Friday, March 20, 2020

Not enough ventilators

When Even Medicare for All Isn’t Enough. Let’s talk ventilators—the medical machines that help patients breathe or breathe for them. Obviously, they’re a necessity to saving the lives of patients with severe cases of COVID-19.

And guess what? Hospitals can’t afford them. The cost of a single ventilator ranges from $25,000 to $50,000, according to an article in today’s Washington Post, and that doesn’t factor in the cost of training medical personnel to use them.

Currently, American hospitals have 62,000 state-of-the-art ventilators and roughly 100,000 not-quite-that-advanced-but-still-serviceable ventilators on hand. Problem is, by at least one estimate, they may need 900,000 as COVID-19 rages on. Also currently, manufacturers turn out 50,000 ventilators a year.

And the reason they don’t turn out more is that hospitals don’t have the money to pay for more. Even allowing for hospitals’ notorious desire to pass on expenses to someone else (surprise billing, anyone?), it’s clear that they haven’t budgeted for the kind of mass purchase of ventilators they now need. “Hospitals can’t eat the cost,” health care attorney Julie Letwat told the Post, adding that the one institution that could pay for both increased production by the manufacturers and increased consumption by the hospitals is the federal government.

As my colleague David Dayen has noted in his daily reports, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and other progressive members of Congress have urged the administration to invoke laws that would enable it to make just such interventions. And be it noted that this goes beyond making health care a right by creating Medicare for All; it is what would happen if we socialized medical supply as well as treatment. Which, it turns out, is exactly what we need to do. ~ HAROLD MEYERSON

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