The 2020 US election will be vicious, with a nasty pandemonium following a nasty pandemic.
By SAURABH JHA, MD
When the COVID-19 pandemic is dissected in the 2020 presidential election debates, Donald Trump will be at a disadvantage. The coronavirus has killed over 100,000 Americans and maimed thousands more. The caveat is that deaths per capita, rather than total deaths, better measure national failure, and by that metric the US fares better than Belgium, Italy and the United Kingdom. New York City owns a disproportionate share of the deaths, but this hyperconnected megapolis is an outlier whose misfortunes can’t be used to draw conclusions about administrative competence for the country as a whole.
Nevertheless, even after introducing nuance, the numbers aren’t flattering. President Donald Trump may claim that the US dodged the calamity predicted by the epidemiological models, which foretold millions of deaths. To be fair, we don’t know the counterfactual — Jeremiads aren’t verifiable. The paradox of successful mitigation is that we can’t see the future we dodged, precisely because we avoided it.
Reducing the death count logarithmically, rather than merely arithmetically, won’t be celebrated because as bad as the worst case scenario could have been, the situation still looks awfully bad. Many still disbelieve the high death toll predicted by epidemiologists early on, particularly Trump supporters who believe the response to the virus, specifically the economic shutdown, has been criminally disproportionate. One can’t simultaneously believe that COVID-19 is no more dangerous than the seasonal flu and that Trump saved millions from the coronavirus. The constituency that acknowledges the lethality of COVID-19 and credits Trump for decisive action against it is small.
Triangle of Incompetence
Trump’s challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, will charge that fewer Americans would have died had the Trump administration acted earlier. Trump may be accused of having blood on his hands, but such rhetoric is unnecessary. Biden’s team can simply show a montage of Trump’s bombast where he downplayed COVID-19’s lethality, dismissed doctors’ concerns about the shortage of personal protective equipment or exaggerated how well the US was containing the pandemic. Incidentally, the most iconic picture of the administration’s scornful indifference is the current vice president, Michael Pence, visiting a hospital without a mask, surrounded by health-care workers wearing masks.
I was wondering what might crowd COVID-19 off the news. The historic economic devastation caused by it has been subsumed into it, just another casualty of the pandemic. In better times, perhaps SpaceX’s efforts would inspire us. But, no, it took the police killing of yet another person of color to take our attention away.
Now, let me say right off that I am not the best person to discuss George Floyd’s death and the woeful pattern it is part of. I have certainly been the beneficiary of white male privilege. I’ve never been unjustly pulled over or arrested. I haven’t taken part in the protests. But people like me need to speak out. Writing about anything else right now seems almost irresponsible.
OK: you’ve seen the video. You’ve heard Mr. Floyd protest that he can’t breathe, that the officer was killing him. You’ve seen other officers stand by and not do anything — some even assisting — even as bystanders pleaded for them to let Mr. Floyd breathe. It’s disturbing, it’s distressing, and it’s nothing new.
I saw a video from one of the resulting protests where another officer restrained a protester — a black man, of course — in exactly the same way, although in this case another officer eventually moved the officer’s knee off the protester’s neck. He’d learned what that video looked like.
There now have been protests in over 140 U.S. cities, with the National Guard mobilized in almost half the states. Most protests have been peaceful, but there has been looting and there have been shootings. It’s a level of civil unrest not seen since the 1960’s.
And we thought it was bad when we just wanted the grocery stores to have toilet paper again, when wearing a mask was considered a hardship.
As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, millionaires and billionaires, who have been key to oppressing the working class, are trying to position themselves as everyday Americans. We need to understand them for what they are: beneficiaries and key supporters of the capitalist system that helped create this crisis.
My name is Mike. I’m a physician in NYC working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m also a socialist and member of Left Voice.
It was recently reported that a 17-year-old boy in Lancaster, California died suddenly, likely of coronavirus. The boy, who had no previous health conditions, was sick for only a few days. On Friday he was healthy and by Wednesday he was dead. On Wednesday, he went to urgent care as he was not feeling well, but since he had no health insurance, the urgent care center declined to treat him. He was directed to transfer to a nearby hospital, but en route, he went into cardiac arrest. He arrived at the nearby hospital, was revived, but died hours later.
Since Saturday’s Nevada primaries, confusion seems to be reigning about how Bernie Sanders seems to be winning. Time (and not a lot more of it) will tell who actually ends up as the Democratic nominee. But the progressive side (Bernie + Warren) is doing much better than the moderate side (Biden/Butt-edge-edge/Klobuchar) expected, while we wait to see how the Republican side of the Democratic primary (Bloomberg) does in an actual vote. The key here is the main policy differential between the two sides, Medicare For All.
Don’t get too hung up in the details of the individual plans, especially as revealing said details may have hurt Elizabeth Warren. But do remember that there is one big difference between Sanders/Warren and the moderates. It comes down to whether everyone is in the same state-run single payer system (a modified and expanded version of Medicare) or whether the private employer system is left as it is, with expanded access to something that looks like Medicare (the public option) for everyone else. Note that no Democrat wants to stand pat on Obamacare “as is”. Everyone is way to the left of what Obama ran on in 2008 (or at least what he settled for in early 2009).
I could’ve been Kamala Harris, Joe Biden and Marianne Williamson all rolled into one. That’s how I might have handled my first, only, and not-so-great presidential debate.
No, I wasn’t actually running for president. But I was involved in the campaign of someone who was: Barack Obama. In September, 2008, the campaign asked me to serve as a surrogate in a debate with John McCain’s health care adviser when one of Obama’s close advisers – as opposed to me, who’d met the candidate once at a campaign event – couldn’t make it.
As a policy wonk and politics junkie, I was ecstatic. Entering the debate, I was confident. Afterwards, metaphorically dusting the dirt off my clothing and checking for cuts and bruises, I was chastened.
Getting off the couch and onto the stage, even a small one, is tougher than it looks. Watching the cluster of Democratic presidential candidates go at it on health care, I scoffed and sneered along with other experts at their obfuscations and oversimplifications. (More on that in a moment.) But I also sympathized.
As Robert Muller’s testimony before Congress made clear, we
owe President Trump a debt of gratitude on two counts. First, his unlawful and
predatory actions have clearly exposed the fault lines in our still young
Democracy. As the Founders well realized, the road would be rocky on our way to
“a more perfect union”, and checks and balances would, sooner or later, be
counter-checked and thrown out of balance.
On the second count, Trump has most effectively revealed
weaknesses that are neither structural nor easily repaired with the wave of the
wand. Those weaknesses are cultural and deeply embedded in a portion of our
citizenry. The weakness he has so easily exposed is within us. It is reflected
in our stubborn embrace of prejudice, our tolerance of family separations at
the border, our penchant for violence and romanticism of firearms, our
suspicion of “good government”, and –unlike any other developed nation – our
historic desire to withhold access to health services to our fellow Americans.
In the dust-up that followed the New York Times publication of Ross Douthat’s May 16, 2017 article, “The 25th Amendment Solution for Removing Trump”, Dahlia Lithwick wrote in SLATE, “Donald Trump isn’t the disease that plagues modern America, he’s the symptom. Let’s stop calling it a disability and call it what it is: What we are now.”
Recently a long-time health advocate from California told me
she did not believe that the majority of doctors would support a universal
health care system in some form due to their conservative bend. I disagreed.
It is true that, to become a physician involves significant
investment of time and effort, and deferring a decade worth of earnings to
pursue a training program that, at times, resembles war-zone conditions can
create an ultra-focus on future earnings. But it is also true that these
individuals, increasingly salaried and employed within organizations struggling
to improve their collective performance, deliver (most of the time) three
critical virtues in our society.
In the 2nd night of the Democratic Primary debate on June 27, 2019, Pete Buttigieg was asked whether he supported Medicare-For-All. He responded, “I support Medicare for all who want it.”
In doing so, he side-stepped the controversial debate over shifts of power from states to the federal government, and trusted that logic would eventually prevail over a collusive Medical-Industrial Complex with an iron lock grip on a system that deals everyone imaginable in on the sickness profitability curve – except the patient.
On July 30, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law “Medicare,” a national insurance plan for all Americans over 65. He did so in front of former President Truman, who 20 years earlier had proposed a national health plan for all Americans, and for his trouble was labeled by the AMA as the future father of “socialized medicine.”
For Truman, there was a double irony that day in 1965. First of all, the signing was occurring at around the same time as our neighbor to the north was signing their own national health plan, also called “Medicare”, but their’s covered all Canadian citizens, not just the elderly.
The second incongruity was that Truman was fully aware that in 1945, as he was being tarred and feathered as unpatriotic by taxpayers for having the gall to suggest that health care was a human right, those very same citizens were unknowingly funding the creation of national health plans as democracy stabilizers in our two primary vanquished enemies – Germany and Japan – as part of the US taxpayer funded Marshall Plan.
Today the notion that health is a preferred state of being, rather than a set of disconnected functions or services, is increasingly being embraced. A recent JAMA article promoted a health measurement system called the “flourishing index” focused on 6 key domains: happiness and life satisfaction, physical and mental health, meaning and purpose, character and virtue, close social relationships, and financial and material security.
Gro Brundtland, former director-general of the World Health Organization, wrote
in the World Health Report 2000 that
“The objective of good health is twofold – goodness and fairness;
goodness being the best attainable average level; and fairness, the smallest
feasible differences among individuals and groups.”
the age of Trump, with forced separation of immigrant mothers and children,
criminalization of abortion, and purposeful obstruction of enhanced access to
health care for vulnerable populations, it becomes impossible to ignore a
significant modern-day truism. Health is profoundly political.
Health is a collection of resources unequally distributed in society. Health’s “social determinants” such as housing, income, and employment, are critical to the accomplishment of individual, family, and community well being and are themselves politically determined.
In the industrialized world and especially in United States, health care expenditures per capita has has significantly outgrown per capita income in the last few decades. The projected national expenditures growth at 6.2%/year from 2015 onwards with an estimated in 20% of entire national spending in 2022 on healthcare, has resulted in passionate deliberation on the enormous consequences in US political and policy circles. In US, the ongoing public healthcare reform discussions have gained traction especially with the recent efforts by the Senate to repeal national government intervention with Affordable Care Act (ACA).
In this never ending debate the role of government interventions has been vehemently opposed by conservative stakeholders who strongly favor the neoclassical economic tradition of allowing “invisible hands” of the free market without minimal (or any) government regulations to achieve the desired economic efficiency (Pareto optimality).
A central tenet of this argument is that perfect competition will weed out inefficiency by permitting only competent producers to survive in the market as well as benefit consumer to gain more “value for their money” through lower prices and wider choices.
Restrained by limited societal resources, in US to make our health market ‘efficient’ we need to aim for enhancing production of health services provision at optimal per unit cost that can match consumers maximum utility (satisfaction) given income/budget restraints.
Keeping asides the discussion on whether a competitive market solution for healthcare is even desirable as adversely impact the policy objective of ‘equity”, however from a pure ‘efficiency’ perspective it is worthwhile to focus on the core issue whether conditions in healthcare market align with the prototypical, traditional competitive model for efficient allocation of resources.
Having survived years of attacks from Republicans at the federal level, will the surviving ACA be rendered obsolete by Democrats’ local and state efforts towards universal health care? This could be an ironic twist of fate for Obamacare. Conceived out of the conservative Heritage Foundation’s ideas and an early experiment in Massachusetts under a Republican governor, President Obama’s signature legislative achievement could very well survive its most recent judiciary challenge. But over time the ACA is susceptible to obsolescence, because of the many universal health care solutions being pushed at the state level.
Let’s start this brief outlook for Obamacare by reviewing how it has played defense, quite successfully thus far: During most of 2017 and 2018, the future of the ACA was always discussed in the context of Republican efforts to repeal it. After all, the GOP controlled the White House and both Chambers of Congress. Hadn’t Republicans spent the last four years of the Obama administration promising to repeal Obamacare the instant they could? And so they went after the ACA in 2017 with all the levers of Washington power. But repealing is one thing, legislating another: We know what happened in July 2017, when the last “repeal and replace” effort was defeated in the U.S. Senate by the narrowest of margins, because three Republican Senators, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and the late and much regretted John McCain, voted against the repeal. With their December 22 tax law, Republicans did succeed in eliminating the ACA’s individual mandate tax penalty owed by individuals failing to maintain “minimum essential coverage.” Most medical plans qualify for this, as long as they meet a number of requirements, such as not charging more for pre-existing conditions. For good measure, the Trump administration used executive orders in 2018 to allow low-cost plans not meeting these ACA guidelines to be offered by employers. Twenty state attorney generals from Republican states, led by Texas and Wisconsin, also initiated litigation against the ACA, arguing that without the tax penalty the law had become unconstitutional.