On Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced that he was putting Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the task force to combat the coronavirus pandemic, touting him as a former governor experienced with health care.
In reality, though, Pence’s record on health care policy is extremely checkered — and his fitness to lead up such a task force is questionable.
When Pence was governor of Indiana, he oversaw an entirely preventable AIDS disaster in Scott County. Pence dragged his feet on implementing a recommended needle exchange program, out of a religiously motivated belief that doing so would make him a party to intravenous drug use — even though studies show clean-needle programs do not increase drug use. By the time Pence finally relented and let the program go forward, over 200 people had contracted HIV – in a county of less than 24,000 people.
Since Pence became vice president, he has been one of the administration’s foremost architects of health care policy. Several staffers and advisers from his Indiana days came with him to the Department of Health and Human Services, like Secretary Alex Azar, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, and Medicaid and Medicare Administrator Seema Verma — and they have spent a great deal of energy imposing their ideological beliefs against the interests of public health. Verma, for example, spearheaded a push for states to require Medicaid recipients to provide proof of employment to keep their coverage, a policy which led to tens of thousands of people being kicked off the program in Arkansas alone.
Just about the only health care policy Pence enacted that had any positive effect was expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act in his state as governor — and even then, he has since endorsed Republican bills that would have savagely cut that same coverage.
Trump has, in short, put a man who has made a career of denying health care to the poor and sick in charge of preventing the spread of a catastrophic infectious disease.