Republican and Democrat politicians have both embraced legislation to immunize themselves and their deep-pocketed corporate donors from legal liability for ill-thought-out pandemic policies blamed for the deaths of thousands.
Republicans in the Senate have all but plagiarized a controversial provision from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that will offer legal immunity to corporations that ran the care homes in which hundreds of thousands of elderly Americans died with the coronavirus over the last six months, according to a trio of progressive journalists who compared the texts and interviewed some of the lobbyists who wrote the polarizing passages for the politicians in their pockets.
When Cuomo’s corporate immunity provisions first resurfaced in Senate Republicans’ Covid-19 stimulus package in July, some thought it was a fluke. The legislative package protected elder care homes from lawsuits over “resource or staffing shortage” and classed hospital administrators as caregivers for the purpose of that immunity. Cuomo himself criticized the bill, even as journalists noted the similarity of its language to his own legislation.
The bill in question was actually written by the Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA), a lobbying group that paid Cuomo over $1 million for the privilege of walling its members off from legal action in the midst of a pandemic that has seen tens of thousands of Americans die in nursing homes across the nation. Careful to cover all its bases, the GNYHA also spread over a quarter of a million dollars among Democratic legislative committees, ensuring the provision would be passed.
Critics said the measure green-lighted the most egregious corporate misbehavior – “effectively reward[ing] executives at nursing homes where thousands of elderly residents were killed by the coronavirus,” in the words of the progressive trio. Under pressure from progressive Democrats, the immunity measure was reined in by a second bill that limited its effect only to Covid-19 cases.
However, that ‘restriction’, combined with the hefty federal payouts to hospitals for coronavirus cases, may only have served to encourage facilities to list coronavirus on death certificates – and other states quickly followed New York’s example, passing their own version of the liability shield.
While one might expect Republicans to wield a Democrat-led push for immunity for healthcare providers as a cudgel against their enemies during a politically sensitive election season, the GOP-controlled Senate actually embraced the notion, including it in July’s Covid-19 stimulus package. The progressive journalists tracking the bills noted this happened around the same time as GNYHA recruited former Trump lawyer and current Republican fundraiser Albert Pirro Jr. to join their lobbying team.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have – at least outwardly – argued against the inclusion of corporate immunity in the stimulus package, but plenty of the rank-and-file centrist Democrats who usually agree with them have hinted they’re willing to climb on board. GNYHA dumped $2 million into the Democrats’ Senate Majority PAC in June.
The Justice Department has requisitioned documents from New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, Democrat-run states whose governors have been accused by Republican leaders of killing the elderly with variations on an executive order that required facilities to take in hospital patients without testing them for the virus. However, both parties’ politicians have benefited handsomely from the largesse of the health insurance industry.
The statewide economic shutdown has left New York hospitals unaffiliated with the mega-lobbyists in dire financial straits, scrambling to get their share of federal pandemic aid as politically connected groups feast on federal dollars meant to help ailing Americans. Routine medical procedures have been discontinued or severely curtailed amid the pandemic, while a growing number of Americans are delaying or avoiding seeking treatments due to fear of contracting the virus should they go to the hospital.
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