The vice presidential debate: 6 healthcare takeaways

Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris contested the nation's COVID-19 response and the ACA during an Oct. 7 debate in Salt Lake City.

Six takeaways for healthcare leaders:


1. Moderator and USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page's first topic of the debate was the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. Page questioned Mr. Pence on a Sept. 26 Rose Garden event that more than 30 people, including President Donald Trump, tested positive for COVID-19 after attending. Many attendees were not following CDC guidelines that recommend social distancing and mask wearing. Mr. Pence said people were tested before attending and that it was outdoors, "which all of our scientists regularly and routinely advise." 

2. Ms. Harris, like Mr. Biden did in the first presidential debate, argued that the Trump administration "still" lacked a plan on COVID-19, and didn't respond fast enough when they first learned about the coronavirus. She said a Biden administration would focus on a federal strategy and increase contact tracing and testing.

3. Ms. Page asked Mr. Pence, who chairs the White House Coronavirus Task Force, why the U.S. COVID-19 death toll — at more than 210,000 — is higher than most other wealthy countries. In response, he argued President Trump's decision to place constraints on travel from China in February slowed the spread of the virus and saved lives. He also argued it gave the country time to mobilize personal protective equipment and create testing. The COVID-19 pandemic is not under control in the U.S., with several states reporting record hospitalizations Oct. 6.

4. Ms. Harris and Mr. Pence took different stances on a COVID-19 vaccine. Mr. Pence cited his trust in the Trump administration's COVID-19 vaccine effort, Operation Warp Speed, and said tens of millions of COVID-19 vaccines will be ready by the end of the year. Many at-risk populations could get a vaccine as early as next spring, Moncef Slaoui, PhD, chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed, said Oct. 6, according to NPR. But CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, has said a vaccine wouldn't be widely distributed until mid-2021 or later. Ms. Harris said she will be "the first in line" for a COVID-19 vaccine if physicians like Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, back it, but wouldn't get a vaccine if President Trump advised it.

Access to health information

5. The topic of releasing presidential health information was brought up by Ms. Page, given President Trump's recent hospitalization with COVID-19 and conflicting information from White House physician Sean Conley, DO. Mr. Pence and Ms. Harris both agreed that Americans have the right to know their president's health information. 


6. Preexisting conditions were briefly addressed in the debate. Ms. Harris cited a lawsuit that the Supreme Court is set to hear a week after the November presidential election that seeks to overturn the ACA. The lawsuit is supported by the Trump administration. She said if the ACA is overturned, Americans will lose their preexisting condition protections under the ACA. She added that people under the age of 26 would no longer be covered under their parents' plan if the law is overturned. When Ms. Page asked Mr. Pence how the Trump administration would specifically protect preexisting conditions, he did not give an explanation. 

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