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White House struggles to say how Americans can obtain health insurance amid COVID-19

Dr. Fauci gives update on coronavirus pandemic
Dr. Anthony Fauci discusses the latest in the fight against coronavirus 02:49

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence struggled to provide answers during Wednesday's Coronavirus Task Force briefing on how Americans who are uninsured can become insured during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Trump administration rolled back penalties under Obamacare for anyone who is uninsured, and the Trump administration has declined to open exchanges under a special enrollment period for Americans amid the crisis. Americans who are recently unemployed can apply for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, but the status quo will likely leave many in a gap without insurance.

Pence dodged multiple questions on the topic from Fox News' John Roberts, so much so that the president complimented Pence on speaking for "five minutes" without touching Roberts' question. There were 27.5 million uninsured Americans in 2018.

Cities urge social distancing as U.S. coronavirus cases spikes 03:57

When Roberts asked how people can find insurance before any mitigation efforts are put in place, before they get sick, Pence struggled to answer. Pence pointed out that the administration has extended waivers to states to expand coverage for coronavirus testing and treatment, and extended waivers for Medicare, and said Medicaid can serve lower-income populations.

"I think what we're seeing health care companies do today is really inspiring," Pence said, without answering the question of whether Medicaid could be expanded to cover middle-class Americans.

Roberts pointed out that's only for people who already have insurance.

"One of the things that has animated and characterized the president's approach is the way he has engaged American business to do their part and step up," Pence responded.

States scramble for medical supplies as national stockpile runs low 02:49

This week, the president has painted a bleak and sobering picture of the toll the coronavirus is expected to take on the country, with White House officials projecting 100,000 to 240,000 Americans will die from the illness even if mitigation measures are taken.

The U.S. currently has the most reported cases in the world, although experts question China's reporting on its own cases. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump and national security adviser Robert O'Brien said they aren't in a position to know whether China is reporting accurate numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths.

Mr. Trump recognized at Wednesday's briefing that China's numbers "seem to be a little bit on the light side," adding he's being "nice" when he says that. Bloomberg reported earlier Wednesday that the U.S. intelligence community concluded China is intentionally under-reporting the number of cases and deaths in the country, citing officials familiar with the report. 

"The relationship is very good," Mr. Trump said of his relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

"As to whether their numbers are accurate, I'm not an accountant from China," the president added. 

"Unfortunately, we are just not in a position to confirm any of the numbers that are coming out of China," O'Brien said, after acknowledging the relationship between Xi and Mr. Trump. "There's no way to confirm any of those numbers. There's lots of public reporting on whether the numbers are too low. You've got access to those reports that are coming out of the Chinese social media and some of the few reporters that are left in China. We just have no way to confirm any of those numbers." 

Defense Secretary Mark Esper began the briefing by discussing what the White House is doing to crack down on drug cartels in the Caribbean, with the president claiming that this effort is also part of the crackdown on the coronavirus. 

Mr. Trump announced earlier this week an extension of social distancing guidelines until April 30, and governors in more than half of states have issued orders for Americans to stay in their homes and nonessential businesses to close.

There were more than 189,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States as of Wednesday, and the death toll has surpassed 4,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.

As public health officials warn it could be months before life in the U.S. can begin to return to normal, House Democrats have started working on a fourth legislative package that would focus on the recovery phase of the epidemic and provide assistance for health care workers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested the next measure would include an infrastructure component, which seems to have Mr. Trump's backing.

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