COVID-19

How did we end up in a ventilator bidding war?

Marielle Segarra Apr 1, 2020
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A ventilator and other hospital equipment is seen in an emergency field hospital to aid in the COVID-19 pandemic in Central Park on March 30. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
COVID-19

How did we end up in a ventilator bidding war?

Marielle Segarra Apr 1, 2020
A ventilator and other hospital equipment is seen in an emergency field hospital to aid in the COVID-19 pandemic in Central Park on March 30. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
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Pretty much every day, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says the same thing in his press briefings. The states all need ventilators and there aren’t enough, so they’ve been competing.

“You now literally will have a company call you up and say, ‘Well, California just outbid you.’ Cuomo said at a press conference Tuesday. “It’s like being on eBay, with 50 other states bidding on a ventilator.”

California bids. Illinois bids. Florida bids. New York bids.

“California rebids. That’s literally what we’re doing.” he said. “I mean, how inefficient.”

As the number of COVID-19 cases rises, states are bracing for overwhelmed hospitals where there isn’t a ventilator for everyone who needs one. That’s what’s behind this bidding war, which is driving ventilator prices sky high.

It’s common for states bid against each other for things like police cars and fire trucks and corporations.

“States competed over attracting Amazon and they compete over attracting other sorts of businesses all the time,” said Ben Brunjes, who teaches public policy at the University of Washington. 

But in an emergency situation, things are different. We’re not talking about corporate tax incentives. These are ventilators that states and hospitals desperately need. It’s life and death. And there’s no choice — each state has to keep paying whatever it takes. They’re on their own.

This is one of those war-like situations where you wouldn’t want to have 50 states bidding for defense supplies, said Bill Glasgall, head of state and local initiatives at the Volcker Alliance. “It would just make no sense when it’s a national problem.”

The Trump administration could centralize things and put a stop to the bidding war, Brunjes suggested.

“The federal government could easily step in and and say,: ‘Governors, stop bidding. We’re going to buy these things and give them to you,'” he said.

For now, states have mostly had to fend for themselves. FEMA recently got involved, but it’s essentially just joined the bidding war for ventilators — in some cases, bidding against states like New York and Massachusetts and winning. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Which businesses are allowed to reopen right now? And which businesses are actually doing so?

As a patchwork of states start to reopen, businesses that fall into a gray area are wondering when they can reopen. In many places, salons are still shuttered. Bars are mostly closed, too, although restaurants may be allowed to ramp up, depending on the state. “It’s kind of all over the place,” said Elizabeth Milito of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Will you be able to go on vacation this summer?

There’s no chance that this summer will be a normal season for vacations either in the U.S. or internationally. But that doesn’t mean a trip will be impossible. People will just have to be smart about it. That could mean vacations closer to home, especially with gas prices so low. Air travel will be possible this summer, even if it is a very different experience than usual.

When does the expanded COVID-19 unemployment insurance run out?

The CARES Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in March, authorized extra unemployment payments, increasing the amount of money, and broadening who qualifies. The increased unemployment benefits have an expiration date — an extra $600 per week the act authorized ends on July 31.

You can find answers to more questions here.

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