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Did America fall victim to "creeping authoritarianism" during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Friday Pulse Check
Good morning and happy Friday. Welcome to FLATLINING.net’s weekly e-newsletter called the Friday Pulse Check.
In this edition, I want to share with you an interesting column by former Deputy Health and Human Services Secretary Eric D. Hargan who is warning about medical authoritarianism during the COVID-19 pandemic. He seems to believe that the medical guidelines published by government agencies should not have become “edicts.” I’ll discuss that below.
But first the news:
WHO: “The virus is running freely”
COVID-19 continues to mutate, as viruses are wont to do, and World Health Organization chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is imploring governments to continue to test and fund vaccine development. Currently, the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants make up roughly 80% of cases in the United States. In Great Britain, one in twenty-five people had COVID-19 during the week ending June 29. Read more from the Washington Post.
While that hasn’t prompted much reaction in the west, China has continued its zero-tolerance policy. In Shanghai, the arrival of the BA.5 subvariant is causing many to fear that a return to draconian lockdowns is coming. Those lockdowns have taken a severe toll on China’s financial center and on small businesses in Shanghai. In a report last night on NPR’s Marketplace, Chen Weiming discussed how his bath products business has ground to a halt. Read more from Marketplace.
Should prisoners make eyeglasses?
All of us who wear glasses agree on this: good, sturdy glasses are not cheap (even with insurance). California, for years, has contracted exclusively with the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA), the enterprise arm of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, to make glasses for Medi-Cal beneficiaries. CALPIA can make glasses significantly cheaper than other frame manufacturers. Win-win right? According to Medi-Cal recipients, glasses often arrive months late and are damaged. Because of these complaints, state lawmakers are considering an expensive proposal that would purchase glasses from retail labs. Read more from FLATLINING.net.
Pulse Check on the 2022 Election: Health tax in CA won’t be on the ballot… this year
A ballot initiative in California that would have raised taxes on California millionaires and billionaires to fund public health programs and pandemic prevention is off the ballot… for now. The proposal would have added an additional tax of 0.75% on income over $5,000,000. The group gathered about one million signatures, enough to qualify for the ballot, but the group turned in the signatures one day later in the deadline. That means that if the signatures are validated, it will be on the ballot in 2024. Read more from the Los Angeles Times.
Many western states (and Michigan, oddly enough) have ballot initiative programs that allow citizens to vote on particular initiatives. In order to get on a state ballot, organizers need to obtain so many signatures. In Michigan, a ballot initiative to add a clause to the Michigan constitution to make abortion legal in most circumstances collected a record number of signatures. The groups supporting the initiative say they collected 753,759 signatures. In Michigan, only 425,059 valid signatures are required to be on the ballot. Read more from Michigan Radio.
As our summer break for the FLATLINING Podcast continues, we shared another short this week. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services this week released its annual updates to the Medicare fee schedule. This time the update amounts to a 4.4% paycut to doctors. While this likely won’t be the final update (no Congressmen and women want to be the ones to cut pay to doctors during a mid-term election year), it could signify the beginning of a trend that pandemic-era boosts to Medicare rates.
In this podcast short, Ron discussed what would happen if every doctor in the country was paid at Medicare rates. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that it would save everyone money, but, as Ron discusses, that might be at the cost of quality and access to care.
Let us know in the comments below, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweeting Matthew or Ron.
Earlier this week, former Deputy Secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS) Eric Hargan wrote in RealClear Health that Americans had “succumbed to an unseemly creeping authoritarianism during the pandemic.” It is a line we’ve heard a number of times before; usually from the corners of the internet that feature the Federalist, Church Militant, and InfoWars. So, when a reasonably level-headed, former Deputy HHS Secretary says something, I give it a little more clout.
Before someone shouts at me from across the room that he was in the Trump Administration and therefore can’t be level-headed, like Attorney General William Barr, Mr. Hargan also served in this role in the George W. Bush administration.
He started his column by discussing the need for information during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s correct in saying that there was a public demand for constant information from the CDC, the NIH, and even the White House. I would argue there still is. Since the majority of Americans, however, are not watching all the press releases of these agencies of our government, we consumed the updates and information through mainstream media. Whether or not consuming such information through CNN or FOX News or your tv or radio station of choice is the best option is a different debate for a different time. We needed information on COVID-19 and we needed it now.
As Ron and I have discussed on the FLATLINING Podcast previously, we (both lay people and medical professionals) learned a lot very quickly from this information. For example, masks do limit the spread of the virus and immediate intubation might not be right for all patients. The information we received from the government proved helpful for medical professionals making life and death decisions and was helpful for public health officials doing their best to protect the people they serve.
America was quickly consuming information from a wide variety of sources. The medical professionals in the CDC and in the independent medical societies made judgment calls and recommendations about how to care for and protect Americans. Mr. Hargan decries the fact that advice was turned into “legal edicts.” Advice is a bit of an understatement for the instructions and guidelines given by medical professionals. That being said, there were guidelines and instructions to limit non-essential trips to the store and such and I agree that some were over the top. My own governor here in Michigan, in an attempt to limit unnecessary trips to the store, tried to mandate that people couldn’t buy gardening supplies because it was non-essential.
Mr. Hargan and I agree that when there is a medical crisis, you have to rely on medical science. He seems to fall into the camp, however, that if there is disagreement, all views must be treated equally. I had this argument with Paracelsus a few months ago. Just because some theories are contradictory does not mean they are correct. You have to convince at least some of your peers that you are right; have them verify your data with their own tests. Paracelsus threw a hissyfit when we said this on the FLATLINING Podcast and said we didn’t support medical freedom. (Paracelsus’ Twitter and Substack are no longer available, but you can read his original article on RealClear Books and Culture here and find his book here.)
I don’t think Mr. Hargan would through the same type of hissyfit, but saying that the CDC isn’t challenged enough because people are afraid of losing their funding follows the same line of thinking that weird corners of the internet use. If the majority of the scientific community really believed that the CDC was wrong on a particular issue and the CDC said “so what? We won’t give you grants anymore,” the medical societies would go apoplectic.
Mr. Hargan asked what happens if the CDC is wrong? “Who says so?” The various medical societies and the scientific research being done in the United States and around the world keeps the CDC in check. There isn’t some big cabal meeting in the Hague somewhere making medical decisions for the whole world. Countless doctors and nurses and midlevels working in emergency settings across the country can attest to the efficacy of the vaccines and the inefficacy of some treatments and countless other guidelines and “advice,” as Mr. Hargan puts it, given by the public health officials including the CDC. So to answer Mr. Hargan’s question, pretty much everyone in the medical community keeps CDC in check.
So did we really fall into an authoritarian state? No, I don’t believe so. Medical experts in the CDC, NIH, and in the Trump and Biden Administrations were and are making the best decisions with the information we had at the time. Were mistakes made along the way? Absolutely. We learned that lockdowns similar to those in the United Kingdom and China are rather ineffective at stopping the spread; there are always breakthrough cases. We learned that vaccines are more effective at preventing severe illness than certain drugs are at treating it.
When the weird corners of the internet run around screaming authoritarianism the necessary question to ask is, what should have been done differently? Don’t say forbid masks or fire Fauci. If we could reverse time to March of 2020 and we didn’t have any knowledge of what was to come, what should we have done differently? I would argue nothing.
Protecting the American people necessarily falls into the interests of all levels of government and in a public health emergency (which COVID-19 definitely was in 2020 and 2021), the responsibility falls on public health officials and it is obvious to me that they made the best decisions given the knowledge available at the time.
Rather than whine and complain about what we did in the past, we should acknowledge the mistakes we made, and acknowledge our successes to better prepare ourselves for the future. Otherwise, we’ll just get run over with the same political problems we’ve had this time.
Finally, if you really believe that COVID-19 was one big authoritarian take over, go vote in 2022 and 2024 and vote out everyone responsible for pandemic-era restrictions. If you think it was the greatest success in the history of the world, go vote to keep those people in. Put your money and your vote where your mouth is.
Even though I may disagree with it, I encourage you to read Mr. Hargan’s column in RealClear Health. As Ron and I have both talked about on FLATLINING, we are completely opposed to the opposition virus that plagues our political discourse. Read things you disagree with, consider them and think critically, and then read some more.
Ukraine is receiving $1,700,000,000 in aid from the United States and the World Bank to pay the salaries of healthcare workers in the war-torn country. USAID Administrator Samantha Power said that as Putin’s “assault on Ukraine’s public services continues, the United States is rushing in with financial support to help the government keep the lights on, provide essential services to innocent citizens and pay the health care workers who are providing lifesaving support on the frontlines." The US has sent about $7,300,000,000 in aid to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February.
Have a good weekend,
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