Trump, Biden field voter questions in competing town halls: 7 healthcare takeaways

Instead of a second debate, President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden participated in competing televised town halls Oct. 15.

President Trump's town hall aired on NBC, and Mr. Biden appeared in a town hall on ABC. They were originally scheduled to go head-to-head, but the president  objected to the virtual format chosen by the Commission on Presidential Debates after he was hospitalized with COVID-19, CNN reported. 

President Trump's town hall questions were focused on healthcare and the COVID-19 pandemic, while audience members asked Mr. Biden about a range of issues including policing, the pandemic and foreign policy. 

Seven takeaways relevant to healthcare leaders:

1. Trump's diagnosis. President Trump's town hall began with a discussion of his health after  his COVID-19 diagnosis Oct. 1. When asked if his physicians saw pneumonia on his lung scans, he said, "No, but they said the lungs are a little bit different, perhaps infected." He also said that he'd had "a little bit of a temperature." Since testing positive — and Mr. Trump said he does not take a test every day — he has touted the benefits of Regeneron and remdesivir, both of which he was given at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

2. Pandemic shutdowns. When asked how he would have handled the pandemic differently and what his plans would be going forward, Mr. Biden criticized  the president's handling of the crisis.

Mr. Biden said he didn't think there's a need to lock down. 

"Well, you can contain the pandemic by being rational and not trust the economy," Mr. Biden said. "For example, I laid out a plan [on] how you can open businesses. You can open business and school if, in fact, you provide them the guidance they need as well as the money to be able to do it."

The president  did not answer the question of  whether he supports herd immunity as an alternative to lockdowns. The White House stood behind a declaration from a group of scientists   supporting herd immunity  to manageCOVID-19, The New York Times reported Oct. 15.

Instead, President Trump called COVID-19 lockdowns "unconstitutional," citing the Michigan Supreme Court's Oct. 2 ruling that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's attempt to continue a state of emergency after April 30 without legislative approval was illegal. "The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself," the president  said. " You can't let this continue to go on with the lockdowns."

3. Vaccines. Mr. Biden said he would take and encourage people to take a vaccine if  scientists approved it, and that he'd leave it to state governors and local officials to enforce a possible mandate to take a vaccine, according to the New York Times

 President Trump said:  "We have the vaccines coming, and we have the therapies coming. We have therapies now … that are absolutely incredible."

4. Masks. Mr. Biden also said he would leave any mask mandate up to state governors and local officials, The New York Times reported

President Trump said: 

"I'm OK with masks. I tell people, 'Wear a mask.'" 

But he   also said that masks aren't foolproof against coronavirus transmission. 

5. The Supreme Court vacancy. President Trump said he has not spoken to Judge Amy Coney Barrett, his pick to fill the seat of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,  about how she would rule on Roe v. Wade, but he said he believes she will "make a great decision."

Mr. Biden was also asked about the Supreme Court, but the conversation was more focused on his stance on  adding seats,CNN reported. On the subject of Ms. Barrett, he said he was concerned about healthcare and LGBTQ rights if she is  selected:

"Healthcare overall is very much in jeopardy as a consequence of the president's going to go directly — after this election — to the Supreme Court within a month to try to get Obamacare wiped out," he said, "after 10 million people have already lost their insurance from their employer, and [he] wants to take 20 million people out of the system as well, plus 100 million people with preexisting conditions. So, there's a lot at stake." 

6. The ACA. At President Trump's town hall, an audience member asked about rising healthcare costs and the president's plan to repeal and replace the ACA. 

He replied: "We got rid of the individual mandate on Obamacare … where you had to pay a fortune for the privilege of not having to pay for bad health insurance.  We would like to terminate [the ACA], and we would like to replace it with something that's much less expensive and much better."   

He asserted that his administration is working to protect people with preexisting conditions, but moderator Savannah Guthrie said his administration will have those protections erased if things go his way in court. 

7. Hospital relief. In response to an audience question about the financial devastation that healthcare organizations and front-line workers have seen during the pandemic, President Trump said his administration has provided extensive help. 

"We've sent billions and billions of dollars to the hospitals. In addition, hundreds of millions of masks and gowns," he said. "And we went into the ventilator business, because this country was not equipped with ventilators."

More articles on healthcare:
Trump & Biden on healthcare: The ACA, a public option & more
White House officials support paper urging herd immunity approach to COVID-19
Trump vs. Biden: Who is better for ASCs?


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