Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks in New York in January. (Image via Shutterstock) Joe Biden
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks in New York in January. (Image via Shutterstock)

Biden and Trump clash on how much patients should have to pay for coronavirus treatment and vaccines.

(Editor’s Note: A version of this piece was originally published at Courier Newsroom.)

The high cost of health care has been a pervasive problem in North Carolina for years, and treating COVID-19 isn’t an exception to that rule under the Trump administration.

How people in NC pay for COVID-19 treatment, and eventually, a vaccine for the coronavirus, highlights a key difference in how Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden would approach the pandemic versus President Donald Trump.

Biden’s plan calls for eliminating all cost barriers to preventive care and treatment of COVID-19, meaning “no co-payments, no deductibles, and no surprise medical billing.” He also wants the federal government to approve the price of a vaccine, to ensure it is a “fair and reasonable” cost.

In contrast, the Trump administration said they would pick up the cost of treatment, but has refused to cover the cost of any lingering effects patients experience as a result of COVID-19, like heart or kidney damage, leaving those patients with potentially significant hospital bills.

Graphic for Cardinal & Pine by Tania Lili

But the financial pain related to COVID-19 treatment doesn’t end there. 

The Trump administration also swiftly shot down a recent request from bipartisan attorneys general, including NC Attorney General Josh Stein, to reduce the cost of remdesivir, one of the few drugs that has been an effective treatment for COVID-19. And they have relied on private insurance companies to decide if and when they will waive out-of-pocket costs for treating people with private health insurance plans. 

The attorneys general sent a letter on Tuesday to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, among other Trump officials, urging them to take away Gilead Sciences’ exclusive right to manufacture remdesivir. They argue that Gilead has an insufficient supply of the drug, and that the price tag of about $2,000 to $3,000 for a course of treatment is too high for both patients and state governments.

“This is not the time for any company to extract large corporate profits from uninsured and underinsured Americans—nor can we allow the individual market priorities and weaknesses of one company to determine the fates of hundreds of thousands of people,” they wrote. “Gilead should not profit from the pandemic and it should be pushed to do more to help more people.”

A spokesperson for HHS told Fox Business that the attorneys general’s request was a “nonstarter.” In other words, it wasn’t going to happen. 

The HHS decision has huge implications for the cost of COVID-19 treatment, despite the administration’s assurances that treatments would be affordable or free for much of the country. 

Depending on their plan, workers with employer-sponsored health insurance coverage could be saddled with some portion of the cost of medications, whether through copays, co-insurance, or deductibles. Insurance providers would also see their costs soar. 

Additionally, states—already struggling with shrinking budgets and huge unemployment rolls—would be responsible for paying a portion of the cost of a remdesivir treatment for those on Medicaid.

A similar issue could arise around COVID-19 vaccines. Moderna, a pharmaceutical company in the United States, announced that it will charge $37 per dose of its treatment recently. That cost is 90% to 300% higher than what other drug companies plan to charge for their vaccines, according to CBS News

Moderna, along with Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, have all received hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding to develop the vaccine. Of those three, only Moderna has decided to sell their vaccine for a profit.