A bipartisan coalition of former healthcare officials has been pushing a $46.5 billion plan to reopen the U.S. economy to Republican and Democrat congressional leaders as the coronavirus crisis continues.
NPR reported Monday the coalition includes former Planned Parenthood CEO Dr. Leana Wen, former Trump Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former Obama-era Medicare and Medicaid Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt, and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist (R).
“If you’re a Democrat, you like the fact that this creates jobs and helps local economies, and that it’s really good public health policy,” Dr. Bob Kocher, a former Obama special assistant who helped design the plan, told health media outlet STAT. “And if you’re a Republican, you’re not creating some sort of entitlement program here, you’re spending money for a near-term problem.”
STAT reported President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner has fielded several calls from members of the coalition who are pitching the plan.
The proposal calls for $46.5 billion in funding to assist states in tracking down individuals who have been exposed to the Chinese coronavirus and isolating infected and exposed individuals.
The former health officials recommend breaking down the funding into three public health areas: $12 billion to expand the contact tracing workforce, $4.5 billion for use of vacant hotels for infected and exposed individuals to self-isolate, and $30 billion for 18 months of income support for individuals who volunteer to isolate themselves.
“There is no silver bullet in the fight against coronavirus,” Slavitt told NPR. “But if we want to get back to a more normal existence, we need to give states the tools they need to contain the virus.”
In a letter sent to Republican and Democrat leaders of Congress, the coalition wrote the “key to reopening the economy,” is “test, trace, and self-isolate”:
To begin to safely ease at-home measures, it is of paramount importance to be able to provide broad, timely testing for COVID-19; diagnose COVID-19 positive cases; enable infected individuals to self-isolate at home or voluntarily in other facilities (if home is not a safe option or if the individual is unsheltered); trace and alert those who have been exposed to an infected individual; and enable those exposed contacts to voluntarily self-isolate for 14 days after their last exposure to the infected person. This approach maximizes the chance new infections get contained before they turn into rapidly growing new outbreaks.
Significant attention has rightly been paid to the need to continue to ramp up the Nation’s capacity to execute COVID-19 testing, including in the most recent legislation. That must continue as current testing capacity and accuracy must be improved. This can only be accomplished with the availability of adequate supplies and approvals of new high-speed, high quality, fast tests by the FDA. We are writing to propose Congress take swift action in upcoming legislation to give states the funding necessary to scale up our nation’s contact tracing ability and support voluntary self-isolation of infected and exposed individuals. This is fundamental to our ability to begin to reopen our economy while continuing to safeguard American lives.
The coalition is aggressively urging for an “expansion of the contact tracing workforce,” by 180,000, until a vaccine for COVID-19 is on the market.
The group recommends that primary care providers become a referral source for testing and contact tracing.
“Congress should take steps to ensure the health of primary care practices and Medicare should establish a referral payment code for referring patients who test positive for Coronavirus to the proper contact tracing resources,” the letter said.
“We believe the direct impact of this investment, along with an adequate testing and containment infrastructure that links in health care providers and businesses, will have a significant economic impact,” the authors wrote, “allowing Americans to get back to work safely and quickly, create employment, stabilize our healthcare system, and stimulate the hospitality sector.”