“CoronaCare for Everyone: A Comprehensive Plan to Rescue Health Care” starts from the premise that despite three massive pieces of legislation from Congress, there is still no comprehensive plan to respond to the crisis. “Congress took action that was essential for the public health and wellbeing of our country. But we still have a patchwork of protections,” the plan observes. The plan has four elements, items that any other administration would have put out long ago. Moreover, it is significant that Third Way appeals to Congress, not the White House. The group reached the reasonable conclusion — one shared by governors — that it is useless to rely on the executive branch to initiate action.
The first part of Third Way’s plan centers on testing as a precondition for returning to daily life. While the administration utterly failed to prepare for the pandemic, we can still move toward a massive testing and contact-tracing program. The plan states: “Testing can reveal if people are spreading the virus before they have symptoms. It can also show if they have already been exposed to the virus, which means they probably won’t catch it again or infect anyone after they recover based on initial research.”
The FDA would need to assemble, manufacture and distribute millions of portable test kits. That in turn will require an army of people to help with each phase of the effort, from distribution to compiling test results. Third Way proposes that Americans upload their results, thereby enhancing contact tracing and allowing individuals to provide proof of immunity, determined by the presence of antibodies.
The necessity of a full-blown, nationwide testing program is a mandatory requirement before we can return to “normal.” We can only reintroduce people into the workplace and society at large if we know they test negative or have antibodies that will protect them if they are exposed. Trump seems to think simply declaring the reopening of the sports season is sufficient. What he cannot grasp is that no team will take the field and no crowd will come watch so long as we do not know who has the virus.
Second, the plan recommends a substantial private-public partnership to pursue treatment and a vaccine. Moreover, the plan suggests, when treatment or a vaccine or both are discovered, Congress has to make sure it announces the finding and that it be made available swiftly, in as little as two weeks. Judging from the administration’s current inept performance, we would do well to rely on Congress and the private sector, not the administration, to make sure politics does not influence the fair and speedy vaccination of hundreds of millions of Americans.
Third, every American must be guaranteed coverage and treatment. That would require mandatory coverage by all health-care insurers with Medicare as a backstop; allowing states to automatically enroll people who file for unemployment in Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act exchanges or COBRA; reimbursement to states for higher Medicaid costs; and development of a domestic supply chain for medical equipment and materials. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) proposed a manufacturing czar to take control of revving up production and distributing materials. Retired Gen. Russel Honoré, a veteran of the Hurricane Katrina fiasco, has instead recommended a military person for this role. Third Way also recognizes a problem the administration has utterly failed to address: Finding housing, perhaps in empty hotels, for the homeless and for first responders who contract the virus and need to be isolated.
Fourth, the plan suggests a massive effort to protect and expand our front-line health-care workers. That would include allowing retired, overseas and out-of-state medical personnel to practice, creating a volunteer Public Health Corps, providing hazard pay to front-line workers and bulking up our public health system. Unlike the Trump administration, this recognizes that the need to bulk up our health-care system will not end after the initial wave of cases. We need to be prepared for subsequent waves, for the treatment and vaccination stage and for future pandemics.
None of this is rocket science, but it does remind us that the administration that failed to plan properly to meet the onslaught now lacks a plan to bring us out of it. As mind-boggling as it may seem, we have yet to see a coherent and comprehensive plan for testing, treatment, vaccination and maintenance of a more robust health-care system. In short, in place of a functional administration, we will need a proactive Congress. Ultimately, the only real solution is a new president.