Ossoff calls on feds to make COVID-19 drug affordable

Jon Ossoff

ATLANTA – Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff called on the federal government Thursday to make remdesivir, the only drug authorized for emergency use in treating COVID-19, available to patients at no out-of-pocket cost.

In a three-page policy paper released in advance of a virtual town hall appearance Thursday evening, Ossoff argued that remdesivir, developed by Gilead Sciences Inc. with at least $70 million in federal assistance, is priced out of reach of many Americans suffering from coronavirus.

“No one should die or go bankrupt in the wealthiest country in the world because they cannot afford health care,” Ossoff said. “It is vital during this pandemic that every American can get coronavirus treatment without financial hardship.”

Clinical trials have found that a course of up to 10 days of treatment with remdesivir shortened the recovery time for some adults hospitalized with COVID-19.

Gilead plans to charge patients in the U.S. with private insurance up to $3,120 for the full course of treatment. While that is 25% more than patients in other developed countries will pay, company officials say the price is reasonable.

“At the level we have priced remdesivir and with government programs in place, along with additional Gilead assistance as needed, we believe all patients will have access,” Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day wrote in an open letter late last month.

Health-care advocacy groups and financial analysts have given mixed reviews to the U.S. price. While some accuse Gilead of price gouging, others note the price represents a savings compared to what it would cost patients to spend extra days in a hospital intensive care unit they could have avoided by taking remdesivir.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced late last month the purchase of a stockpile of 500,000 treatment courses of remdesivir, the supply Gilead plans to manufacture in July, August and September. The federal government is managing the distribution of the drug to hospitals, which then resell it to patients.

Ossoff also is asking the Trump administration to require Gilead and other pharmaceutical companies to set “reasonable and affordable prices” for COVID-19 treatments. And he called on Congress to include the necessary funding for remdesivir in the next coronavirus relief bill.

Ossoff won the Democratic nomination last month to oppose incumbent Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., in November.

The virtual town hall will be conducted alongside Savannah Alderman Kurtis Purtee.

Georgia sets weekly record for unemployment payouts

Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler

ATLANTA – While initial unemployment claims in Georgia continued to decline last week, the state paid out an all-time record of more than $857 million in state and federal jobless benefits.

That’s almost three times the benefits payments the state agency issued during all of last year.

 “We are paying more Georgians more benefits than we ever have before,” Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler said Thursday. “No one would have imagined in the same year we experienced our lowest monthly number of claims since 1975 that we would pay almost three years’ worth of benefits in one week.”

Initial unemployment claims filed during a short holiday week totaled 105,160, down 12,325 from the previous week. That marked the 10th week in a row initial jobless claims in Georgia have gone down.

 Since the week of March 21, when Georgia businesses began closing to comply with a shelter-in-place order put in place to discourage the spread of coronavirus, the accommodation and food services job sector has accounted for the most initial unemployment claims, with 732,709 claims filed.

The health care and social assistance sector is next with 348,660 jobless claims, followed closely by retail trade with 330,152 claims.

 “Our staff continues to focus daily on unpaid claims, resolving as many of these issues as possible,” Butler said. “As not everyone is eligible for unemployment benefits, it is our responsibility to administer state and federal unemployment programs to the best of our ability making sure we only pay eligible claimants.

“Sometimes, these claims are challenging and require research and attention greatly increasing the time it takes to find resolution.”

More than 116,000 jobs are listed online at EmployGeorgia.com for Georgians to access. The labor department offers online resources for finding a job, building a resume, and assisting with other reemployment needs.

University system advisory group on renaming buildings, colleges begins work

Albany State University President Marion Ross Fedrick

ATLANTA – Deciding whether to rename buildings or academic colleges on the 26 University System of Georgia campuses will be a complicated process fraught with emotion, system Chancellor Steve Wrigley warned Thursday.

“You will face some complex choices,” Wrigley told the five members of an advisory group formed last month to review those names and recommend any changes. “Be deliberate and thoughtful. Those are not words we hear a lot today. We want you to be persuaded only by the facts.”

The advisory group, which held its first meeting Thursday, was created amid a backdrop of protests across the country over centuries of racial injustice in America that have been marked by the removal of statues of Confederate leaders and public calls for renaming buildings honoring historic figures connected with the South’s history of slavery and racial discrimination and violence.

“These conversations need to happen … where these names come from, whether they’re appropriate and whether they need to change,” said Marion Ross Fedrick, president of Albany State University and the group’s chairman. “It is critical that we purposefully look at the naming of our buildings, colleges and schools.”

The group’s work promises to be time-consuming. More than 3,000 buildings dot the university system’s campuses, although not all have names.

Fedrick said she already has received more than 1,000 pages of information on the histories of those buildings. She said she would like the group to meet at least twice a month through December and decide at that time whether the process needs to continue into next year.

The group may develop an onsite platform to allow for public feedback.

Fedrick urged group members to give equal weight to the various sources of that public input.

“A lot of this will be emotional and personal,” she said. “What we don’t want to do is listen to one and not another.”

Besides Fedrick, the advisory group includes:

  • Michael Patrick, marketing and strategic growth at  Chick-fil-A.
  • Herbert Phipps, a retired former Georgia Court of Appeals judge.
  • Neal J. Quirk, a lawyer and executive vice chairman of the University of Georgia Foundation.
  • Sally Wallace, dean of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University.

Ossoff launches first TV ad of general election race

Jon Ossoff

ATLANTA – U.S. Senate Democratic nominee Jon Ossoff released his first TV ad of the general election campaign Thursday, highlighting his background as an investigative journalist.

Ossoff, who won last month’s Democratic primary in a crowded field, heads a 28-year-old investigative media company that exposes corruption and organized crime worldwide.

“We’ve exposed sexual slavery by ISIS, crooked judges, child trafficking and bribery,” Ossoff says in a 30-second ad entitled “We Investigate.”

“Corruption is why politicians let health insurance companies rip off our families, and polluters poison our air and water. Fighting corruption is my job, and it’s what I’ll do as your senator.”

Ossoff’s first general-election ad comes a day after incumbent Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., released his first two TV ads. Perdue, who is seeking a second six-year term, won the Republican nomination unopposed.

The Democrat’s ad goes on to state he is refusing to accept campaign contributions from corporate political action committees. He has accused Perdue of being beholden to corporate interests by accepting corporate PAC checks.

Ossoff won nearly 53% of the vote in the June primary. By gaining the support of more than half of Democratic voters, he avoided a runoff in August and now can take aim at the November election.

Perdue kicks off general election ad campaign

U.S. Sen. David Perdue

ATLANTA – U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., goes after the “radical left” and the defunding the police movement with two 30-second TV ads released Wednesday.

In the first ads of the general election campaign between Perdue and Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, the first-term GOP senator asserts that, contrary to the message delivered during the recent street protests, America remains “the shining city on the hill,” an example other nations admire.

“It’s up to us to protect what the rest of the world envies: economic opportunity for everybody, limited government, individual liberty,” he says in an ad entitled “Patriot.”

In “Justice,” Perdue acknowledges the U.S. needs police reform. But he takes aim at the idea of taking resources away from police agencies.

Instead, he calls for some of the same approaches advocated in the Senate Republican version of police reform legislation now pending on Capitol Hill.

“Our officers need to look more like the communities they serve,” he says in the ad. “De-escalation training is a must. Body cameras would help. Real police reform will make all of our neighborhoods safer and ensure justice for all.”

Majority Democrats in the U.S. House agree conceptually with many of the strategies contained in the Senate Republican bill. But while legislation the House passed in June would require police departments to adopt such police reforms, the Senate version would use incentives to encourage voluntary reforms.

Perdue won the Republican nomination for a second six-year Senate term last month, running unopposed.

Ossoff emerged with the Democratic nod from a crowded primary field, avoiding an August runoff by winning nearly 53% of the vote.