As states across the U.S. struggle to contain the novel coronavirus and treat those who have been infected, the Trump administration is blocking state governments from expanding Medicaid coverage to ensure that vulnerable populations are able to receive necessary healthcare in the face of the rapidly spreading pandemic.
The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that "despite mounting pleas from California and other states, the Trump administration isn't allowing states to use Medicaid more freely to respond to the coronavirus crisis by expanding medical services."
"It isn't enough Trump and loyalists have catastrophically botched the response to this epidemic and lied about it. The admin is now blocking states from expanding medical services. Ghouls."
—Rep. Bill Pascrell
"In previous emergencies, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and the H1N1 flu outbreak, both Republican and Democratic administrations loosened Medicaid rules to empower states to meet surging needs," the Times noted. "But months into the current global disease outbreak, the White House and senior federal health officials haven't taken the necessary steps to give states simple pathways to fully leverage the mammoth safety net program to prevent a wider epidemic."
A number of factors have played into the Trump administration's refusal to allow states to expand Medicaid, according to the Times, including Trump's hesitance to declare a national emergency—which would allow states to more easily receive Medicaid expansion waivers—and the right-wing views of top federal health officials like Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Verma has been a driving force behind the Trump administration's effort to impose more punitive work requirements on Medicaid recipients and allow states to convert Medicaid funding into fixed block grants, a move that would could limit states' flexibility to respond to health and economic crises.
"Medicaid could be the nation's biggest public health responder, but it's such an object of ire in this administration," Sara Rosenbaum, a Medicaid expert at George Washington University, told the Times. "Their ideology is clouding their response to a crisis."
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, former executive director of the Detroit Health Department, tweeted that "blocking states from using Medicaid to fight COVID-19 is asking them to fight the monster with one arm behind their back."
"This is just astounding," El-Sayed said of Trump's stonewalling.
not even a global pandemic will stop dead-eyed right-wing extremists from trying to eviscerate the social safety net https://t.co/sVpfKchGFj
— b-boy bouiebaisse (@jbouie) March 13, 2020
The levels of incompetence and cruelty are really just off the charts. https://t.co/bI0P6Gqtx4
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Asked Thursday whether he would be willing to declare a national emergency over the coronavirus, Trump was non-commital and continued to downplay the threat posed by the pandemic, which has infected more than 1,600 people in the United States as of Friday morning.
"Well, we have things that I can do," Trump said. "We have very strong emergency powers under the Stafford Act... I have it memorized, practically, as to the powers in that act. And if I need to do something, I'll do it. I have the right to do a lot of things that people don't even know about."
"But, you know, look, we're in great shape," the president added.
Progressive advocacy group Social Security Works tweeted that "it is despicable for the Trump administration to block states from using Medicaid to respond."
"Public health must be the priority during the coronavirus crisis," the group added.
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.Y.) also issued a scathing condemnation of the Trump White House in response to the Times reporting.
"It isn't enough Trump and loyalists have catastrophically botched the response to this epidemic and lied about it," Pascrell tweeted. "The admin is now blocking states from expanding medical services. Ghouls."