Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, both D-Delaware, joined 37 other Democratic Senators in demanding Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar take immediate action to address the many ways in which the Trump administration policies that limit access to health care have undermined the nation’s preparedness for and ability to respond to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Specifically, the senators asked Azar to commit to making any potential coronavirus vaccine affordable to all, stop promoting junk plans that don’t cover the care necessary to prevent the spread of the virus, and stop promoting efforts to undermine Medicaid that jeopardize people’s health care.
“No patient should be discouraged from accessing necessary medical care because of the risk of large bills or a lack of health coverage—especially the midst of a public health threat,” said the senators in a press release. But, as the senators outlined in their letter to Azar, the Trump administration has advanced a laundry list of policies that have made it harder for patients to get care, and thus weakened the ability to respond effectively to the coronavirus outbreak.
“When a patient who has potentially been exposed to the virus develops symptoms consistent with COVID-19, they should be able to seek appropriate medical care without being deterred by the risk of large bills. Patients often forego recommended tests and treatments because of cost,” said the senators. “For this reason, we are deeply concerned both by your refusal to commit that a potential vaccine for coronavirus will be affordable to anyone who needs it, and this administration’ numerous policies that make it harder for patients to get care during an outbreak.”
The senators urged HHS to prioritize the nation’s public health and:
— Commit to ensuring any future coronavirus vaccine is affordable for all. The Trump administration has thus far refused to put in place price guardrails that would ensure everyone could access a potentially critical vaccine.
— Rescind the junk plan rule. The Trump administration has expanded and promoted junk plans that discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions and don’t cover essential health benefits like hospital care, emergency care, laboratory services or preventive services. These plans have already left a patient with an exorbitant bill for necessary care to help combat the spread of coronavirus. Junk plans could even stick patients with the bill for a potential coronavirus vaccine.
— Withdraw the 1332 waiver guidance. The administration released guidance encouraging states to apply for waivers that allow for the sale of coverage that doesn’t meet consumer protections for comprehensiveness and affordability. Reducing the comprehensiveness of coverage could leave patients paying bills for necessary care, like tests of vaccines.
— Stop working to undermine Medicaid by promoting barriers like work requirements. Medicaid is crucial to the ability to respond to public health crises, but the Trump administration’s attacks — like promoting harmful work requirements — have already led to patients being kicked off the program and losing access to health care.
The senators also urged the administration to stop undermining the Affordable Care Act with a partisan lawsuit. If the lawsuit is successful, millions of families could lose access to health care or be covered only by a junk plan, and any patient who contracts the coronavirus could face future discrimination from insurers for having a pre-existing condition.