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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Sen. Bernie Sanders released his 2020 plan to cancel $81 billion in existing medical debt, reform collections practices and change bankruptcy rules this weekend.

Why it matters: The proposal speaks directly to the issues of surprise medical bills and hospitals' lawsuits against patients — issues that have only recently entered the political lexicon.

The big picture: It also, of course, is a simple solution to the problem of unaffordable health care costs, a top issue for voters and one that has only become more prominent with the rise of deductibles and other forms of cost-sharing.

Yes, but: It's not hard at all to imagine how this will play with those who already think Sanders has made ludicrous financial proposals.

Between the lines: Sanders would have the federal government "negotiate and pay off past-due medical bills in collections that have been reported to credit agencies," per the plan.

  • But medical debt often doesn't get paid, so collectors will sell it for cheap. Craig Antico, founder of the nonprofit charity R.I.P. Medical Debt — which buys and absolves health care debt in bulk — told NYT that the market price for $81 billion in debt could be as low as $500 million.

How it works, via Axios' Orion Rummler:

  • Have the IRS review billing and collection practices of nonprofit hospitals.
  • Replace for-profit credit reporting agencies with a "secure public credit registry."
  • Stop requiring the disclosure of medical debt discharge on housing and loan applications.

What we're watching: Sanders' embrace of "Medicare for All" has transformed the Democratic party, pulling it much further left on health care. It's unclear if his stance on medical debt will play the same way, and how the rest of the 2020 field will respond.

Go deeper: Hospital lawsuits unearth "cracks in our system"

Go deeper

House passes $1.9 trillion COVID relief package

Photo: Screenshot via CSPAN

The House approved President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package on a 219-212 vote early Saturday morning, sending it to the Senate for a possible rewrite before it gets to Biden's desk.

The big picture: The vote was a critical first step for the package, which includes $1,400 cash payments for many Americans, a national vaccination program, ramped-up COVID testing and contact tracing, state and local funding and money to help schools reopen.

7 hours ago - Health

Biden says it's "not the time to relax" after touring vaccination site

President Biden speaking after visiting a FEMA Covid-19 vaccination facility in Houston on Feb. 26. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said Friday that "it's not the time to relax" coronavirus mitigation efforts and warned that the number of cases and hospitalizations could rise again as new variants of the virus emerge.

Why it matters: Biden, who made the remarks after touring a vaccination site in Houston, echoed CDC director Rochelle Walensky, who said earlier on Friday that while the U.S. has seen a recent drop in cases and hospitalizations, "these declines follow the highest peak we have experienced in the pandemic."

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Most COVID-19 survivors can weather risk of reinfection, study says — "Twindemic" averted as flu reports plummet amid coronavirus crisis
  2. Vaccine: FDA advisory panel endorses J&J COVID vaccine for emergency use — About 20% of U.S. adults have received first vaccine dose, White House says — New data reignites the debate over coronavirus vaccine strategy.
  3. Economy: What's really going on with the labor market.
  4. Local: All adult Minnesotans will likely be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine by summer — Another wealthy Florida community receives special access to COVID-19 vaccine.
  5. Sports: Poll weighs impact of athlete vaccination.