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BPC Health Leaders Reconvene: Call on Congress to Pass Short-Term COVID-19 Package

Headshot of Joann Donnellan
Joann Donnellan

Washington, DC – As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the pandemic is both revealing and creating extraordinary challenges to America’s health care systems and public health infrastructure. To address these critical issues, the Bipartisan Policy Center announced today it is reconvening its Future of Health Care initiative and expanding its roster of policy experts to not only offer actions to improve the resilience of America’s health care system, but more urgently, address the threat of the coronavirus and the nation’s response.

The work of this new bipartisan group will build on the initiative’s significant February 2020 report, Bipartisan Rx for America’s Health Care, which offered a practical proposal designed to make health care coverage more affordable by lowering costs without adding to growing system-wide health expenditures.

While BPC’s Future of Health Care leaders will work in the coming months to craft a broader set of bipartisan solutions, today they urge Congress to take immediate action as it relates to COVID-19 relief. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Congress has provided significant resources to assist states in their public health response. With infections rising and the recognition that the health and economic impacts of the pandemic will continue into 2021, the initiative’s leaders urge Congress to pass a short-term relief package that would allocate additional new funding and resources for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing; vaccine distribution and monitoring; school COVID-19 safety; and housing and nutrition assistance.

The Future of Health Care initiative, launched in 2017, has four co-chairs: former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle and Bill Frist, M.D., and former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Andy Slavitt, and former administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration (now CMS) Gail Wilensky. Original members include Sheila Burke, fellow, BPC, and strategic advisor, Baker Donelson; James Capretta, resident fellow, Milton Friedman chair, American Enterprise Institute; Chris Jennings, fellow, BPC, and president, Jennings Policy Strategies; and Avik Roy, senior fellow, BPC, and president, The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity.

New members include:

  • Dan Crippen, former director, Congressional Budget Office
  • Peggy HamburgM.D., former commissioner, Food and Drug Administration
  • Risa Lavizzo-MoureyM.D., former president and CEO, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
  • William Roper, M.D., former director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Mark Smith, M.D., former founding president and CEO, California Health Care Foundation
  • Leana Wen, M.D., former Baltimore health commissioner

To successfully combat the virus, the group calls for Congress and the administration to quickly agree on a short-term COVID-19 package which provides regulatory authority and financial resources to states, and includes funding to address the following health areas:

  1. Develop and implement a national system for testing and contact tracing
  2. Support vaccine production, distribution, and monitoring
  3. Augment school COVID-19 safety measures
  4. Provide nutrition and rental assistance to support the health and well-being of Americans
  5. Aid health care providers in serving disproportionately vulnerable populations
  6. Dedicate adequate financial relief to states that are burdened by the health and economic disruption caused by the pandemic

Funding in each of these areas is particularly important so that the executive branch has the resources it needs to tackle each of the facets of the pandemic response rather than taking money away from existing accounts.

This year, COVID-19 is the third leading cause of death in the United States in large part because of the rapid spread of the disease and the fact that 60% of adults have a chronic condition, such as heart or lung disease, or obesity, which increases the risk of a severe coronavirus illness. Moreover, Black Americans are more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as their white counterparts because of disparities in these underlying chronic health issues, their living circumstances, and work conditions.

The group calls on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to ensure adequate data collection to better ascertain racial disparities with respect to COVID-19 testing, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

The ability of the United States to respond to the pandemic has been hindered by a lack of public trust in the federal government, science, and scientists. If this continues, it will threaten to limit Americans’ willingness to take up the actions necessary to combat the virus. The group calls on politicians to allow for evidence-based processes without political influence and to create a national education campaign to restore faith in science and the importance of vaccines.

“We are in the midst of our country’s worst health crisis in a century,” said members of BPC’s Future of Health Care Initiative. “Rising to this moment and putting America back on track to slow COVID-19 cases, protect individuals and families, and reopen the economy in a safe and effective manner demands leadership, collaboration, and science-based policy. We believe these recommendations would improve the COVID-19 response and potentially save lives.”

Over the next few months, the group will make specific recommendations in many of the areas outlined above and then focus on more long-term issues including augmenting the public health infrastructure, bolstering health care capacity, improving federal interagency coordination during public health emergencies, reviewing federal health care coverage policies during a pandemic, and enhancing safety in congregate living facilities and transitions to home and community-based services.

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