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The World’s Most Unfair Health Care System

Photograph Source: IntangibleArts – CC BY 2.0

The elephant in the Covid-19 infected room is Medicare for All. Maybe it really, finally is time for it. With at least 26 million people suddenly unemployed and many of those losing their health coverage during a deadly plague – how are people supposed to pay for a doctor if they get sick? And many will get sick. Covid-19 is highly contagious. For some it’s fatal, others mild, but for many it’s like being hit by a Mack truck. Currently, stimulus money will cover the medical bills of uninsured Covid-19 patients. But if the government can pay for this, why not cancer and heart disease? Why should the nature of a person’s illness determine whether they go bankrupt, or whether they try to spare their family the bills by foregoing treatment and dying? The U.S. spends more on health care than any other industrialized nation, but as is well known, our health outcomes are much worse.

With 87 million people un- or underinsured, that number is soaring as workers get laid off. Add in 500,000 homeless and a very grim health care picture emerges. Despite the pandemic, thousands of medical workers have been let go, and many lack proper protective equipment to deal with this pestilence. Some have protested this. Some have been fired for such protests. Fired – for protesting hospital failures to protect nurses, doctors and nurses aides, many of whom have contracted this plague and died as a direct result of those failures. Some medical staff are suing their hospitals. At first glance, they appear to have a strong case.

So far the federal government has proved shockingly inept about medical supplies, with states purchasing their own only, in some cases, to have the feds seize their shipments. This has happened at the national level as well. The government of Peru recently hid the flight plan of planes bringing medical equipment for precisely this reason. It’s as if all our rulers know how to do is steal supplies. For setting up a system to purchase and distribute them, they seem incompetent.

Onto this grisly scene strides Democratic presidential candidate Joe “I would veto Medicare for All” Biden. His ties to the health care racket are particularly disturbing, and sooner or later could come under media scrutiny. Such could seriously injure his campaign. So expect the Trumpsters to exploit this. The only way out of this deadly, vote-killing thicket, is for Biden to flip flop, fast, and adopt the Sanders Medicare for All plank. Biden showed some flexibility bout Covid-19 treatment, announcing that the government should pick up the tab for the uninsured. But the larger change in policy is what counts. These parlous times demand an about-face, regardless of whether it alienates Biden’s insurance donor base. The question is, can a leopard change its spots?

This pandemic has revealed how desperately the U.S. needs a functioning public health care system – as desperately as any third world country. Bodies pile up in hospital corridors and metropolitan newspapers, like The Boston Globe, run expanded obituary sections – 16 pages of death notices on one day last week. We may never know how many people had this disease and how many it killed, because from the start, testing was inadequate. Trump has seemed reluctant to test, perhaps because it would reveal the true extent of the disaster caused by his administration’s incompetence. But if we already had Medicare for All when the pandemic struck, patients would have received tests and treatment, instead of being turned away from hospitals to die at home.

It could not be plainer: now is the time for Medicare for All. Despite the dearth of press commentary advocating this, high percentages of Americans support the idea, just as high percentages support the governors’ lockdown policies. But our political and corporate elites ignore the inconvenient public preference for expanded health coverage. There’s just too much money to be made keeping things as sickeningly unfair as they are. Recently the biggest U.S. insurer, UnitedHealth, was reported to have earned $5 billion in the last three months. And pharmaceutical companies expect a bonanza. Covid-19 could be around for years, so will desperate customers for treatments and, should one ever come to market, a vaccine. But without government health care, don’t expect such life-saving medicines to be cheap.

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Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Further Adventures of Feckless Frank. She can be reached at her website.

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