March 02, 2020

Good morning.

Situational awareness: A second American coronavirus death has been confirmed, again in Washington state.

Today's word count is 816, or a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: Lab for coronavirus test kits may have been contaminated

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A top federal scientist sounded the alarm about what he feared was contamination in an Atlanta lab where the government made test kits for the novel coronavirus, sources familiar with the situation in Atlanta told my colleague Jonathan Swan and me.

Driving the news: The Trump administration has ordered an independent investigation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab, and manufacturing of the virus test kits has been moved, the sources said.

Why it matters: Because the administration is under scrutiny for its early preparations for the virus, the potential problems at the lab became a top internal priority for some officials. But the Trump administration did not talk publicly about the Food and Drug Administration's specific concerns about the Atlanta lab.

  • Senior officials are still not saying exactly what the FDA regulator found at the Atlanta lab.
  • The CDC lab in Atlanta developed the testing formula for the coronavirus test — which the government says works — and was manufacturing relatively small amounts of testing kits for laboratories around the country. This is where the lab ran into problems, per sources familiar with the situation.

FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a statement to Axios that government agencies have already worked together to resolve the problems with the coronavirus tests.

  • "Upon learning about the test issue from CDC, FDA worked with CDC to determine that problems with certain test components were due to a manufacturing issue," he said.

The big picture: The FDA says it now has full confidence in the coronavirus diagnostic kit, but a slew of new cases announced over the weekend suggest the virus has spread throughout the country while the U.S. government tested only a narrow subset of the population for it.

Read the whole story.

2. Coronavirus raises affordability concerns

The threat of the coronavirus is already exposing the holes in the U.S. health care system, particularly for low-income people and those without health insurance.

Why it matters: If affordability concerns keep people from receiving the care they need, or from staying home in order to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus, we've got an even bigger problem.

Driving the news: The coronavirus could be particularly burdensome among gig economy workers, both because they often don't have health insurance through their work and because the nature of their jobs increases their risk of exposure, the Washington Post reports. They also often can't afford to stay home.

  • The same is generally true for other service industry workers, like those who work in restaurants, retail and child care, as the NYT points out.

The coronavirus is already colliding with the issue of surprise medical bills.

  • The NYT's Sarah Kliff reported this weekend on one Pennsylvania family that was put under quarantine after returning from Wuhan, China. After testing negative for the virus, they received medical bills totaling nearly $4,000.

The bottom line: The coronavirus is likely to test not only our public health preparedness, but the degree to which affordability concerns are a threat to our response.

3. Drugmakers warn of coronavirus impact

Some of the largest drugmakers — including AstraZeneca, Merck and Pfizer — have said that the coronavirus outbreak could affect their supplies or sales, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Between the lines: Drug shortages can end up being incredibly serious for patients, but they're not good for business either.

Details: The drug companies are trying to get ahead of the problem by looking for alternative sources of drug ingredients and supplies.

  • Only one drug has gone into shortage so far because of the coronavirus, but the FDA hasn't said which drug or who makes it.

Go deeper: Coronavirus threatens shortages of about 150 drugs

4. Medicare for All supporters may not understand it

Data: Kaiser Family Foundation Tracking Poll; Note: ±3 percentage points margin of error; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Even many supporters of Medicare for All don't necessarily know how it would work, the Kaiser Family Foundation's Drew Altman writes in today's column.

The big picture: That doesn't necessarily mean more information will turn supporters into opponents, but it shows that we're still at an early stage in this debate, in which opinions about Medicare for All are often reflections of broader political alliances, not the details of a plan.

By the numbers: In KFF's January tracking poll. more than half (59%) of Medicare for All supporters didn't think Medicare for All would require people to give up their employer-based insurance; 34% knew it would.

  • Democrats have learned more about the plan over the course of the party's primary — 41% now know that people with employer coverage couldn't keep it, up from 25% in June.

The big picture: People's opinions are still malleable.

  • Majority support for Medicare for All flips to majority opposition — 58% — if people think it would eliminate private coverage. And opposition rises to 70% if people think Medicare for All would lead to delays in care.
  • But support rises to 67% if people hear that Medicare for All would eliminate premiums and deductibles, and to 71% if they hear it would "make health care a right."

Drew's thought bubble: The public's flexible opinions and lack of knowledge are a reminder that a lot of this is about signaling priorities, rather than adherence to a specific plan.

5. While you were weekending...

  • Bloomberg reports on the companies whose stocks did well last week — because they all stand to benefit from the coronavirus.
  • We still don't know a lot about the coronavirus, and those unknowns make even the best contingency planning a lot harder, Axios' Bob Herman writes.
  • STAT digs into anti-vaccine activists' attempt in Maine to use anger against drug companies to win sympathy for their efforts.