Early Friday morning, Donald Trump took to Twitter to let the world know exactly who was responsible for the U.S.'s disastrous response to the on-going coronavirus outbreak—the Centers for Disease Control and former president Barack Obama. He claimed that the CDC knew it "would always be inadequate and slow for a large scale pandemic" and that Obama "made changes that only complicated things further." This is after, in 2018, his administration dismantled the global health security team left in place by the Obama administration to confront pandemics like this, and cut 80 percent of the CDC's efforts to prevent global outbreaks.
But Trump claims that under his leadership, the CDC is now in shipshape: "Their response to H1N1 Swine Flu was a full scale disaster, with thousands dying, and nothing meaningful done to fix the testing problem, until now. The changes have been made and testing will soon happen on a very large scale basis. All Red Tape has been cut, ready to go!"
Like many of Trump's statements about how his administration is handling the COVID-19 outbreak, this isn't accurate. The Department of Health and Human Services, for example, has been imposing extremely strict guidelines for who can and can't access the limited coronavirus tests available, essentially guaranteeing that people only get tested once they've already developed symptoms and causing delays that likely resulted in hundreds more people getting infected.
It's particularly ironic that Trump brings up the H1N1 outbreak of 2009 though, which the Obama administration declared a national emergency. Commonly called swine flu, it was a kind of influenza that resulted in 12,000 deaths in the U.S. alone. As states struggled to deal with the spread of the disease, the federal government loosened restrictions so that state governments could use Medicaid funds to help with testing. Right now, the Trump administration is stonewalling that same process for the coronavirus, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Medicaid is the federal and state program that helps poor people get health care, and it's a massive safety net with tough restrictions for how it can be used. The Trump administration hasn't taken any steps to help states access the funds for the coronavirus outbreak, despite the fact that it's been made available in the past for other disasters, like after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and the H1N1 outbreak. Per the Times:
One reason federal health officials have not acted appears to be President Trump’s reluctance to declare a national emergency. That’s a key step that would clear the way for states to get Medicaid waivers to more nimbly tackle coronavirus, but it would conflict with Trump’s repeated efforts to downplay the seriousness of the epidemic. Another element may be ideological: The administration official who oversees Medicaid, Seema Verma, head of the government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, has been a champion of efforts by conservative states to trim the number of people enrolled in Medicaid.
Seema Verma was appointed to head the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) after a stint working as a consultant for vice president Mike Pence back when he was governor of Indiana. In Pence's Indiana, she helped push a plan that expanded access to Medicaid for childless adults, but only under a waiver that allowed the state to start charging premiums. Verma has spent years helping conservatives find ways to undermine public health programs like Medicaid, as Mother Jones exhaustively detailed last year. Her work at CMS so far has consisted largely of finding ways to let states avoid using Medicaid money, like inventing state-imposed spending caps, which constrict the flow of funds without the administration explicitly cutting the budget for Medicaid. Under her leadership, CMS has approved multiple requests by Republican-led states to start imposing work requirements for Medicaid, and in Arkansas alone that's expected to strip health care from 30,700 to 48,300 people.
Speaking to Fox News on Thursday night, Verma repeatedly refused to answer whether or not America would be facing a shortage of ventilators and intensive care units as the current outbreak escalates. Health professionals coordinating the outbreak response in Italy recently published a letter saying that hospitals there were overwhelmed due to "a very high number of ICU admissions, almost entirely due to severe hypoxic respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation." Each time Verma was explicitly asked about equipment shortages, she responded instead by praising Trump.
According to the Times, state leaders are likely unwilling to criticize Trump's coronavirus response out of fear that he'll lash out at them personally or even deny their state funds in the future. In February, Washington state governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, tweeted, "I just received a call from @VP Mike Pence, thanking Washington state for our efforts to combat the coronavirus. I told him our work would be more successful if the Trump administration stuck to the science and told the truth." Speaking to reporters later at the CDC in Atlanta, Trump said, "I told [Mike Pence] not to be complimentary of that governor because that governor is a snake. So Mike may be happy with him but I'm not, OK?"
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Originally Appeared on GQ