lessen their chances of coming in contact with the virus. 

“They’re taking very strong steps in terms of people going on and going off. But they’re spending a lot of money and they are working very hard...So we are working very closely with them,” the president said at the briefing. “We’re helping them. They’re two great industries, and we’ll be helping them through this patch.”

Congress has been working on an economic package to alleviate financial strains caused by coronavirus response.

The president, accompanied by National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow and Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin, pitched a temporary payroll tax cut to Senate Republicans on Tuesday afternoon. He had no updates to share on the path forward following the meeting.

“We just had a great meeting. Tremendous unity in the Republican Party,” Trump said. “And we’re working on a lot of different things.  We’ve also had some very good updates on the virus. That’s working out very smoothly.”

Mnuchin also met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to identify “common ground” on legislative efforts that would support people affected by the virus. 

Pelosi told reporters that the “nature of it was pleasant” and that conversations will continue. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said after the meeting that he’d let the pair handle a bipartisan agreement.

“The secretary of the treasury is going to have ball control for the administration and I expect that will speak for us as well,” McConnell told reporters. “We’re hoping that he and the speaker can pull this together.”

SVCC Dean and Local Agritourism Operation to Participate in Virginia Agritourism Conference

Dr. Dixie Watts Dalton, dean of Southside Virginia Community College’s division of Humanities, Social Sciences and Business, and chair of its agribusiness program, will serve as a presenter and moderator at the sixth annual Virginia Agritourism Conference to be held on March 30th through April 1st at the Smithfield Center in Smithfield, Virginia.   Parrish Pumpkin Patch of Kenbridge, Virginia, will be represented on the opening Virginia Agritourism Panel by Jeff and Liz Parrish and son Eli, who is an alumnus of SVCC’s agribusiness program and Virginia Tech’s Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences department. The morning panel on March 31st, immediately following the conference welcome from Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture, Jewel Bronaugh, will be moderated by Dalton.

Dalton’s April 1st morning presentation, “Building the Business Plan,” will focus on the questions that aspiring agritourism operators should be asking, while also providing insights that can be helpful to existing businesses.  Following her presentation, the Parrishes will share their experiences as they started and expanded the Parrish Pumpkin Patch, providing insights on both what went well and what they could have done differently.

Additional Southside-area connections will be a part of the state-level conference. Lunenburg County native, Heidi L Hertz, who serves as Assistant Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry in the Office of Governor Ralph S. Northam, will provide a luncheon keynote address. Hudson Heritage Farm of Halifax County will be showcased during the April 1st sessions.  Owner Denise Hudson, who has hosted SVCC’s agribusiness students at her farm, will present two marketing sessions, one focused on the Barn Quilt Trail and a second on the Veteran Farming/HomeGrown by Heroes initiative.

The 2020 conference, themed “Agritourism in Virginia’s New Economy,” will enable existing and planned agritourism entrepreneurs, economic development staff and local government leaders to explore different facets of Virginia agritourism, a growing industry recently shown to generate more than 2.2 billion dollars in economic impact. Tracks composed of concurrent sessions on a variety of topics have been designed to meet the needs of both beginning and experienced operations.  A highlight of the conference is the numerous networking breaks and networking luncheons that have been built into the programming, with access to exhibitors and resources during those breaks. 

On March 30th, prior to the start of the presentation portion of the conference at the Smithfield Center, farm tours will take place in the adjoining area.  The detailed agenda, with a list of tour locations, is included on the registration site. Visit https://register.ext.vt.eduand search for “agritourism” or visit the direct link: https://register.ext.vt.edu/search/publicCourseSearchDetails.do?method=load&courseId=1043329&selectedProgramAreaId=25576&selectedProgramStreamId

Attendees can register for each day separately or for the entire conference (at a discounted rate of $150 for all three days). For more information, contact Livvy Preisser of Virginia Cooperative Extension at 757-365-6261 or livvy16@vt.edu

The conference is sponsored by Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tourism Corporation, Virginia Tech, Virginia State University Small Farm Outreach Program, Farm Credit, Virginia Association of Counties, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Virginia FAIRS, Virginia Farm Bureau, USDA Rural Development, Virginia Agribusiness Council, and the Agribusiness Program at Southside Virginia Community College.

If you are a person with a disability and desire any assistive devices, services or other accommodations to participate in this activity, please contact Livvy Preisser at 757-365-6261 during business hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to discuss accommodations at least 5 days prior to the event.  *TDD number is (800) 828-1120.

Virginia colleges react to coronavirus pandemic

By Hannah Eason, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia colleges and universities are extending spring break and adapting online classes amid the new coronavirus — along with more than 100 universities nationwide and still counting — after the flu-like illness was declared a world pandemic on Wednesday.

There are nine presumptive positive COVID-19 cases in Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Most of them are in Northern Virginia, with one confirmed case in Central Virginia.

Professors are quickly pivoting to get material online, and some schools, like Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, are offering resources to help teachers adjust. Many students have expressed concern over lack of digital equipment and internet access.

Most universities are cancelling events with more than 100 attendees and have online resources for students to access updated information. Many colleges have canceled in-person classes, but faculty and staff will continue to work on campus. Below is a sample of universities that have changed schedules to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. 

James Madison University will extend their spring break until March 23 and will teach online classes until April 5. JMU President Jonathan Alger said in a release that students will be updated on the remainder of the semester on March 27.

Longwood University will be closed until March 18, cancelling in-person classes and events following a presumptive positive diagnosis for a Longwood student on Wednesday. In a release, Longwood President W. Taylor Reveley said faculty would continue to prepare for the possibility of online classes.

Norfolk State University extended spring break until March 23 and will teach classes online until April 6. University residences will reopen March 22.

Old Dominion University will resume classes online on March 23 after an extended spring break. ODU President John Broderick said in a statement posted on Facebook that the school would monitor the situation and reassess on April 6. 

Radford University extended its spring break for an additional week and plans to teach online until April 17, according to the university’s website. The university – as most academic institutions are doing – asked that faculty, staff and students complete a voluntary travel declaration forms.

“The information will be shared with local health officials as needed on a case-by-case basis,” Radford President Brian Hemphill said in a release. “For those who traveled, the University may ask individuals to self-monitor or self-isolate for two weeks depending upon the locations that were visited and the activities that were engaged in.”

University of Richmond extended spring break, cancelling classes from March 16-20, and will hold online classes until at least April 3.

The school’s website states that students with extenuating circumstances, such as international students, can submit a petition to stay in on-campus housing although access to student services and facilities will be limited.

University of Virginia students will also move to online courses starting on March 19, according to a release from U.Va. President James Ryan posted on Wednesday.

“We will not be holding classes on Grounds for the foreseeable future, quite possibly through the end of the semester,” Ryan said in a release. “We will reassess after April 5 at the earliest and periodically after that date.”

Virginia Commonwealth University announced Wednesday that it will extend its spring break for an additional week. When the semester resumes on March 23, classes will be taught remotely for the “foreseeable future.” Classrooms are expected to use digital tools such as Blackboard, videoconferencing and online programs. 

The release from VCU President Michael Rao said details regarding on-campus housing, student services and dining plans are forthcoming.

“I also want to take this opportunity to thank you for being mindful and respectful of others during this outbreak, which is not limited to any particular age group, geographic region, nationality, ethnicity or race,” Rao said.

Virginia Tech’s spring break is extended to March 23, with a transition to online courses for the remainder of the semester. All events with over 100 people are cancelled through at least April 30, though May commencement plans are still in place. 

“Our campus administrators, public health experts, and community leaders have been continuously engaged in monitoring the situation in Blacksburg, across Virginia, and around the world,” a release stated. “In consultation with our partners in the Virginia Department of Health, we are adopting a range of principle-based actions, effective immediately.”

William & Mary will start online classes March 23, after an extended spring break, to continue until at least April 1. University events are cancelled until April 3.

Virginia State University announced Wednesday that it will cancel or modify all scheduled events for the next 30 days. Modifications include pre packaged options in dining halls and livestreams for events, like the Mr. and Miss VSU Pageant and student government activities. Christopher Newport University took a similar approach, by rerouting study abroad plans and limiting serve-served food, according to its website

A few colleges remain open at this time: Liberty, Regent and Hampton universities and Reynolds Community College.

As of Wednesday, there are 938 confirmed and presumed positive COVID-19 cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bulk of cases are in Washington, California and New York. The infection has caused 29 deaths in the states. Worldwide, more than 118,300 people have the infection, including over 80,900 individuals living in mainland China. The outbreak has killed 4,292, reported the World Health Organization.

For more information about COVID-19 in Virginia, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING SECURES PRO-CONSUMER PROTECTIONS IN SETTLEMENT OVER T-MOBILE, SPRINT MERGER

~ The agreement includes terms to protect low income subscribers, extend access to underserved communities, and protect current T-Mobile and Sprint employees ~

RICHMOND (March 11, 2020) – Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring today announced a settlement with T-Mobile, resolving the Virginia’s challenge to the company’s merger with Sprint. The agreement includes terms to protect low income subscribers, extend access to underserved communities, and protect current T-Mobile and Sprint employees. T-Mobile also will reimburse Virginia for the costs and fees of its investigation and its litigation challenging the merger. This agreement resolves the legal challenge brought by Attorney General Herring and several other states, which alleged that the merger was unlawful and would lead to reduced competition and increased prices for consumers. 

“My colleagues and I vigorously challenged the T-Mobile/Sprint merger because we were concerned that it would leave consumers with higher prices and less choices and would lead to reduced innovation in the telecom industry,” said Attorney General Herring. “I take my responsibility to protect Virginia consumers very seriously and strongly believed in our case. While I disagree with the Court’s decision to approve the merger, it still emphasized the importance of local market competition in mergers and the importance of state enforcers. This agreement will protect existing jobs in Virginia, give price protections for low-cost plans, and extend broadband access to our lower-income households with children."

As required by the settlement, the merged company is required to:
  • Make low-cost plans available in Virginia for at least 5 years, including a plan offering 2 GB of high-speed data at $15 per month and 5 GB of high-speed data at $25 per month;
  • Extend for at least an additional two years the rate plans currently offered by T-Mobile pursuant to its earlier FCC commitment, ensuring Virginians can retain T-Mobile plans held in February 2019 for a total of five years;
  • Offer 100 GB of no-cost broadband internet service per year for five years and a free mobile Wi-Fi hotspot device to 10 million qualifying low-income households not currently connected to broadband nationwide, as well as the option to purchase select Wi-Fi enabled tablets at the company’s cost for each qualifying household;
  • Protect Virginia jobs by offering all Virginia T-Mobile and Sprint retail employees in good standing an offer of substantially similar employment. T-Mobile also commits that three years after the closing date, the total number of new T-Mobile employees will be equal to or greater than the current total number of employees of the unmerged Sprint and T-Mobile companies;
  • Increase diversity by increasing the participation rate in its employee Diversity and Inclusion program to 60 percent participation within three years; and
  • Reimburse Virginia and other plaintiff states up to $15 million for the costs of the investigation and litigation challenging the merger.
Joining Attorney General Herring in this agreement are the attorneys general of Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

 

 

 

Subscribe to RSS - 2020-3-12