Two Democratic senators are demanding that the country’s largest medical equipment providers shed light on the White House’s role in distributing life-saving supplies during the coronavirus pandemic.
In letters sent Monday, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) asked six companies to explain how and where the Trump administration has decided to direct critically needed medical supplies now that the White House is deeply involved with managing the nation’s supply chain.
“Given the ‘unprecedented’ nature of this partnership, and the numerous reported problems with states and hospital officials being unable to obtain personal protective equipment and other medical supplies, or having shipments of these materials seized by federal officials and spirited to unknown destinations, the American people need an explanation for how these supplies are obtained, priced, and distributed,” the letters read.
The senators’ questions revolve around Project Airbridge, a public-private partnership overseen by President Donald Trump’s close adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to accelerate overseas shipments of supplies like personal protective equipment.
Kushner has touted the partnership as an “unprecedented” answer to critical supply shortages facing many hospitals. Under the arrangement, the U.S. government pays to ship orders of supplies like masks, gowns, gloves and respirators from overseas. The companies ordering the supplies — giants such as McKesson Corporation and Cardinal Health — still pay for those orders and are permitted to sell half to buyers that have already placed orders. The companies must then sell the other half to hard-hit regions prioritized by the federal government.
But Project Airbridge is subject to little public oversight. The administration has not publicized what it considers “hot spots” or what controls it is placing on supplies being flown into the country with taxpayer money.
Warren and Blumenthal asked companies to clarify whether they are hiking up the prices of those supplies. The senators are also seeking transparency on how much equipment Project Airbridge has moved, how companies are selected, and which hard-hit regions of the country are receiving half the equipment.
The senators sent their requests to Cardinal Health, Concordance, Henry Schein, McKesson, Medline, and Owens & Minor, all major medical wholesalers and distributors, and set a May 8 deadline for responses.
Kushner has taken on a vast behind-the-scenes role in managing the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus crisis, including how to get critical medical supplies to thousands of struggling hospitals.
Watchdogs are concerned that Kushner is consulting individuals who are self-interested health care profiteers. And the supply chain is riddled with holes, accusations of price-gouging, and reports that the Trump administration is seizing orders of protective gear from states in need.
So far, the administration is not complying with requests for more transparency about its response.
House Democrats requested similar information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency this month about Kushner’s role in directing the acquisition, distribution or sale of personal protective equipment or medical supplies. So far, the agency has ignored those questions.
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