The shortage of essential medical supplies such as face masks, gloves, and ventilators has made front page news since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in America. But now the dire need for these items has reached a new level as states are forced to bid against each other.
As doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers plead for personal protective equipment (PPE) to replenish dwindling stocks, state and local governments find themselves desperate for more personal protective gear. But with a limited number of manufacturers, states find themselves trying to outbid each other for the items they need.
Governor Cuomo of New York Expresses Frustration
On March 16, President Trump encouraged governors to source medical supplies for themselves instead of relying solely on the national stockpile. In doing so, states are turning to manufacturers accepting the highest offer. “It’s like being on eBay with 50 other states, bidding on a ventilator,” explained New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at a news briefing.
“When I showed you the price of ventilators went from $25,000 to $45,000. Why? Because we bid $25,000. California says, ‘I’ll give you $30,000’ and Illinois says, ‘I’ll give you $35,000’ and Florida says ‘I’ll give you $40,000,’” Cuomo said during a press conference in early April. “We’re literally bidding up the prices ourselves.”
Other governors share in Cuomo’s frustration. “I’m telling you, we’re killing ourselves trying to make it happen,” said Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. “We’ve literally gotten to the point where our basic position is that until… the thing shows up here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it doesn’t exist.”
The Federal Government Joins the Bidding Wars
An already tense situation became more difficult when the federal government began bidding for essential supplies as well. As FEMA purchases supplies at prices higher than offers made by governors, states are losing access to the medical supplies they thought they could purchase.
Governor Baker explained to President Trump in a conference call, “We took very seriously the push… that we should not just rely on the stockpile, that we should go out there and buy stuff and put in orders and try to create pressure on manufacturers and distributors, and I gotta tell you that on three big orders, we lost to the feds.”
Kentucky Governor Andry Beshear echoed Baker’s concerns: “FEMA came out and bought it all out from under us. It’s a challenge that the federal government says, ‘States, you need to go and find your supply chain,’ and then the federal government ends up buying from that supply chain.”
As the United States continues to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, the high demand for face masks, gloves, and other key supplies won’t slow for months. This leaves many governors and experts urging the federal government make FEMA the “quarterback” of the purchase process.
In response, Vice President Mike Pence told reporters, “We want to partner with every governor and make sure the left hand knows what the right hand is doing in terms of acquiring resources.”