Former GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan posted a seemingly helpful message Friday on Twitter, urging the public to remain cautious and vigilant about the spread of the coronavirus:
The problem, however, is that Ryan sits on the board of Fox Corp., the parent company of Fox News — the favored outlet of President Donald Trump and his administration — which has been actively spreading misinformation about this very danger, both by downplaying the risks and also using it as an opportunity to double down on xenophobia.
Fox News medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel has been a prolific source of misinformation. On March 6, he dismissed the World Health Organization as “a bunch of alarmists” and “saber rattlers” for concerns about COVID-19, and he insisted that “there’s no reason to believe it's actually more problematic or deadly than influenza.” (The current estimates are that the virus is at least 10 times more lethal than the regular flu.) By March 11, Siegel had changed his stance somewhat, acknowledging, “I think it’s more contagious than we thought originally.”
Another Fox News medical contributor, Dr. Nicole Saphier, said this week that the WHO’s declaration of a pandemic is a mere formality that “means nothing,” instead praising Trump’s economic leadership: “And I think it is great that we have a president who has historically done wonderful for our economy, who is actually going to continue to focus on that while he lets the specialists and the experts focus on containing the coronavirus.”
And just this morning, Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt boasted that it’s now “the safest time to fly” because the airports and planes are empty.
Ryan is also in no position to comment on matters of public health and safety, having led efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act while in Congress and boasting at a recent think tank event that Trump would “go after” health care reforms again if he wins a second term.
The potential impact of repealing the ACA, as Republicans tried and failed to do in 2017, would mean tens of millions more people living without health insurance or paying increased premiums, and insurance companies would again be allowed to deny coverage due to preexisting conditions. Indeed, Ryan gave a presentation on the issue in 2017 in which he appeared to object to the whole principle of health insurance in the first place and spoke positively of switching over to an economy of individual price-shopping for important medical procedures.
As things now stand, people are rushing to find out what their health insurance will cover for the coronavirus. If health care were to be transformed into the sort of cash-for-service model that Ryan had envisioned in 2017, the public health threat of coronavirus would be greatly magnified due to the danger of people being even more afraid to seek testing and treatment due to their out-of-pocket costs.