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Republican Convention, Day 4: Fireworks … and Shining a Light on Trump’s Claims

President Donald Trump accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for president in a 70-minute speech from the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday night.

Speaking to a friendly crowd that didn’t appear to be observing social distancing conventions, and with few participants wearing masks, he touched on a range of topics, including many related to the COVID pandemic and health care in general.

Throughout, the partisan crowd applauded and chanted “Four more years!” And, even as the nation’s COVID-19 death toll exceeded 180,000, Trump was upbeat. “In recent months, our nation and the entire planet has been struck by a new and powerful invisible enemy,” he said. “Like those brave Americans before us, we are meeting this challenge.”

At the end of the event, there were fireworks.

Our partners at PolitiFact did an in-depth fact check on Trump’s entire acceptance speech. Here are the highlights related to the administration’s COVID-19 response and other health policy issues:

“We developed, from scratch, the largest and most advanced testing system in the world.” 

This is partially right, but it needs context.

It’s accurate that the U.S. developed its COVID-19 testing system from scratch, because the government didn’t accept the World Health Organization’s testing recipe. But whether the system is the “largest” or “most advanced” is subject to debate.

The U.S. has tested more individuals than any other country. But experts told us a more meaningful metric would be the percentage of positive tests out of all tests, indicating that not only sick people were getting tested. Another useful metric would be the percentage of the population that has been tested. The U.S. is one of the most populous countries but has tested a lower percentage of its population than other countries.

The U.S. was also slower than other countries in rolling out tests and amping up testing capacity. Even now, many states are experiencing delays in reporting test results to positive individuals.

As for “the most advanced,” Trump may be referring to new testing investments and systems, like Abbott’s recently announced $5, 15-minute rapid antigen test, which the company says will be about the size of a credit card, needs no instrumentation and comes with a phone app through which people can view their results. But Trump’s comment makes it sound as if these testing systems are already in place when they haven’t been distributed to the public.

“The United States has among the lowest [COVID-19] case fatality rates of any major country in the world. The European Union’s case fatality rate is nearly three times higher than ours.”

The case fatality rate measures the known number of cases against the known number of deaths. The European Union has a rate that’s about 2½ times greater than the United States.

But the source of that data, Oxford University’s Our World in Data project, reports that “during an outbreak of a pandemic, the case fatality rate is a poor measure of the mortality risk of the disease.”

A better way to measure the threat of the virus, experts say, is to look at the number of deaths per 100,000 residents. Viewed that way, the U.S. has the 10th-highest death rate in the world.

“We will produce a vaccine before the end of the year, or maybe even sooner.”

It’s far from guaranteed that a coronavirus vaccine will be ready before the end of the year.

While researchers are making rapid strides, it’s not yet known precisely when the vaccine will be available to the public, which is what’s most important. Six vaccines are in the third phase of testing, which involves thousands of patients. Like earlier phases, this one looks at the safety of a vaccine but also examines its effectiveness and collects more data on side effects. Results of the third phase will be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for approval.

The government website Operation Warp Speed seems less optimistic than Trump, announcing it “aims to deliver 300 million doses of a safe, effective vaccine for COVID-19 by January 2021.”

And federal health officials and other experts have generally predicted a vaccine will be available in early 2021. Federal committees are working on recommendations for vaccine distribution, including which groups should get it first. “From everything we’ve seen now — in the animal data, as well as the human data — we feel cautiously optimistic that we will have a vaccine by the end of this year and as we go into 2021,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert. “I don’t think it’s dreaming.”

“Last month, I took on Big Pharma. You think that is easy? I signed orders that would massively lower the cost of your prescription drugs.”

Quite misleading. Trump signed four executive orders on July 24 aimed at lowering prescription drug prices. But those orders haven’t taken effect yet — the text of one hasn’t even been made publicly available — and experts told us that, if implemented, the measures would be unlikely to result in significant drug price reductions for the majority of Americans.

“We will always and very strongly protect patients with preexisting conditions, and that is a pledge from the entire Republican Party.”

Trump’s pledge is undermined by his efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act, the only law that guarantees people with preexisting conditions both receive health coverage and do not have to pay more for it than others do. In 2017, Trump supported congressional efforts to repeal the ACA. The Trump administration is now backing GOP-led efforts to overturn the ACA through a court case. And Trump has also expanded short-term health plans that don’t have to comply with the ACA.

“Joe Biden recently raised his hand on the debate stage and promised he was going to give it away, your health care dollars to illegal immigrants, which is going to bring a massive number of immigrants into our country.”

This is misleading. During a June 2019 Democratic primary debate, candidates were asked: “Raise your hand if your government plan would provide coverage for undocumented immigrants.” All candidates on stage, including Biden, raised their hands. They were not asked if that coverage would be free or subsidized.

Biden supports extending health care access to all immigrants, regardless of immigration status. A task force recommended that he allow immigrants who are in the country illegally to buy health insurance, without federal subsidies.

“Joe Biden claims he has empathy for the vulnerable, yet the party he leads supports the extreme late-term abortion of defenseless babies right up to the moment of birth.”

This mischaracterizes the Democratic Party’s stance on abortion and Biden’s position.

Biden has said he would codify the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade and related precedents. This would generally limit abortions to the first 20 to 24 weeks of gestation. States are allowed under court rulings to ban abortion after the point at which a fetus can sustain life, usually considered to be between 24 and 28 weeks from the mother’s last menstrual period — and 43 states do. But the rulings require states to make exceptions “to preserve the life or health of the mother.” Late-term abortions are very rare, about 1%.

The Democratic Party platform holds that “every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion — regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured.” It does not address late-term abortion.

PolitiFact’s Daniel Funke, Jon Greenberg, Louis Jacobson, Noah Y. Kim, Bill McCarthy, Samantha Putterman, Amy Sherman, Miriam Valverde and KHN reporter Victoria Knight contributed to this report.

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