KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: The Trump Administration’s War on Fauci

Can’t see the audio player? Click here to listen on SoundCloud. Not only does the Trump

Can’t see the audio player? Click here to listen on SoundCloud.

Not only does the Trump administration lack a comprehensive plan for addressing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it spent much of the past week working to undercut one of the nation’s most trusted scientists, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Reporters were given “opposition research” noting times when Fauci was allegedly wrong about the course of the pandemic, and Peter Navarro, a trade adviser to President Donald Trump, published an op-ed in USA Today attacking Fauci personally.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court may not hear the case challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act before the November elections, although its existence is likely to serve as fodder for Democrats up and down the ballot.

And lower courts have been active on the reproductive health front since the high court declined to fully exercise its anti-abortion majority. Federal judges in Tennessee and Georgia blocked abortion bans, while one in Maryland blocked an administration rule requiring insurance companies that sell plans on the Affordable Care Act exchanges to send customers a separate bill for abortion coverage if it is offered.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Paige Winfield Cunningham of The Washington Post and Erin Mershon of Stat News.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Despite rosy pronouncements by federal officials that testing efforts in the country are progressing well, many states still report problems getting supplies they need, and delays in getting test results are making contact tracing all but impossible.
  • The testing problems create major hurdles to opening schools on time, as testing and contact tracing have been prerequisites to open schools safely.
  • Researchers are complaining that the Trump administration’s decision to have hospitals report their coronavirus data to HHS, instead of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, may make it difficult for them to study aspects of the outbreak.
  • Groups that oppose abortion see efforts by Chief Justice John Roberts to moderate decisions this year as a signal he may not be receptive to their arguments to overturn Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationally. The chance to get one more conservative on the court to replace one of the current liberals could galvanize more support for President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign.
  • On the issue of abortion, House Democrats surprised some people by keeping the Hyde Amendment — which outlaws federal spending for abortions in nearly all cases — in the HHS appropriations bill. That was likely an effort to protect vulnerable Democrats in conservative districts.

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

Julie Rovner: The New Yorker’s “How Trump Is Helping Tycoons Exploit the Pandemic,” by Jane Mayer

Alice Miranda Ollstein: The New York Times Magazine’s “Why We’re Losing the Battle With Covid-19,” by Jeneen Interlandi

Erin Mershon: The New York Times’ “Bottleneck for U.S. Coronavirus Response: The Fax Machine,” by Sarah Kliff and Margot Sanger-Katz

Paige Winfield Cunningham: Politico’s “Inspector General: Medicare Chief Broke Rules on Her Publicity Contracts,” by Dan Diamond and Adam Cancryn

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