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KHN’s ‘What The Health?’: Blowing The Whistle On Trump Team’s COVID Policies

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Those working inside the Trump administration are getting so frustrated with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic that they are going public. Named and unnamed whistleblowers — including one of the government’s top vaccine experts who was ousted from his job ―are out with stories of political favoritism, workers with no government experience overruling those who have done their jobs for decades, and an underlying disdain for science.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is hearing cases by telephone, including one this week that would give employers the broad ability to decline to offer no-cost birth control to women, a benefit guaranteed under the Affordable Care Act.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Anna Edney of Bloomberg News and Rachana Pradhan of Kaiser Health News.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Mixed messages from the Trump administration on the campaign to defeat the coronavirus are confusing the public. Even something as basic as whether the presidential task force will continue to operate — the White House said this week its work would be gradually dissolved, then reversed that decision and said that it would continue but that its role would change ― is unnerving to consumers and state officials.
  • The uncertainty about the federal role leaves states with questions about who is ultimately responsible for securing supplies and setting the agenda to fight COVID-19. That also has led some states to band together to try to respond more effectively.
  • President Donald Trump has often said that he doesn’t see the need to fill many key political roles in the federal government. But that often means that career government officials who may question White House priorities are left to guide federal efforts. A case in point is Rick Bright, who claims he was ousted from his position as the chief of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency at HHS after he tried to put the brakes on stockpiling the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, which was promoted by the president, and to halt contracts with politically connected consultants.
  • Efforts to craft the next COVID relief bill are underway on Capitol Hill, but there are major chasms between partisan goals. Senate Republicans have said they must have new liability protections for businesses while House Democrats are seeking more money for states and perhaps more cash payouts to consumers, as well as expanded health insurance options.
  • In addition to the birth control case the Supreme Court heard this week, the high court is scheduled to take up a suit in the fall filed by Republican state officials seeking to overturn the ACA. Briefs were due in that case this week. The Trump administration has supported the GOP effort and, despite some concerns by key Republicans that the stance could hurt the president in his reelection campaign, the administration did not change its policy.

Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read too:

Julie Rovner: Kaiser Health News’ “UVA Lawsuits,” by Jay Hancock and Elizabeth Lucas

Anna Edney: Reuters’ “Bayer’s Chloroquine Donation to U.S. Raises Concern About FDA Standards in Pandemic,” by Katherine Eban

Alice Miranda Ollstein: The Arizona Republic’s “State Health Department Tells University COVID-19 Modeling Team to Stop Work, Limits Data Access,” by Rachel Leingang

Rachana Pradhan: ProPublica’s “How Profit and Incompetence Delayed N95 Masks While People Died at the VA,” by J. David McSwane

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