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

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out recently from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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