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Trump Says Hospitals Will Be Reimbursed For Treating The Uninsured

President Trump speaks about the coronavirus during Friday's briefing at the White House.
President Trump speaks about the coronavirus during Friday's briefing at the White House.

Updated at 7:57 p.m. ET

Just days after the White House coronavirus task force warned Americans to brace for sobering death tolls, the administration is vowing to reimburse hospitals for treating uninsured patients infected with the coronavirus.

Speaking to reporters Friday evening, President Trump said the reimbursement will come using funds from the economic relief package Congress passed last month.

"This should alleviate any concern uninsured Americans may have about seeking the coronavirus treatment," Trump said.

Trump also announced that the health insurance system Blue Cross Blue Shield will not require any co-pays from patients for treatment of the virus over the next 60 days, similar to the commitments of Cigna and Humana.

"For them to do that, is a big statement," Trump said.

Using defense production act

Trump also said he's invoking the Defense Production Act to prohibit the exporting of critical medical supplies by "unscrupulous actors and profiteers."

The president referenced an operation earlier this week by the Department of Justice's COVID-19 hoarding and price gauging task force, which took custody of nearly 200,000 N-95 respirator masks and 600,000 medical grade gloves, along with hand sanitizers and spray disinfectant. The materials were distributed to health care workers in New York and New Jersey.

The owner of the hoarded stash was paid fair market value (pre-pandemic) by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Trump also announced that the Department of Defense is providing about 8.1 million N95 respirators, saying 200,000 of them have already been given to New York City.

Trump said he anticipates that number will increase.

New guidance on wearing masks

After reports of changed mask guidelines circulated this week, Trump announced a change to those guidelines Friday.

Trump said in light of the fact that individuals can transmit the virus without presenting any symptoms has led the CDC to advise using non-medical cloth face coverings as an additional voluntary public health measure.

The president stressed repeatedly that it's voluntary.

"With the masks, it's going to be really a voluntary thing. You can do it. You don't have to do it," Trump said. "I'm choosing not to do it, but some people may want to do it. And that's OK. It may be good."

Trump said such coverings can be purchased online or made at home and can be easily washed and reused.

He emphasized that the CDC is not recommending using surgical grade masks as those need to be reserved for health care workers and that social distancing guidelines are still in place.

Supplies

Vice President Pence told reporters a flight arrived from China today in Columbus, Ohio, with medical supplies.

"We continue to work each and every day watching the data about cases to ensure that in particular, not just the personal protective equipment is available for the health care workers that are on the front lines, but also that ventilators are available," Pence said.

When asked why the country wasn't in a better state of preparedness in terms of supplies, the president blamed the previous administration for the shortages of medical equipment.

"The shelves were empty," Trump said.

Trump went on to say the administration is "doing our best" to provide New York with the ventilators they need.

"We've worked very well with the governor. We happen to think he's well-served with ventilators," Trump said. "We're going to find out. But we have other states to take care of."

Trump wants bodies in voting booths come November

When asked whether states should be prepared for all-mail voting come November, Trump passionately declared no.

"The general election will happen on November 3," Trump said.

Trump said he thinks a lot of people "cheat" with mail-in voting and voiced strong support for voter identification.

"It shouldn't be mail-in voting. It should be — you go to a booth and you proudly display yourself," he said. "You don't send it in the mail, where people pick up, all sort of bad things can happen by the time they signed that, if they signed that, by the time it gets in and is tabulated," he said.

Meeting with energy industry leaders

Crude oil prices have plummeted as a result of the country's lockdown, with gas prices averaging just under $2 a gallon. The drop in demand is coupled with an increasing supply due to a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Trump met with energy executives Friday afternoon and told reporters they "did discuss the concept of tariffs."

When asked if industry leaders asked him for a bailout, Trump said it was more of a "discussion" than an ask.

"We did discuss the concept of tariffs because, as you know, this was a dispute among a couple of countries that I think they want to be able to get it solved. And they had a dispute. They had a competition, but they want to get it resolved," Trump said, referring to Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Trump said while he believed he could use tariffs as a tool, he ultimately thinks the market will resolve it.

Direct payments slated to come in two weeks

During Thursday's briefing at the White House, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said his department is working to ensure that eligible taxpayers will receive their first direct payments within two weeks, one week earlier than originally promised.

"We're delivering on our commitments," Mnuchin said. "The IRS, which I oversee, within two weeks, the first money will be in people's accounts."

Mnuchin dismissed reports that some relief payments — especially to people who can't accept direct deposits and require paper checks — may take up to 20 weeks to reach some Americans.

"If we don't have your information, you'll have a simple Web portal; you'll upload it," Mnuchin said. "If we don't have that, we'll send you checks in the mail."

Mnuchin was joined by Jovita Carranza, head of the Small Business Administration, who said her team is working around the clock to prioritize getting emergency capital for small businesses suffering as a result of the coronavirus.

"I want to ensure that small businesses all over the country know about the Paycheck Protection Program and how they can benefit from this," Carranza said. "Simply put, the Paycheck Protection Program is to help keep employees on payroll and small businesses open. SBA will forgive the portion of the loan that is used toward job retention and certain other expenses."

Efforts to mitigate the economic toll of shutting down the country comes as the U.S. suffered a net loss of jobs for the first time in nearly a decade. Ten million people filed for unemployment in the last two weeks alone.

President Trump, Vice President Pence and other coronavirus task force members also emphasized the work being done to distribute supplies to hospitals, including ventilators and masks.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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