Lie of the Year: Coronavirus Downplay and Denial

https://www.politifact.com/article/2020/dec/16/lie-year-coronavirus-downplay-and-denial/?fbclid=IwAR3qlz1c1UvQt2s1z6uIbjw4bYHRWIVuasQ0CHeg4H4lFS0AtUjFJnJtQGw

2020 Lie of the Year: Coronavirus Disinformation - YouTube

A Florida taxi driver and his wife had seen enough conspiracy theories online to believe the virus was overblown, maybe even a hoax. So no masks for them. Then they got sick. She died. A college lecturer had trouble refilling her lupus drug after the president promoted it as a treatment for the new disease. A hospital nurse broke down when an ICU patient insisted his illness was nothing worse than the flu, oblivious to the silence in beds next door.   

Lies infected America in 2020. The very worst were not just damaging, but deadly. 

President Donald J. Trump fueled confusion and conspiracies from the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic. He embraced theories that COVID-19 accounted for only a small fraction of the thousands upon thousands of deaths. He undermined public health guidance for wearing masks and cast Dr. Anthony Fauci as an unreliable flip-flopper

But the infodemic was not the work of a single person. 

Anonymous bad actors offered up junk science. Online skeptics made bogus accusations that hospitals padded their coronavirus case numbers to generate bonus payments. Influential TV and radio opinion hosts told millions of viewers that social distancing was a joke and that states had all of the personal protective equipment they needed (when they didn’t).

It was a symphony of counter narrative, and Trump was the conductor, if not the composer. The message: The threat to your health was overhyped to hurt the political fortunes of the president. 

Every year, PolitiFact editors review the year’s most inaccurate statements to elevate one as the Lie of the Year. The “award” goes to a statement, or a collection of claims, that prove to be of substantive consequence in undermining reality. 

It has become harder and harder to choose when cynical pundits and politicians don’t pay much of a price for saying things that aren’t true. For the past month, unproven claims of massive election fraud have tested democratic institutions and certainly qualify as historic and dangerously bald-faced. Fortunately, the constitutional foundations that undergird American democracy are holding. 

Meanwhile, the coronavirus has killed more than 300,000 in the United States, a crisis exacerbated by the reckless spread of falsehoods.

PolitiFact’s 2020 Lie of the Year: claims that deny, downplay or disinform about COVID-19. 

‘I always wanted to play it down’

On Feb. 7, Trump leveled with book author Bob Woodward about the dangers of the new virus that was spreading across the world, originating in central China. He told the legendary reporter that the virus was airborne, tricky and “more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”

Trump told the public something else. On Feb. 26, the president appeared with his coronavirus task force in the crowded White House briefing room. A reporter asked if he was telling healthy Americans not to change their behavior.

“Wash your hands, stay clean. You don’t have to necessarily grab every handrail unless you have to,” he said, the room chuckling. “I mean, view this the same as the flu.”

Three weeks later, March 19, he acknowledged to Woodward: “To be honest with you, I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down. Because I don’t want to create a panic.”

His acolytes in politics and the media were on the same page. Rush Limbaugh told his audience of about 15 million on Feb. 24 that coronavirus was being weaponized against Trump when it was just “the common cold, folks.” That’s wrong — even in the early weeks, it was clear the virus had a higher fatality rate than the common cold, with worse potential side effects, too.

As the virus was spreading, so was the message to downplay it. 

“There are lots of sources of misinformation, and there are lots of elected officials besides Trump that have not taken the virus seriously or promoted misinformation,” said Brendan Nyhan, a government professor at Dartmouth College. “It’s not solely a Trump story — and it’s important to not take everyone else’s role out of the narrative.” 

Hijacking the numbers 

In August, there was a growing movement on Twitter to question the disproportionately high U.S. COVID-19 death toll.  

The skeptics cited Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data to claim that only 6% of COVID-19 deaths could actually be attributed to the virus. On Aug. 24, BlazeTV host Steve Deace amplified it on Facebook.

“Here’s the percentage of people who died OF or FROM Covid with no underlying comorbidity,” he said to his 120,000 followers. “According to CDC, that is just 6% of the deaths WITH Covid so far.”

That misrepresented the reality of coronavirus deaths. The CDC had always said people with underlying health problems — comorbidities — were most vulnerable if they caught COVID-19. The report was noting that 6% died even without being at obvious risk. 

But for those skeptical of COVID-19, the narrative confirmed their beliefs. Facebook users copied and pasted language from influencers like Amiri King, who had 2.2 million Facebook followers before he was banned. The Gateway Pundit called it a “SHOCK REPORT.”

“I saw a statistic come out the other day, talking about only 6% of the people actually died from COVID, which is very interesting — that they died from other reasons,” Trump told Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Sept. 1.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, addressed the claim on “Good Morning America” the same day. 

“The point that the CDC was trying to make was that a certain percentage of them had nothing else but just COVID,” he said. “That does not mean that someone who has hypertension or diabetes who dies of COVID didn’t die of COVID-19 — they did.”

Trump retweeted the message from an account that sported the slogans and symbols of QAnon, a conspiracy movement that claims Democrats and Hollywood elites are members of an underground pedophilia ring. 

False information moved between social media, Trump and TV, creating its own feedback loop.

“It’s an echo effect of sorts, where Donald Trump is certainly looking for information that resonates with his audiences and that supports his political objectives. And his audiences are looking to be amplified, so they’re incentivized to get him their information,” said Kate Starbird, an associate professor and misinformation expert at the University of Washington.Weakening the armor: misleading on masks

At the start of the pandemic, the CDC told healthy people not to wear masks, saying they were needed for health care providers on the frontlines. But on April 3 the agency changed its guidelines, saying every American should wear non-medical cloth masks in public.

Trump announced the CDC’s guidance, then gutted it.

“So it’s voluntary. You don’t have to do it. They suggested for a period of time, but this is voluntary,” Trump said at a press briefing. “I don’t think I’m going to be doing it.”

Rather than an advance in best practices on coronavirus prevention, face masks turned into a dividing line between Trump’s political calculations and his decision-making as president. Americans didn’t see Trump wearing a mask until a July visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Meanwhile, disinformers flooded the internet with wild claims: Masks reduced oxygen. Masks trapped fungus. Masks trapped coronavirus. Masks just didn’t work.

Covid-19 news from Dec. 10

In September, the CDC reported a correlation between people who went to bars and restaurants, where masks can’t consistently be worn, and positive COVID-19 test results. Bloggers and skeptical news outlets countered with a misleading report about masks.

On Oct. 13, the story landed on Fox News’ flagship show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” During the show, Carlson claimed “almost everyone — 85% — who got the coronavirus in July was wearing a mask.”

“So clearly (wearing a mask) doesn’t work the way they tell us it works,” Carlson said.

That’s wrong, and it misrepresented a small sample of people who tested positive. Public health officials and infectious disease experts have been consistent since April in saying that face masks are among the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

But two days later, Trump repeated the 85% stat during a rally and at a town hall with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie. 

“I tell people, wear masks,” he said at the town hall. “But just the other day, they came out with a statement that 85% of the people that wear masks catch it.”

The assault on hospitals 

On March 24, registered nurse Melissa Steiner worked her first shift in the new COVID-19 ICU of her southeast Michigan hospital. After her 13-hour day caring for two critically ill patients on ventilators, she posted a tearful video.

“Honestly, guys, it felt like I was working in a war zone,” Steiner said. “(I was) completely isolated from my team members, limited resources, limited supplies, limited responses from physicians because they’re just as overwhelmed.” 

“I’m already breaking, so for f—’s sake, people, please take this seriously. This is so bad.”

Steiner’s post was one of many emotional pleas offered by overwhelmed hospital workers last spring urging people to take the threat seriously. The denialists mounted a counter offensive.

On March 28, Todd Starnes, a conservative radio host and commentator, tweeted a video from outside Brooklyn Hospital Center. There were few people or cars in sight.

“This is the ‘war zone’ outside the hospital in my Brooklyn neighborhood,” Starnes said sarcastically. The video racked up more than 1.5 million views.

Starnes’ video was one of the first examples of #FilmYourHospital, a conspiratorial social media trend that pushed back on the idea that hospitals had been strained by a rapid influx of coronavirus patients. 

Several internet personalities asked people to go out and shoot their own videos. The result: a series of user-generated clips taken outside hospitals, where the response to the pandemic was not easily seen. Over the course of a week, #FilmYourHospital videos were uploaded to YouTube and posted tens of thousands of times on Twitter and Facebook.

Nearly two weeks and more than 10,000 deaths later, Fox News featured a guest who opened a new misinformation assault on hospitals.

Dr. Scott Jensen, a Minnesota physician and Republican state senator, told Ingraham that, because hospitals were receiving more money for COVID-19 patients on Medicare — a result of a coronavirus stimulus bill — they were overcounting COVID-19 cases. He had no proof of fraud, but the cynical story took off

Trump used the false report on the campaign trail to continue to minimize the death toll. 

“Our doctors get more money if somebody dies from COVID,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Waterford, Mich., Oct. 30. “You know that, right? I mean, our doctors are very smart people. So what they do is they say, ‘I’m sorry, but, you know, everybody dies of COVID.’”  

The real fake news: The Plandemic

The most viral disinformation of the pandemic was styled to look like it had the blessing of people Americans trust: scientists and doctors.

In a 26-minute video called “Plandemic: The Hidden Agenda Behind COVID-19,” a former scientist at the National Cancer Institute claimed that the virus was manipulated in a lab, hydroxychloroquine is effective against coronaviruses, and face masks make people sick. 

Judy Mikovits’ conspiracies received more than 8 million views in May thanks in part to the online outrage machine — anti-vaccine activists, anti-lockdown groups and QAnon supporters — that push disinformation into the mainstream. The video was circulated in a coordinated effort to promote Mikovits’ book release.

A couple of months later, a similar effort propelled another video of fact-averse doctors to millions of people in only a few hours. 

On July 27, Breitbart published a clip of a press conference hosted by a group called America’s Frontline Doctors in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Looking authoritative in white lab coats, these doctors discouraged mask wearing and falsely said there was already a cure in hydroxychloroquine, a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Trump, who had been talking up the drug since March and claimed to be taking it himself as a preventive measure in Mayretweeted clips of the event before Twitter removed them as misinformation about COVID-19. He defended the “very respected doctors” in a July 28 press conference

When Olga Lucia Torres, a lecturer at Columbia University, heard Trump touting the drug in March, she knew it didn’t bode well for her own prescription. Sure enough, the misinformation led to a run on hydroxychloroquine, creating a shortage for Americans like her who needed the drug for chronic conditions. 

A lupus patient, she went to her local pharmacy to request a 90-day supply of the medication. But she was told they were only granting partial refills. It took her three weeks to get her medication through the mail. 

“What about all the people who were silenced and just lost access to their staple medication because people ran to their doctors and begged to take it?” Torres said.No sickbed conversion

On Sept. 26, Trump hosted a Rose Garden ceremony to announce his nominee to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court. More than 150 people attended the event introducing Amy Coney Barrett. Few wore masks, and the chairs weren’t spaced out.

In the weeks after, more than two dozen people close to Trump and the White House became infected with COVID-19. Early Oct. 2, Trump announced his positive test.

Those hoping the experience and Trump’s successful treatment at Walter Reed might inform his view of the coronavirus were disappointed. 

Trump snapped back into minimizing the threat during his first moments back at the White House. He yanked off his mask and recorded a video.

“Don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it,” he said, describing experimental and out-of-reach therapies he received. “You’re going to beat it.” 

In Trump’s telling, his hospitalization was not the product of poor judgment about large gatherings like the Rose Garden event, but the consequence of leading with bravery. Plus, now, he claimed, he was immune from the virus.

On the morning after he returned from Walter Reed, Trump tweeted a seasonal flu death count of 100,000 lives and added that COVID-19 was “far less lethal” for most populations. More false claims at odds with data — the U.S. average for flu deaths over the past decade is 36,000, and experts said COVID-19 is more deadly for each age group over 30.

When Trump left the hospital, the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 was more than 200,000. Today it is more than 300,000. Meanwhile, this month the president has gone ahead with a series of indoor holiday parties. 

The vaccine war 

The vaccine disinformation campaign started in the spring but is still underway.

In April, blogs and social media users falsely claimed Democrats and powerful figures like Bill Gates wanted to use microchips to track which Americans had been vaccinated for the coronavirus. Now, false claims are taking aim at vaccines developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and other companies.

  • A blogger claimed Pfizer’s head of research said the coronavirus vaccine could cause female infertility. That’s false.
  • An alternative health website wrote that the vaccine could cause an array of life-threatening side effects, and that the FDA knew about it. The list included all possible — not confirmed— side effects.
  • Social media users speculated that the federal government would force Americans to receive the vaccine. Neither Trump nor President-elect Joe Biden has advocated for that, and the federal government doesn’t have the power to mandate vaccines, anyway.

As is often the case with disinformation, the strategy is to deliver it with a charade of certainty. 

“People are anxious and scared right now,” said Dr. Seema Yasmin, director of research and education programs at the Stanford Health Communication Initiative. “They’re looking for a whole picture.” 

Most polls have shown far from universal acceptance of vaccines, with only 50% to 70% of respondents willing to take the vaccine. Black and Hispanic Americans are even less likely to take it so far.

Meanwhile, the future course of the coronavirus in the U.S. depends on whether Americans take public health guidance to heart. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projected that, without mask mandates or a rapid vaccine rollout, the death toll could rise to more than 500,000 by April 2021.

“How can we come to terms with all that when people are living in separate informational realities?” Starbird said.

As thousands of athletes get coronavirus tests, nurses wonder: What about us?

On her day off not long ago, emergency room nurse Jane Sandoval sat with her husband and watched her favorite NFL team, the San Francisco 49ers. She’s off every other Sunday, and even during the coronavirus pandemic, this is something of a ritual. Jane and Carlos watch, cheer, yell — just one couple’s method of escape.

“It makes people feel normal,” she says.

For Sandoval, though, it has become more and more difficult to enjoy as the season — and the pandemic — wears on. Early in the season, the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan was one of five coaches fined for violating the league’s requirement that all sideline personnel wear face coverings. Jane noticed, even as coronavirus cases surged again in California and across the United States, that Levi’s Stadium was considering admitting fans to watch games.

But the hardest thing to ignore, Sandoval says, is that when it comes to coronavirus testing, this is a nation of haves and have-nots.

Among the haves are professional and college athletes, in particular those who play football. From Nov. 8 to 14, the NFL administered 43,148 tests to 7,856 players, coaches and employees. Major college football programs supply dozens of tests each day, an attempt — futile as it has been — to maintain health and prevent schedule interruptions. Major League Soccer administered nearly 5,000 tests last week, and Major League Baseball conducted some 170,000 tests during its truncated season.

Sandoval, meanwhile, is a 58-year-old front-line worker who regularly treats patients either suspected or confirmed to have been infected by the coronavirus. In eight months, she has never been tested. She says her employer, California Pacific Medical Center, refuses to provide testing for its medical staff even after possible exposure.

Watching sports, then, no longer represents an escape from reality for Sandoval. Instead, she says, it’s a signal of what the nation prioritizes.

“There’s an endless supply in the sports world,” she says of coronavirus tests. “You’re throwing your arms up. I like sports as much as the next person. But the disparity between who gets tested and who doesn’t, it doesn’t make any sense.”

This month, registered nurses gathered in Los Angeles to protest the fact that UCLA’s athletic department conducted 1,248 tests in a single week while health-care workers at UCLA hospitals were denied testing. Last week National Nurses United, the country’s largest nursing union, released the results of a survey of more than 15,000 members. About two-thirds reported they had never been tested.

Since August, when NFL training camps opened, the nation’s most popular and powerful sports league — one that generates more than $15 billion in annual revenue — has conducted roughly 645,000 coronavirus tests.

“These athletes and teams have a stockpile of covid testing, enough to test them at will,” says Michelle Gutierrez Vo, another registered nurse and sports fan in California. “And it’s painful to watch. It seemed like nobody else mattered or their lives are more important than ours.”

Months into the pandemic, and with vaccines nearing distribution, testing in the United States remains something of a luxury. Testing sites are crowded, and some patients still report waiting days for results. Sandoval said nurses who suspect they’ve been exposed are expected to seek out a testing site on their own, at their expense, and take unpaid time while they wait for results — in effect choosing between their paycheck and their health and potentially that of others.

“The current [presidential] administration did not focus on tests and instead focused on the vaccine,” says Mara Aspinall, a professor of biomedical diagnostics at Arizona State University. “We should have focused with the same kind of ‘warp speed’ on testing. Would we still have needed a vaccine? Yes, but we would’ve saved more lives in that process and given more confidence to people to go to work.”

After a four-month shutdown amid the pandemic’s opening wave, professional sports returned in July. More than just a contest on television, it was, in a most unusual year, a symbol of comfort and routine. But as the sports calendar has advanced and dramatic adjustments have been made, it has become nearly impossible to ignore how different everything looks, sounds and feels.

Stadiums are empty, or mostly empty, while some sports have bubbles and others just pretend their spheres are impermeable. Coaches stand on the sideline with fogged-up face shields; rosters and schedules are constantly reshuffled. On Saturday, the college football game between Clemson and Florida State was called off three hours before kickoff. Dodger Stadium, home of the World Series champions, is a massive testing site, with lines of cars snaking across the parking lot.

Sports, in other words, aren’t a distraction from a polarized nation and its response to a global pandemic. They have become a constant reminder of them. And when some nurses turn to sports for an attempt at escape, instead it’s just one more image of who gets priority for tests and, often, who does not.

“There is a disconnect when you watch sports now. It’s not the same. Covid changed everything,” says Gutierrez Vo, who works for Kaiser Permanente in Fremont, Calif. “I try not to think about it.”

Sandoval tries the same, telling herself that watching a game is among the few things that make it feel like February again. Back then, the coronavirus was a distant threat and the 49ers were in the Super Bowl.

That night, Sandoval had a shift in the ER, and between patients, she would duck into the break room or huddle next to a colleague checking the score on the phone. The 49ers were playing the Kansas City Chiefs, and Sandoval would recall that her favorite team blowing a double-digit lead represented the mightiest stress that day.

Now during shifts, Sandoval sometimes argues with patients who insist the virus that has infected them is a media-driven hoax. She masks up and wears a face shield even if a patient hasn’t been confirmed with the coronavirus, though she can’t help second-guessing herself.

“Did I wash my hands? Did I touch my glasses? Was I extra careful?” she says.

If Sandoval suspects she has been exposed, she says, she doesn’t bother requesting a test. She says the hospital will say there aren’t enough. So instead she self-monitors and loads up on vitamin C and zinc, hoping the tickle in her throat disappears. If symptoms persist, which she says hasn’t happened yet, she plans to locate a testing site on her own. But that would mean taking unpaid time, paying for costs out of pocket and staying home — and forfeiting a paycheck — until results arrive.

National Nurses United says some of its members are being told to report to work anyway as they wait for results that can take three to five days. Sutter Health, the hospital system that oversees California Pacific Medical Center, said in a statement to The Washington Post that it offers tests to employees whose exposure is deemed high-risk and to any employee experiencing symptoms. Symptomatic employees are placed on paid leave while awaiting test results, according to the statement.

“As long as an essential healthcare worker is asymptomatic,” Sutter’s statement read, “they can continue to work and self-monitor while awaiting the test result.”

Sandoval said employees have been told the hospital’s employee health division will contact anyone who has been exposed. Though she believes she’s exposed during every shift, Sandoval says employee health has never contacted her to offer a test or conduct contact tracing.

“If you feel like you need to get tested, you do that on your own,” she says. Sandoval suspects the imbalance is economic. In September, Forbes reported NFL team revenue was up 7 percent despite the pandemic. Last week Sutter Health reported a $607 million loss through the first nine months of 2020.

Sandoval tries to avoid thinking about that, so she keeps heading back to work and hoping for the best. Though she says her passion for sports is less intense now, she nonetheless likes to talk sports when a patient wears a team logo. She asks about a star player or a recent game. She says she is looking forward to the 49ers’ next contest and the 2021 baseball season.

Sometimes, Sandoval says, patients ask about her job and the ways she avoids contracting the coronavirus. She must be tested most every day, Sandoval says the patients always say.

And she just rolls her eyes and chuckles. That, she says, only happens if you’re an athlete.

President-elect Biden announces coronavirus task force made up of physicians and health experts

Joe Biden Live Updates: President-Elect Talks Mask Wearing, Pandemic - The  New York Times

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday announced the members of his coronavirus task force, a group made up entirely of doctors and health experts, signaling his intent to seek a science-based approach to bring the raging pandemic under control.

Biden’s task force will have three co-chairs: Vivek H. Murthy, surgeon general during the Obama administration; David Kessler, Food and Drug Administration commissioner under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine. Murthy and Kessler have briefed Biden for months on the pandemic.

Biden will inherit the worst crisis since the Great Depression, made more difficult by President Trump’s refusal to concede the election and commit to a peaceful transition of power. The Trump administration has not put forward national plans for testing, contact tracing and resolving shortages in personal protective equipment that hospitals and health-care facilities are experiencing again as the nation enters its third surge of the virus.

“Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts,” Biden said in a statement. “The advisory board will help shape my approach to managing the surge in reported infections; ensuring vaccines are safe, effective, and distributed efficiently, equitably, and free; and protecting at-risk populations.”

The United States is recording more than 100,000 new coronavirus cases a day and, on many days, more than 1,000 deaths, a toll expected to worsen during the crucial 10-week stretch of the transition. It remains unclear whether Trump or his top aides will oversee and lead a robust response to the pandemic during the transition, which could further exacerbate the crisis Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris inherit.

The 13-member task force also includes former Trump administration officials, including Rick Bright, former head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, who, after being demoted, spoke out against the administration’s approach to the pandemic. Luciana Borio, director for medical and biodefense preparedness on Trump’s National Security Council until 2019, is also on the panel.

The group includes several other prominent doctors:

· Ezekiel Emanuel, chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

· Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School who is a prolific author.

· Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

· Eric Goosby, global AIDS coordinator under President Barack Obama and professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine.

· Celine R. Gounder, clinical assistant professor of medicine and infectious diseases at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine.

· Julie Morita, executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropy focused on health issues.

· Loyce Pace, president and executive director of the Global Health Council, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to global health issues.

· Robert Rodriguez, professor of emergency medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine.

Rebecca Katz, director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University Medical Center, and Beth Cameron, director for global health security and biodefense on the White House National Security Council during the Obama administration, are serving as advisers to the transition task force.

Task force members will work with state and local officials to craft public health and economic policies to address the virus and racial and ethnic disparities, while also working to reopen schools and businesses, the transition team said in a news release.

While the makeup of the task force garnered widespread praise, Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, said the group needs more geographic diversity.

“They are all from the Acela corridor or the [San Francisco] Bay Area,” he said. “Who is going to be the field marshal or the supreme allied commander who goes into middle of the country and get this done? The coasts are doing okay but the red states are being hammered and the deaths are going to be extraordinary. There needs to be a frank reckoning between leaders of the two parties, to say we cannot let this happen.”

Public health experts said Biden should use the transition to provide leadership as the pandemic continues through a deadly stretch and begin communicating a strong national message.

“Clearly from the election outcomes, half the country doesn’t believe we’re in a crisis,” said Kavita Patel, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who worked on health policy in the Obama administration. Biden and Harris “have an incredible platform that can be used for communication. The country needs clear daily briefings that we thought we’d get from the White House coronavirus task force. They have an incredible platform, if not an official platform.”

Biden plans to call Republican and Democratic governors to ask for their help in developing a consistent message from federal and state leaders, according to three Biden advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about these matters. He will urge governors to adopt statewide mask mandates and to provide clear public health guidance to their constituents, including about social distancing and limiting large gatherings.

The task force will have subgroups that focus on issues related to the response, including testing, vaccine distribution and personal protective equipment, according to two people familiar with the plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal plans that were not yet public.

In his victory speech Saturday, Biden addressed challenges in bringing the pandemic under control.

We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality or relish life’s most precious moments — hugging a grandchild, birthdays, weddings, graduations, all the moments that matter most to us — until we get this virus under control,” Biden said. “That plan will be built on a bedrock of science. It will be constructed out of compassion, empathy and concern. I will spare no effort — or commitment — to turn this pandemic around.”

Yet the plans Biden laid out on the campaign trail are set to collide with political realities. That includes a deeply divided nation in which more than 71 million people voted for Trump and the possibility of having to navigate a Republican-controlled Senate disinclined to support a greater federal role in testing and contact tracing, among other responsibilities now left mostly to the states.

Biden’s most ambitious plans will require significant congressional funding. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he would like to pass new coronavirus relief measures during Congress’s lame-duck session, and Congress faces a Dec. 11 government funding deadline. Biden and his team are poised to begin engaging with congressional Democrats on their priorities.

Biden’s plans include dramatically expanding testing and building a U.S. public health jobs corps to have 100,000 Americans conduct contact tracing. They also include ramping up production of personal protective equipment and implementing a vaccine distribution plan.

Murthy, who served as the 19th U.S. surgeon general, is a physician whose nomination was stalled in the Senate for more than a year because of his view that gun violence is a public health issue. Three months into the Trump administration, he was replaced as “the nation’s doctor” with more than two years left on his four-year term.

In 2016, he wrote a landmark report on drug and alcohol addiction, which put that condition alongside smoking, AIDS and other public health crises that previous surgeons general addressed. The report called the addiction epidemic “a moral test for America.” Murthy’s office sent millions of letters to doctors asking for their help to combat the opioid crisis.

The son of immigrants from India, he earned medical and MBA degrees at Yale before joining the faculty at Harvard Medical School, where his research focused on vaccine development and the participation of women and minorities in clinical trials.

After leaving his post as surgeon general, he wrote a book on loneliness and social isolation, including their implications for health, that grew out of his conversations with people in clinical practice and as surgeon general.

Several public health officials celebrated Nunez-Smith’s leadership role on the task force. Her research focuses on promoting health and health-care equity in marginalized populations, according to her Yale biography. She has also studied discrimination that patients endure in the health-care system — expertise that many said was welcome in an epidemic that is disproportionately affecting people of color.

Kessler was FDA commissioner from 1990 to 1997, during the George H.W Bush and Clinton administrations. He is well-known for his attempts to regulate cigarettes — an effort that resulted in a loss in the Supreme Court, which ruled that the agency did not have the authority. That prompted Congress to pass a law, enacted in 2009, that explicitly gave the agency that power.

Kessler, a pediatrician and lawyer, worked at the FDA to accelerate AIDS treatments and on food and nutrition issues. He oversaw the FDA’s development of standardized nutrition labels and notably ordered the seizure of orange juice labeled “fresh” because it was made from concentrate. He has written several books on diet, mental illness and other topics, and has served as dean of the medical schools at Yale and UCSF.

What healthcare executives can expect under Biden presidency

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/pwc-what-healthcare-executives-can-expect-under-biden-presidency.html?utm_medium=email

https://www.pwc.com/us/Biden2020healthagenda

President-elect Joe Biden’s healthcare agenda: building on the ACA, value-based care, and bringing down drug prices.

In many ways, Joe Biden is promising a return to the Obama administration’s approach to healthcare:

  • Building on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through incremental expansions in government-subsidized coverage
  • Continuing CMS’ progress toward value-based care
  • Bringing down drug prices
  • Supporting modernization of the FDA

Bolder ideas, such as developing a public option, resolving “surprise billing,” allowing for negotiation of drug prices by Medicare, handing power to a third party to help set prices for some life sciences products, and raising the corporate tax rate, could be more challenging to achieve without overwhelming majorities in both the House and the Senate.

Biden is likely to mount an intensified federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, enlisting the Defense Production Act to compel companies to produce large quantities of tests and personal protective equipment as well as supporting ongoing deregulation around telehealth. The Biden administration also will likely return to global partnerships and groups such as the World Health Organization, especially in the area of vaccine development, production and distribution.

What can health industry executives expect from Biden’s healthcare proposals?

Broadly, healthcare executives can expect an administration with an expansionary agenda, looking to patch gaps in coverage for Americans, scrutinize proposed healthcare mergers and acquisitions more aggressively and use more of the government’s power to address the pandemic. Executives also can expect, in the event the ACA is struck down, moves by the Biden administration and Democratic lawmakers to develop a replacement. Healthcare executives should scenario plan for this unlikely yet potentially highly disruptive event, and plan for an administration marked by more certainty and continuity with the Obama years.

All healthcare organizations should prepare for the possibility that millions more Americans could gain insurance under Biden. His proposals, if enacted, would mean coverage for 97% of Americans, according to his campaign website. This could mean millions of new ACA customers for payers selling plans on the exchanges, millions of new Medicaid beneficiaries for managed care organizations, millions of newly insured patients for providers, and millions of covered customers for pharmaceutical and life sciences companies. The surge in insured consumers could mirror the swift uptake in the years following the passage of the ACA.

Biden’s plan to address the COVID-19 pandemic

Biden is expected to draw on his experience from H1N1 and the Ebola outbreaks to address the COVID-19 pandemic with a more active role for the federal government, which many Americans support. These actions could shore up the nation’s response in which the federal government largely served in a support role to local, state and private efforts.

Three notable exceptions have been the substantial federal funding for development of vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Congress’ aid packages and the rapid deregulatory actions taken by the FDA and CMS to clear a path for medical products to be enlisted for the pandemic and for providers, in particular, to be able to respond to it.

Implications of Biden’s 2020 health agenda on healthcare payers, providers and pharmaceutical and life sciences companies

The US health system has been slowly transforming for years into a New Health Economy that is more consumer-oriented, digital, virtual, open to new players from outside the industry and focused on wellness and prevention.  The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated some of those trends.  Once the dust from the election settles, companies that have invested in capabilities for growth and are moving forcefully toward the New Health Economy stand to gain disproportionately.

Shortages of clinicians and foreign medical students may continue to be an issue for a while

The Trump administration made limiting the flow of immigrants to the US a priority. The associated policy changes have the potential to exacerbate shortages of physicians, nurses and other healthcare workers, including medical students. These consequences have been aggravated by the pandemic, which dramatically curtailed travel into the US.

  • Healthcare organizations, especially rural ones heavily dependent on foreign-born employees, may find themselves competing fiercely for workers, paying higher salaries and having to rethink the structure of their workforces.
  • Providers should consider reengineering primary care teams to reflect the patients’ health status and preferences, along with the realities of the workforce on the ground and new opportunities in remote care.

Focus on modernizing the supply chain

Biden and lawmakers from both parties have been raising questions about life sciences’ supply chains. This focus has only intensified because of the pandemic and resulting shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), pharmaceuticals, diagnostic tests and other medical products.

  • Investment in advanced analytics and cybersecurity could allow manufacturers to avoid disruptive stockouts and shortages, and deliver on the promise of the right treatment to the right patient at the right time in the right place.

Drug pricing needs a long-term strategy

Presidents and lawmakers have been talking about drug prices for decades; few truly meaningful actions have been implemented. Biden has made drug pricing reform a priority.

  • Drug manufacturers may need to start looking past the next quarter to create a new pricing strategy that maximizes access in local markets through the use of data and analytics to engage in more value-based pricing arrangements.
  • New financing models may help patients get access to drugs, such as subscription models that provide unlimited access to a therapy at a flat rate.
  • Companies that prepare now to establish performance metrics and data analytics tools to track patient outcomes will be well prepared to offer payers more sustainable payment models, such as mortgage or payment over time contracts, avoiding the sticker shock that comes with these treatments and improving uptake at launch.
  • Pharmaceutical and life sciences companies will likely have to continue to offer tools for consumers like co-pay calculators and use the contracting process where possible to minimize out-of-pocket costs, which can improve adherence rates and health outcomes.

View interoperability as an opportunity to embrace, not a threat to avoid or ignore

While the pandemic delayed many of the federal interoperability rule deadlines, payers and providers should use the extra time to plan strategically for an interoperable future.

  • Payers should review business partnerships in this new regulatory environment.
  • Digital health companies and new entrants may help organizations take advantage of the opportunities that achieving interoperability may present.
  • Companies should consider the legal risks and take steps to protect their reputations and relationships with customers by thinking through issues of consent and data privacy.

Health organizations should review their policies and consider whether they offer protections for customers under the new processes and what data security risks may emerge. They should also consider whether business associate agreements are due in more situations.

Plan for revitalized ACA exchanges and a booming Medicare Advantage market

The pandemic has thrown millions out of work, generating many new customers for ACA plans just as the incoming Biden administration plans to enrich subsidies, making more generous plans within reach of more Americans.

  • Payers in this market should consider how and where to expand their membership and appeal to those newly eligible for Medicare. Payers not in this market should consider partnerships or acquisitions as a quick way to enter the market, with the creation of a new Medicare Advantage plan as a slower but possibly less capital-intensive entry into this market.
  • Payers and health systems should use this opportunity to design more tailored plan options and consumer experiences to enhance margins and improve health outcomes.
  • Payers with cash from deferred care and low utilization due to the pandemic could turn to vertical integration with providers as a means of investing that cash in a manner that helps struggling providers in the short term while positioning payers to improve care and reduce its cost in the long term.
  • Under the Trump administration, the FDA has approved historic numbers of generic drugs, with the aim of making more affordable pharmaceuticals available to consumers. Despite increased FDA generics approvals, generics dispensed remain high but flat, according to HRI analysis of FDA data.
  • Pharmaceutical company stocks, on average, have climbed under the Trump administration, with a few notable dips due to presidential speeches criticizing the industry and the pandemic.
  • Providers have faced some revenue cuts, particularly in the 340B program, and many entered the pandemic in a relatively weak liquidity position.  The pandemic has led to layoffs, pay cuts and even closures. HRI expects consolidation as the pandemic continues to curb the flow of patients seeking care in emergency departments, orthopedic surgeons’ offices, dermatology suites and more.

Lawmakers and politicians often use bold language, and propose bold solutions to problems, but the government and the industry itself resists sudden, dramatic change, even in the face of sudden, dramatic events such as a global pandemic. One notable exception to this would be a decision by the US Supreme Court to strike down the ACA, an event that would generate a great deal of uncertainty and disruption for Americans, the US health industry and employers.