The First Presidential Debate: A Night of Rapid-Fire Interruptions and Inaccuracies

Tuesday night, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden appeared for the first

Tuesday night, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden appeared for the first presidential debate, offering voters their first side-by-side comparison of the candidates.

Little was said about what either candidate would do if elected; at one point, Biden’s attempts to explain his health care plan were drowned out by Trump’s persistent interruptions about Biden’s Democratic primary opponents.

Instead, the presidential nominees traded a dizzying array of accusations and falsehoods. Our partners at PolitiFact unpacked a number of them for you in their wide-ranging debate night fact check.

Here are some health care highlights:

Trump: “I’m getting [insulin] so cheap it’s like water.”
Rating: Mostly False

Trump signed an executive order on insulin at the end of July, but the scope was limited. It targeted a select group of health care providers that represent fewer than 2% of the relevant outlets for insulin. Between 2017 and 2018, insulin prices for seniors rose.

“The truth is that patients who need drugs like insulin are having a hard time affording them, particularly for the many who are now uninsured,” said Vanderbilt Medical Center’s Stacie Dusetzina.

Biden: “The president has no plan” for the coronavirus pandemic.
Needs context

The Trump administration has announced a plan for distributing vaccines. The plan shows that the federal government aims to make the two-dose vaccine free of cost, for instance.

However, public health experts have said Trump and his administration did not have a plan to combat the pandemic or a national testing plan.

Biden: Trump suggested that “maybe you could inject some bleach in your arm and that would take care of [the coronavirus].”
Needs context

Trump did not explicitly suggest that people inject bleach into their arms. He did express interest in exploring whether disinfectants could be applied to the site of a coronavirus infection. The comment came after an administration official presented a study that found sun exposure and cleaning agents like bleach could kill the virus when it lingers on surfaces.

Trump said at the time: “And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that, so that you’re going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me.”

During the debate Tuesday, Trump discounted his previous remarks as “sarcastic.”

Trump: Biden “wants to shut down the country.”
Needs context

In an interview with CBS News, Biden was asked if he was prepared to shut down the country to deal with the coronavirus.

“I would be prepared to do whatever it takes to save lives, because we cannot get the country moving until we control the virus,” Biden said. “In order to keep the country running and moving and the economy growing, and people employed, you have to fix the virus, you have to deal with the virus.”

And then he said, “I would shut it down. I would listen to the scientists.”

Trump: “We guaranteed preexisting conditions.”
Misleading

President Trump signed an executive order on Sept. 24 that says those with preexisting conditions will be able to get affordable health care coverage. The executive order language was a response to criticisms about Trump’s efforts against the Affordable Care Act. However, legal and health policy experts said the executive order guarantees nothing near the protections in the ACA. The experts said actual congressional legislation, not this type of order, is necessary to maintain these preexisting conditions protections if the ACA goes away.

Biden: “One in 1,000 African Americans has been killed because of the coronavirus.”
Needs context

It’s tough to say precisely how many African Americans have died of COVID-19 because the government does not have complete information about the race and ethnicity of those who have died. But based on the limited available data, Biden seems to be in the ballpark. Earlier this month, the research arm of American Public Media found that 1 in 1,020 Black Americans have died of the virus — the highest mortality rate of any racial group nationwide — based on death rate data collected from every state and the District of Columbia.

Trump: “Dr. Fauci said the opposite, he said very strongly,” challenging Biden’s statement that no “serious person” would say masks weren’t important in reducing the spread of COVID-19. 

Misleading 

In a March 7 CBS News interview, Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “Right now in the United States, people should not be walking around with masks.” At the time, still early in the COVID pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was not recommending that Americans wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Masks were instead being reserved for health care workers, because there were concerns about shortages of personal protective equipment.

As it became clear that many people were asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19, the CDC updated its guidelines April 3 to recommend wearing masks. Fauci later acknowledged the resulting confusion but said public health leaders were making decisions based on the information they had at the time. He has since maintained that masks are important in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

This report was written by PolitiFact staff writers Jon Greenberg, Louis Jacobson, Amy Sherman, Samantha Putterman, Miriam Valverde, Bill McCarthy, Noah Y. Kim and Daniel Funke and KHN reporters Victoria Knight and Emmarie Huetteman.

Related Topics

Elections Health Care Costs Public Health Race and Health

COVID-19 KHN & PolitiFact HealthCheck Trump Administration

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