Healthcare providers ask Congress for $100 billion for coronavirus fight

March 20, 2020
by Thomas Dworetzky, Contributing Reporter
Front-line healthcare professionals are asking congressional leaders to give them direct payments of $100 billion to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Congress needs"to begin to infuse funds immediately so that they can afford to take the necessary steps to fight the battle against this unseen enemy," said the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association in a joint letter to congressional leaders.

That's a big step up from the original request for just $1 billion, and reflects the extent to which the size and scope of the healthcare crisis has emerged in just days.

The government "needs to assist hospitals, physician practices and other providers on the brink of financial collapse so they are able to make payroll to front-line healthcare personnel and all employees, in order to ensure that as many inpatient beds as possible are available during this pandemic," the letter stated.

While the $1 trillion COVID relief package being floated by the White House is already looking too small to many, it doesn't actually stipulate if any of that money would actually go to shore up dwindling medical supplies and equipment.

Hospitals are already facing rapidly plunging stockpiles of protective gear, with the CDC advising that in lieu of masks, should they run out, care providers should turn to wearing “bandanas.”

"There are extraordinary efforts to supply needed equipment. Front-line healthcare personnel are not able to go to work due to the lack of childcare and closing of schools, resulting in personnel shortages and significant expenses to backfill staff," the letter stated. "Hospitals need help, providing childcare for their staff members so they can come to work."

Despite the exploding scope of the healthcare challenge, President Trump has yet to actually use the power of the 1950 Defense Production Act, which he invoked this week, to direct domestic manufacturers turn their skills and capacity to fighting the pandemic.

Driving the rising sense of crisis are the models showing just how bad this pandemic will hit. One particularly terrifying report, from the Imperial College of London, shows that as many as 2.2 million in the U.S. will likely perish if the curve of the pandemic is not flattened.

“The global impact of COVID-19 has been profound, and the public health threat it represents is the most serious seen in a respiratory virus since the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic,” states the study, published March 16.

“We show that in the U.K. and U.S. context, suppression will minimally require a combination of social distancing of the entire population, home isolation of cases and household quarantine of their family members,” noted first author Neil Ferguson and colleagues.

They advised that the major challenge of suppression — at present the only viable strategy — is that it will have to go on until there is a vaccine, possibly for 18 months. “While experience in China and now South Korea shows that suppression is possible in the short term, it remains to be seen whether it is possible long-term, and whether the social and economic costs of the interventions adopted thus far can be reduced.”

In an effort to provide more gear to hard-pressed healthcare providers, White House adviser Peter Navarro announced plans this week to submit an executive order to President Trump that would assist in bringing medical supply chains from overseas to the U.S.

Navarro added that the departments of Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services and Defense buy significant amounts of medical equipment and are currently facing challenges from foreign supply chains due to the increased demand for resources during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We need to have them buy that from American producers on American soil,” he told CNBC.