The Commonwealth Fund Commission (CFC) panel released a report on Tuesday calling for the expansion of the federal government’s powers and blamed Republicans for "political interference" in the COVID-19 pandemic response. The CFC coined the initiative "The Commonwealth Fund Commission for National Public Health System" and calls for a variety of alarming federal expansions to revamp US public healthcare.
The report heavily cited the COVID-19 pandemic response as a significant factor contributing to their perceived need for a federal public health system, claiming the COVID-19 American death toll "exceeds the total number of US combat deaths from all wars since the nation’s founding." The initiative aims to squash States’ powers to handle responses to public health concerns in their right and place the decision making ability solely in the hands of the federal government claiming, "Public health efforts are not organized for success[...] there is no single person or office at the US Department of Health and Human Services to lead and coordinate the nation’s public health efforts."
The CFC’s report stated a vision for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), wanting the federal agency to operate more closely to the Department of Homeland Security, stating, "Unlike the Departments of State and Homeland Security (among other federal departments), HHS lacks undersecretaries that oversee complementary aspects of its mission. There is also no organizational home that is currently structured and resourced to provide leadership on a wide range of public health issues."
They suggest that HHS be the governing body of health care decisions, superseding state and local authorities, stating, "HHS should lead the development, implementation, and sustained work of a national public health system across the federal government and across states, localities, tribes, and territories."
The CFC dedicated a large portion of their report to call for a federal health agency to combat "misinformation," specifically from Republicans, stating, "Republicans have much less 'confidence in science' than Democrats (45 percent vs. 79 percent in 2021)." The report suggested that this distrust from Republicans posed a national risk, saying, "At the federal level, political interference in scientific decision-making during the pandemic became a serious concern."
Additionally, they claimed that conservative areas are facing more severe impacts from the pandemic, stating, "mistrust in the public health system is also growing in rural and conservative areas, compounding existing geographic barriers to health care." According to the Health Equity Tracker, Democrat states such as New York and New Jersey have COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations per capita that far outweigh those of "rural and conservative" areas such as Texas, Iowa, Georgia, and Utah.
The New York Times also parroted the CFC’s sentiments and implied agreeance for the expansion of federal power in their coverage of the report stating that, "State health agencies and the CDC have a long history of working collaboratively, but throughout the pandemic, elected state officials — particularly those in red states — have been reluctant to cede control." Conversely, studies have shown that, cumulatively, Republican states far outperformed Democrat states in their COVID responses.
Many Democrats have been hyper-critical of Republican governors who leaned on their respective state’s medical professionals to inform their response to COVID-19. Most outspoken has been Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who eased virtually all COVID restrictions while states like New York required proof of vaccination for all indoor recreational activities.
"Americans are awash in messages, posts, podcasts, and commentary that engender doubt about basic facts in health and science, and about the critical tools needed to keep people, families, and communities healthy," the report stated. While the report is quick to throw commentators under the bus for casting "doubt about basic facts in health and science," the report fails to criticize authority figures like Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who refused to define what a woman is.
The commission also lays the groundwork for punitive action against those who express skepticism of public health initiatives claiming this skepticism causes national harm. "Misinformation comes in many forms and, while not new, news and social media platforms have made it easier for false, inaccurate, or misleading information to spread widely and rapidly with the potential to 'cause confusion, sow mistrust, harm people’s health, and undermine public health efforts.' A national public health system can help to earn and maintain trust."
The Department of Homeland Security, which the CFC hopes HHS to operate more similarly to, created a Disinformation Governance Board earlier this year which was disbanded after only three weeks following public backlash.
The CFC also aims to expand surveillance by governmental agencies for issues deemed a national public health concern by setting a goal of "Modernizing traditional public health surveillance led by the CDC." In 2020, China pushed for global surveillance initiatives to track COVID-19 cases.
While seemingly positioning themselves against "political interference," the Commonwealth Fund Commission’s capitalization on the political environment surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is undeniable, as they conclude the report summary by saying, "The window for change is open, and the moment of opportunity is now."