Columns, Opinion

2020 Breakdown: Coronavirus highlights the need for Medicare-for-All

First identified in Wuhan, China in late 2019, COVID-19 has completely captured the public’s attention. Some countries are sealing their borders in attempts to contain the spread, which has already infected more than 200,000 people.

In the United States, a growing number of confirmed cases has prompted school closures, event cancellations and President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency.

His declaration released billions in federal funds to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Health and Human Services Department, along with other agencies, are trying to combat coronavirus’ spread and minimize its economic impact.

The Federal Reserve recently poured $1.5 trillion into the financial sector in order to smooth over corona-related dips in the market. Despite this move, the stock market is rapidly plummeting, small businesses are struggling and U.S. economists are starting to ring alarm bells over an impending recession.

In 2008, an economic recession left more than 11 million people unemployed and struggling to survive, according to The New York Times. 12 years later, Americans could be facing even worse financial distress.

This time around, our pending financial doom is inextricably linked to a public health crisis. While many U.S. health insurers have committed to waiving costs related to testing, Americans are still responsible for a costly treatment.

And what about those with no health insurance at all?

In a recent congressional hearing with the Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, California Rep. Katie Porter tallied the estimated costs of coronavirus testing for a single uninsured individual.

“We live in a world where 40 percent of Americans cannot even afford a $400 unexpected expense,” Porter said. “We live in a world where 33 percent of Americans put off medical treatment last year. And we have a $1,331 expense, conservatively, just for testing for the coronavirus.”

As she pointed out, millions of Americans are already unable to afford basic healthcare needs. Add a pending economic collapse that is sure to leave hundreds of thousands, if not millions, unemployed and uninsured to the mix, and Americans are in for another big trouble.

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez advocated for Medicare-for-all, tweeting that overworked and underpaid sick food service workers are the ones who need better access to healthcare due to the lack of paid sick leaves.

Despite incessant — and already answered — questions from the right and center-left about how we are going to pay for it, Ocasio-Cortez and other Medicare-for-All advocates are exactly right. Our current healthcare system is failing us and the outbreak of coronavirus is simply highlighting that fact.

Even Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, admitted to the system’s failures in a recent congressional hearing. 

“The system is not really geared to what we need right now,” Fauci said. “That is a failing. Let’s admit it.”

Our clunky, complex for-profit healthcare system has left hospitals understaffed and unprepared for this pandemic. A lack of clear communication from government officials to healthcare providers has resulted in severe under-testing for the coronavirus.

Testing is a crucial step towards the containment of viral diseases like the novel coronavirus. Yet, the U.S. has only tested less than 5,000 people as of Monday, according to The Atlantic. In comparison, countries with state-run single-payer health care systems like South Korea and Denmark are testing people by the thousands every day, as reported by Common Dreams News Center. 

“Having a healthcare system that’s a public strategic asset rather than a business run for profit allows for a degree of coordination and optimal use of resources,” David Fisman, an epidemiologist and public health expert, said.

The proof is truly in the pudding, as they say. More and more public health experts are concluding that single-payer systems are “more effectively” coping with the coronavirus than for-profit models.

In a nation as wealthy and developed as America, it is absolutely immoral that we do not have a single-payer healthcare system. 79 million Americans already deal with medical bills and debt, according to The Commonwealth Fund, and the coronavirus is sure to exasperate that.

While I do not suggest that Medicare-for-All is the answer to all of our woes, I do suggest that a single-payer system would free millions of Americans from medical related costs and allow for the rapid and effective combat of crises like our current one.

Coronavirus is not the first, nor will it be the last, public health crisis to impact us. We must learn from our mistakes and adapt for the future. We need Medicare-for-All.

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