In the next several days, Minnesota will reach 2,000 COVID-19 deaths. Each death is a sober reminder of the widespread impact of the pandemic. Each death comes with a story: the family losing a parent, children losing a grandparent, a community losing a neighbor. We are learning that more and more people are ending up severely ill with chronic heart, kidney, lung and neurological complications.
The truth is, it didn’t have to be this bad.
As we consider what a second wave could look like this fall, we must realize we’re still in the first wave. The virus is now moving from largely urban areas through the suburbs into outstate Minnesota.
The federal government is not to blame for the virus itself, but it is responsible for the delayed and insufficient response. A study from Columbia University found that if we had implemented nationwide social distancing measures just one week earlier in March than we did, we could have prevented 36,000 deaths.
The government also could have fully activated the Defense Production Act, which helps private companies shift their production to making ventilators and personal protective equipment. Instead, the Trump administration resisted bipartisan calls to use the full powers of the act before reversing course.
As scientists and epidemiologists warn about the virus spreading among people in close contact, the president holds large, indoor rallies.
That last point is important in the context of the president’s pandemic-related decisions. In Bob Woodward’s new book, the president admits that he deliberately downplayed COVID-19. On Feb. 7, the president said to Woodward “this is deadly stuff.” Three days later, he held a rally in New Hampshire with 12,000 people.
Now, the Trump administration is suing to eliminate the Affordable Care Act. If the courts side with the administration, the ACA will be repealed and tens of millions of Americans will lose their health insurance. Those with lingering effects from COVID will find it difficult to get insurance.
I ran the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services from 2015 to 2017. My job was to administer Medicare, help states run their Medicaid programs and implement the Affordable Care Act. I was concerned before the pandemic that the Trump administration was trying to sabotage the ACA. I’m even more concerned today.
Before COVID-19, the president dismantled our pandemic preparedness efforts and is now actively trying to make nursing homes less safe by removing infection control regulations. I’m not naive about this; I know there are significant differences between Republicans and Democrats on health care policy. But now that we are facing a pandemic, we should face it together and find ways to eliminate people’s worries about paying for medical care, not increase them.
In the campaign, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has proposed ways for Minnesotans to keep their health insurance. Under his plan, if you lose your job and employer-based health care, the federal government would step in and cover 100% of the cost of your insurance. He would offer a Medicare-like option for those interested, including those with employer-based coverage that doesn’t meet all their needs. Everyone would have access to health insurance and the cost to be tested and treated for COVID-19 would be free for all.
This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. If the Trump administration proposed this, I’d be the first one to thank it.
Today, we cannot bring back the nearly 2,000 Minnesotans we’ve lost. But we can prevent the pandemic from getting worse. I know many of us want our businesses and schools to reopen safely, to resume a normal schedule, and to be close to our friends and neighbors again without risk. The quickest path is to end the spread of the pandemic in Minnesota.
This solemn week, it’s good to remember that with a plan and the right leadership, we can get beyond this and minimize infections and deaths.
Andy Slavitt, of Edina, is founder of United States of Care and host of the “In the Bubble” podcast. He was the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services from 2015 to 2017.