Joe Biden recently called President Trump about the coronavirus pandemic, supposedly offering some friendly advice. While it was obviously a political stunt, Trump could use an assist. He’s earning middling marks for his handling of the crisis, with 49% approving and 47% disapproving in late March, according to a Morning Consult survey. Those ratings are down from mid March, suggesting voters are souring on Trump’s daily scapegoating and his wishful thinking about reopening businesses any time soon.
Would Biden have done any better? That’s impossible to know, yet the question is likely to hang over the 2020 presidential campaign, since coronavirus now defines the entire Trump presidency. Democrats are already running ads highlighting Trump’s prolonged dismissal of the crisis, and Biden, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, is attacking Trump’s coronavirus response in regular TV appearances. So here are 5 ways Biden’s approach toward handling the crisis would differ from Trump’s:
Timeliness. Biden’s first major mention of the coronavirus came in a Jan. 27 USA Today op-ed in which he said the outbreak “will get worse before it gets better” and criticized Trump for “shortsighted policies that have left us unprepared for an epidemic.” He was certainly right about the crisis worsening. There were only 5 confirmed cases in the country at the time. The latest tally is approaching 400,000. Trump, by contrast, played down the problem well into March, saying on March 7, “I’m not concerned at all,” and on March 10, “Just stay calm. It will go away.” Faster action by the White House would have sped the production of badly needed tests, ventilators, masks and other equipment, while earlier guidance on social distancing and closing businesses could have limited the spread of the virus and the economic damage it’s causing.
Testing costs. Biden’s plan calls for free, widely available coronavirus tests for everybody who needs one, regardless of citizenship or immigration status, including at least 10 mobile or drive-through testing sites per state. That means Biden would need Congress to pass legislation covering the cost of the tests. The CARES Act Trump signed on March 27 requires insurance companies to cover the cost of testing, without co-pays. But it doesn’t prevent insurers from raising premiums in future years to cover the additional costs. And it doesn’t cover testing costs for the uninsured. Some public health advocates called on Trump to open a special enrollment period for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, so the uninsured would have a chance to buy coverage. Trump declined.
Treatment costs. Biden also wants Uncle Sam to cover the cost of treatment for anybody who develops Covid-19 and needs medical care. This also would require new legislation. The CARES Act doesn’t have any provisions for covering the cost of treatment, which insurers will cover based on the rules of each plan. Instead of opening up the ACA to new enrollees, the Trump administration said on April 3 it will reimburse hospitals that treat uninsured patients. But it’s not clear how that would work or how the uninsured themselves would get the information and know where to go for care. States also have the option to let eligible people without insurance join Medicaid, though they’re not required to.
Equipment and hospitals. Biden would more aggressively use federal powers to commandeer ventilator manufacturing capacity, call doctors into service, build hospitals and raise protective standards for front-line health care workers. Trump has invoked such powers sparingly, but has used the threat of them to cajole manufacturers such as General Motors and Ford to assist with ventilator production. Critics have said Trump should be more aggressive, but it’s not clear federal orders would help speed manufacturing that’s dependent on complex supply chains and strict quality standards. One thing Washington could do is take control of the supply chain for key medical equipment. Trump has left that in the hands of private companies still able to hike prices and sell to the highest bidder.
Public info. Biden says his White House would “stop the political theater” and offer “daily, expert-led briefings” on the status of the virus and efforts to defeat it. If you don’t get the reference, he’s dissing Trump’s daily coronavirus rallies from the White House, which feature Trump extemporizing, offering suspect medical advice, slamming political enemies and fighting with the press. Medical experts such as Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci are supporting characters who occasionally disseminate facts and sometimes correct Trump misstatements. If Biden were in charge, you’d see more of the doctors and less of him. Would anybody complain?
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line: [email protected]. Encrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.