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Panel report faults Trump for 'appalling' COVID-19 response, other policies

By
Jean Lotus
President Donald Trump stands on the Truman Balcony at the White House in Washington, D.C., after returning from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he spent several days undergoing treatment for COVID-19. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI
President Donald Trump stands on the Truman Balcony at the White House in Washington, D.C., after returning from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he spent several days undergoing treatment for COVID-19. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 11 (UPI) -- A new study published on Thursday faults former President Donald Trump for failing to properly address the COVID-19 crisis in the United States and says his response to the pandemic was followed by thousands of deaths that were likely preventable.

The 49-page analysis from the Lancet Commission on public policy and health in the Trump era says the former president's response was followed by "tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths," and the pandemic exposed decades of health inequity driven by racial disparities in the United States.

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The Lancet impaneled the commission after Trump took office in 2017 to follow the administration's health policies. The panel says it offers the "first comprehensive assessment of detrimental legislation and executive actions during Trump's presidency with devastating effects on every aspect of health in the [United States]."

According to the study, U.S. COVID-19 deaths have been 40% higher than they have been in other industrialized nations, partly owing to the federal response and poor government health policies that date back to the 1980s.

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The report notes that Trump also eliminated the National Security Council's global health team and mandated a hiring freeze at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that left 700 jobs unfilled as the pandemic struck.

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Further, it faults Trump for causing tens of thousands of unnecessary COVID-19 deaths by clashing with leading international health partners like the World Health Organization and failing to galvanize the public with a national strategy.

"Trump's appalling response to 2020's crises culminated a presidential term suffused with health-damaging policies and pronouncements," the authors wrote.

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The analysis says residual effects of Trump's response led to haphazard coronavirus testing and distribution of protective equipment like masks and gloves. He also politicized face masks and the issue of school closures, it notes, and worsened the situation by staging large, indoor political events that were attended by thousands of people.

"Disdain for science and cuts to global health programs and public health agencies have impeded the response to the COVID-19 pandemic ... and imperil[ed] advances against HIV and other diseases," the authors wrote.

The report is co-authored by Drs. Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, who are professors at the City University of New York's Hunter College and co-founders of the nonprofit Physicians for a National Health Program, which supports a single-payer health system and Medicare for All.

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COVID-19 has underscored existing racial health disparities in the United States, they added, and showed coronavirus mortality rates for people of color up to six times higher -- and profit motives for private insurance companies have driven up U.S. medical costs to unaffordable levels.

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Even before COVID-19, the report says, Trump weakened the Affordable Care Act and removed health coverage from 2.3 million people, not counting people who lost their insurance to coronavirus-related job losses.

The study notes that underlying healthcare problems in the United States have been festering for decades and ultimately led to lower U.S. life expectancy, which by 2018 had fallen by almost 4 years compared to lifespans in comparable developed nations like Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

The authors pointed out that 461,000 Americans who died in 2018 could have lived if the U.S. health system was more affordable and equitable.

The assessment is a scathing critique of the administration's impact on a number of issues over the course of Trump's presidency, from healthcare to racism and the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol.

"Trump exploited low- and middle-income White people's anger over their deteriorating life prospects to mobilize racial animus and xenophobia and enlist their support for policies that benefit high-income people and corporations and threaten health," the authors wrote.

"His signature legislative achievement, a trillion-dollar tax cut for corporations and high-income individuals, opened a budget hole that he used to justify cutting food subsidies and healthcare. His appeals to racism, nativism and religious bigotry have emboldened white nationalists and vigilantes, and encouraged police violence and, at the end of his term in office, insurrection.

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"And Trump's bellicose trade, defense and foreign policies have led to economic disruption and threaten an upswing in armed conflict."

The study's authors, for example, said Trump failed to adequately respond to the devastation in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017, which killed more than 4,000 people in the U.S. territory.

"The Trump administration's inept and insufficient response reflected the president's disregard for the facts, people of color, and the island's predicament," they wrote.

"The Trump administration's unremitting hostility toward Puerto Ricans was also reflected in its 2019 proposal to cut 'excessive and unnecessary' food assistance for more than 1 million Puerto Ricans, and Trump's threat to block disaster relief for floods in the U.S. Midwest if the package also included funding for the hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico, a position he reversed just before the 2020 election -- apparently to gain favor among Puerto Rican voters in Florida."

The experts give recommendations for President Joe Biden's administration to correct the course on some of the issues, including a Medicare for All health policy and prioritizing national health policy to focus on underrepresented groups -- and notably, what they say is an understaffed Indian Health Service.

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Biden has not supported Medicare for All, which was first proposed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and later endorsed by a number of progressives.

Instead, Biden has moved to expand access to the ACA by reopening open enrollment and announced a health equity task force to provide medical and COVID-19 resources to at-risk and underserved communities.

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