Washington, DC – As the nation faces continuing COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and vaccine delays and shortages, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Future of Health Care Initiative released a new report today with a set of recommendations for urgent action by the Biden administration and Congress that would bolster the federal response to the pandemic.
BPC’s report, COVID-19: Urgent Actions to Accelerate America’s Response, calls for a federally-led standardized testing strategy that reduces positivity rates to under 5%; a national vaccination plan that coordinates and supports state efforts, and considers vaccine allocations based on criteria such as priority group population size and severity of outbreak, rather than solely on a per capita basis; a public education campaign targeting America’s vulnerable communities; real-time data on health care system capacity; a requirement for states and localities to provide race and ethnicity data on COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths; and congressional funding to support these actions as well as state and local public health departments.
These recommendations were developed over the past six months by a bipartisan group of 14 of the nation’s leading health experts. BPC’s task force is co-chaired by former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle and Bill Frist, M.D., and former Administrator for the Health Care Financing Administration Gail Wilensky, Ph.D., and includes national public health leaders such as former FDA Commissioner Peggy Hamburg, M.D., former CDC Director William Roper, M.D., and former Baltimore Health Commissioner Leana Wen, M.D.
The task force is pleased to see BPC’s recommendations align with the Biden administration’s COVID-19 National Strategy and offers additional proposals for implementing an effective, immediate response.
Key Recommendations include:
- Create a national COVID-19 testing strategy, funded by Congress, with clear, coordinated, and standardized metrics that reduces positivity rates in each state to under 5% and provides guidance to schools and businesses on the use of screening tests.
- Launch a COVID-19 vaccination campaign that allocates vaccine doses equitably, considering factors such as priority group population size and severity of outbreak; distributes vaccines promptly to a diverse array of publicly accessible and staffed sites; and educates Americans on the importance of getting the vaccine, particularly communities of color, older adults, low-income Americans, people in disparate rural and urban areas, and health care providers.
- Support the health system’s surge capacity by directing HHS to engage in continuous quality improvement of its COVID-19 Hospitalization Dashboard (HHS Protect); specifically, HHS Protect should add facility-level data on personal protective equipment (PPE), medicines, and ventilators in the same way it does with bed capacity, hospital admissions, and emergency department visits.
- Enhance supply chain management activities and ensure PPE and other critical medical materials are adequate by clearly defining the role, responsibilities, and authorities of federal agencies to better coordinate efforts; this is particularly important with respect to the gap analysis and assessment required to know when and how to invoke the Defense Production Act.
- Address racial disparities through congressional action by providing the CDC with the authority to require states and localities, working with health care providers, to submit consistent and comprehensive race and ethnicity data on COVID-19 testing, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths on a regular basis; simultaneously, Congress should include additional funding for the necessary data infrastructure in its next COVID-19 emergency bill.
- Provide a flexible, one-time emergency congressional appropriation for state and local public health departments to adequately conduct contact tracing, surveillance and testing activities, vaccine distribution, and engage communities in the importance of taking the vaccine.
These actions are based on five guiding principles:
- Political and public health leadership are central to successfully coordinating and managing a pandemic crisis.
- Trust in science and a commitment to public health are paramount to making progress in fighting a pandemic.
- National leaders must communicate and adhere to clear, consistent, and customized public health and safety messages, and serve as role models.
- Federal, state, and local leaders—Democrats and Republicans—must take action to debunk conspiracy theories.
- Federal efforts must recognize and address vulnerable communities.
“Our task force has produced actionable recommendations that provide a level of detail necessary to execute an effective, immediate response to fight this devastating pandemic,” said Daschle. “With more than 3,000 Americans dying from COVID-19 each day, building trust in science, our health agencies, and world class scientists is imperative to increasing vaccine uptake and reducing transmission.”
“We are facing a national emergency which calls for optimizing the federal response immediately to help states and localities,” said Frist. “Our recommendations underscore the need for states to develop precise strategies to vaccinate vulnerable populations, specifically communities of color, seniors, and low-income Americans, and then track vaccination rates across disparate rural and urban geographic areas and all racial, ethnic, age, and income categories to ensure gaps do not develop over time.”
“For a pandemic response to be effective, it must guard the health of the American people and protect their economic well-being,” said Wilensky. “As a first step, COVID-19 must be depoliticized. Just as our task force has been able to agree on a bipartisan path forward, Congress must also find a bipartisan path forward—taking whatever steps are necessary to tackle this public health crisis.”
BPC’s Future of Health Care initiative, launched in 2017, is co-chaired by former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle and Bill Frist, M.D.; Andy Slavitt*, former acting administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Gail Wilensky, Ph.D., former administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration (now CMS). Members include: Sheila Burke, fellow, BPC and strategic advisor, Baker Donelson; James Capretta, resident fellow, Milton Friedman, chair, American Enterprise Institute; Dan Crippen, former director, Congressional Budget Office; Peggy Hamburg, M.D., former commissioner, Food and Drug Administration; Chris Jennings, fellow, BPC and former Clinton and Obama White House Senior Health Care Policy Advisor; Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., former president and CEO, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; William Roper, M.D., former director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Avik Roy, senior advisor, BPC and president, The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity; Mark Smith, M.D., former founding president and CEO, California Health Care Foundation; and Leana Wen, M.D., former Baltimore health commissioner. *Mr. Slavitt has recently been appointed to serve as Senior Advisor to the COVID Response Coordinator for the Biden administration, and therefore is no longer affiliated with the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Read the full report.