LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is leading a coalition of attorneys general from across the country in sending a letter today to Congress asking lawmakers to temporarily fix the prices of medical equipment during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Michigan has nearly 33,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 2,700 deaths. The spread of this contagious virus has resulted in widespread shortages of ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks, gloves and gowns for not only hospitals and health care providers, but also federal, state, local and tribal governments.
Moreover, the shortages in these necessary resources have resulted in competitive bidding wars among those entities, both private and public, the latter of which ultimately amounts to taxpayer-funded subsidies to the corporate supplier of the equipment.
The coalition is asking Congress to regulate prices of medical supplies and equipment to fight against artificial inflation and to avoid those with the supplies from profiteering by playing government agencies and hospitals against each other, while the spread of COVID-19 continues and more Americans die.
“COVID-19 has stretched thin the health care industry’s supply chain and it is threatening to drain public coffers as governments at all levels are pitted against each other in bidding wars, fighting to procure the equipment their residents and employees desperately need,” Nessel said. “This country needs a united effort to keep the health care industry from unjustly profiting while the American people suffer. In normal times, supply and demand drive prices. But in a public health emergency when lives are at stake, government intervention is sometimes needed, and I urge Congress to act.”
Determining how to design or implement price-control measures on medical supplies and equipment is left to Congress, but the coalition insists action is needed now.
States have exercised their authorities to control prices in public utilities, like electricity and natural gas. But federal oversight of the health care industry during the current public national emergency would be far more effective than an attempt by states to exert authority, as any corporate supplier could simply choose not to conduct business in that state – further worsening the emergency situation for that part of the country.
Congress recently enacted a stimulus package designed to help Americans cope with the effects of business closures during the pandemic, but federal efforts must include a focus on the health care industry’s supply chain.
Congress is the appropriate authority to fix prices during national emergencies and has exerted that authority in the past.
“Congress should intervene and enact legislation—similar to the Emergency Price Control Act of 1942 enacted during World War II—fixing the prices of medical supplies and equipment that hospitals and emergency treatment centers of this country so desperately need in fighting the war against this ‘invisible enemy,’” the coalition’s letter states.
Joining Nessel in sending this letter are the attorneys general from Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.