Updated: Nov 15, 2020
The Biden-Harris Covid Advisory Council
by Thomas Neuburger
The new, improved transition version of the [Biden-Harris Covid plan] is so threadbare compared to the extensive, full bore assault campaign version that the shared elements are few and far between. —Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism
I have remarked privately and worried publicly that Joe Biden's Covid proposals would not pass two critical marks — free treatment for all, and free vaccines for all (see "When Should the War Against Biden's Neoliberalism Begin?").
About the vaccine in particular, I wrote, "It's impossible, on moral or practical grounds, to make the case that during a global pandemic (a) the price should be a multiple of the cost of manufacture; and (b) any user should spend a single dollar to receive it." The same applies to the cost of treatment.
Yet that case looks like it's about to be made, especially about the cost of treatment. Thanks to this excellent examination by Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism, "Quick Comments on the Biden-Harris Covid Plan: Not Much Sizzle and No Steak," we have some insight into the many differences between the Covid plan that was advertised on the campaign website and what's being touted today:
First, this new plan isn’t the same as the one on the Biden campaign site. The campaign version had no mention of contact tracing, while this iteration does. But if you simply skim the campaign version versus the president-presumptive one, you’ll see tons of program proposals from the campaign have vanished, like emergency paid leave (with reimbursements to employers), income support for gig workers whose pay has declined, rental assistance, and support for small businesses. The campaign plan also had sweeping promises about paying for all Covid treatments, not just testing. For instance, this section, by using the term “balance billing” clearly meant it included hospitalizations and emergency room visits ... There’s not a peep about any of this in the new version. ... The lack of financial support for workers to stay at home because they are sick, quarantined, or just waiting for test results makes it difficult to treat this scheme as serious. And the failure to even ask for the government to cover all Covid treatment costs, not just the kind that can be administered with a needle means a lot of people who have or think they have Covid won’t seek treatment until they are really really ill, increasing the load on hospitals and producing worse outcomes.
About the cost of drugs, Matt Taibbi caught this clever price positioning by the CEO of Gilead, makers of remdesivir. First, he implied that remdesivir was worth $48,000 per treatment because "earlier hospital discharge would result in hospital savings of approximately $12,000 per patient," which Taibbi takes to mean $12,000 per day multiplied by four, the number of days earlier than normal that remdesivir-treated patients were released on average.
But Gilead, says Taibbi, was inclined to be generous and reduce the price to "a measly $3,120 per patient." Keep that $3,000 per patient number in mind.
About vaccine pricing, I see three ways a Biden-Harris plan might go:
1. The government will provide the vaccine for free to all and buy it at near cost from the manufacturer, saving lots of government money.
2. The government will provide the vaccine for free to all, but reimburse the manufacturer at near-retail prices, spending lots of government money.
3. Vaccine recipients will be charged a co-pay to offset the cost to the government of reimbursing the manufacturer at near-retail prices, spending lots of government money, but less of it.
Since option one is actually a Sanders plan, I don't hold much hope that it will be chosen. So keep your eye on the amount of money that passes from the government to whichever drug manufacturer hits the jackpot. Billions will be a low estimate.
More than 300 million people live in the U.S. At "just" $100 per dose, that's $30 billion dollars, not counting redosage income. And why, with a compliant government paying the bill, would the manufacturer stop at $100 per dose? Gilead's CEO counts himself generous for charging a mere $3,000 per patient for remdesivir.
Multiply $3,000, or even $1,000, times 300 million. Jackpot indeed.
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