WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) -- In a rare national address Wednesday night, President Donald Trump announced he is sharply restricting passenger travel from 26 European nations to the U.S. and moving to ease the economic cost of a viral pandemic that is roiling global financial markets and disrupting the daily lives of Americans.
He also misstated the role the health insurance industry has agreed to play in attacking the virus. About three minutes into the speech, Trump said: "I met with the leaders of health insurance industry, who have agreed to waive all copayments for coronavirus treatments."
The industry lobbying group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, quickly corrected the comment in a comment to Sarah Owermohle, reporter for Politico in Washington, D.C.
Trump's claim tonight that health insurers "have agreed to waive all copayments for coronavirus treatments" seems to be news to them.
“For testing. Not for treatment.” a spokesperson for the major insurance lobby AHIP says.
— Sarah Owermohle (@owermohle) March 12, 2020
Insurers will cover testing costs when ordered by a physician, AHIP announced in a March 5 statement. The group vowed that its members will "work with public and private-sector partners to implement solutions so that out-of-pocket costs are not a barrier to people seeking testing for, and treatment of, COVID-19."
AHIP leaders were among health insurance industry groups who met in the Oval Office Wednesday with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
“No one should hesitate to see their doctor to get tested and treated for COVID-19 because of costs," said Matt Eyles, president and CEO of AHIP. "Health insurance providers across the country have taken action to remove cost barriers to care. America’s health insurance providers are committed to swift and significant action to help confront this challenge."
Trump announced that he is suspending all travel from Europe to the U.S. for 30 days beginning at 11:59 p.m. Friday. After days of playing down the threat, he blamed Europe for not acting quickly enough to address the novel coronavirus and claimed that U.S. clusters were “seeded” by European travelers.
“We made a lifesaving move with early action on China," Trump said. "Now we must take the same action with Europe.”
Trump said the restrictions won't apply to the United Kingdom, and there would be exemptions for “Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings." It also wouldn't apply to cargo. He said the U.S. would monitor the situation to determine if travel could be reopened earlier.
Homeland Security officials later clarified that the new travel restrictions would only apply to most foreign nationals who have been in the "Schengen Area" at any point for 14 days prior to their scheduled arrival to the United States. The area includes Italy, German, Greece, Austria, Belgium and others. It doesn't apply to legal permanent residents, immediate family of U.S. citizens or others "identified in the proclamation."
The Oval Office address was an abrupt shift in tone from a president who has repeatedly sought to downplay the virus. Many Americans shared a similar mindset in recent weeks, but the grueling events of Wednesday changed the mood: Communities canceled public events nationwide, universities moved to cancel in-person classes, and families grappled with the impact of disruptions to public schools. The number of confirmed cases of the infection topped 1,000 in the U.S. and the World Health Organization declared the global crisis is now a pandemic.
'We Need To Do Something'
As pressure mounted for Washington to respond, the GOP leader in the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, signaled potential Republican support for the funding package in Congress.
“We need to do something," McCarthy said. "I think they could become very bipartisan.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
Congress' attending physician told staff there could be 70 million to 100 million coronavirus cases in the U.S. That's on par with other estimates. A Harvard official has estimated that 20% to 60% of adults will get the virus, noting it's “a pretty wide range.”
John Hilton contributed to this report