Republicans were roundly criticized in 2017 for attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement health care system waiting in the wings, but amid the concerns over insurance coverage, a key piece of the bill was less well-known.
In addition to removing insurance protections for millions of Americans, the American Health Care Act of 2017 also called for the elimination of the $1 billion Prevention and Public Health Fund, a program utilized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stop disease outbreaks, fund immunizations and other preventative health care measures.
This piece of the bill faced criticism at the time, with the CDC warning it could “cripple officials’ ability to detect, prevent and respond to health threats including pandemic flu,” but is especially relevant now as the Trump Administration is accused of under preparing for the spread of Covid-19, also known as the coronavirus, in the United States.
Though the American Health Care Act failed to pass the Senate, Iowa Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley were among the 49 Republicans who voted in favor of the bill.
American Bridge and Democratic candidates looking to unseat Ernst in November have pointed to this 2017 vote and Ernst’s history of accepting campaign donations from pharmaceutical PACs as examples of her poor track record on health care issues.
“If Joni Ernst had her way, this critical program that provides vaccines and combats the spread of outbreaks like Coronavirus would be eliminated,” said American Bridge spokesman Zach Hudson, in a statement.
Whether it's @realDonaldTrump down playing a national health emergency (#coronavirus ) or @joniernst accepting corporate contributions from #BigPharma – one thing is for sure – we need to overhaul @WashingtonDC in November. These two (& many others) are health risks! https://t.co/1FlqShhols
— Eddie J. Mauro for U.S. Senate (@eddiejmauro) February 26, 2020
And on Thursday, The Center for Public Integrity posted to Twitter an invitation to a “cigar reception” to support Ernst’s reelection campaign, held at the same time President Donald Trump was addressing the nation about the coronavirus.
Not every Republican in Washington, D.C., was focused on battling coronavirus last night.
— Dave Levinthal (@davelevinthal) February 27, 2020
“Joni Ernst was literally raising money from special interests in a smoke filled room while Washington is supposed to be preparing for a large scale Coronavirus outbreak,” Hudson said.
In 2018, news reports surfaced that the CDC was forced to downsize its efforts to fight infectious disease epidemics by 80% “because money is running out” and “experts are not anticipating that the administration will budget additional resources.”
Despite warnings from the World Health Organization, CDC and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that Americans need to prepare for the likelihood of a coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., Trump and senior members of his administration have tried to downplay the threat and blame the media for overstating its seriousness.
Ernst did not address the coronavirus or the administration’s response in a 23-minute tele-town hall she held Thursday night on Facebook.
By Elizabeth Meyer