by Ameyali Sanchez
Debates on equal opportunity healthcare are not new, and many Democratic and Republican voters consider reform an extremely important issue. The most pressing factor increasing the exigence of healthcare policy reform is the health concern that has America on edge—the COVID-19 pandemic.
Healthcare policies that benefit all Americans are increasingly being advocated as the global coronavirus pandemic spreads through the United States. Presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who is widely credited for driving “Medicare for All” to the forefront of America’s healthcare discourse, stated in a tweet on March 24, “I do not think you only have a right to health care if you have the money to afford it. I think you have a right to health care because you are a human being.”
Shortages of and the lack of affordability for coronavirus testing and treatment are pushing promises of “Medicare for All” to be more appealing to some. Former President Barack Obama recently contributed to the conversation via Twitter, saying the policy, which intended to guarantee insurance to all Americans, was “under political attack right when we need care the most.”
An estimated 27.5 million people were uninsured in the United States in 2018, and that number is expected to steadily rise. Without insurance, charges for a regular doctor’s office visit may exceed $100. During flu season, obtaining flu shots for a family could mean spending a hefty amount of cash, as parents of children hospitalized with the flu spend an average of $3,990.
Those who are insured are more likely to see a doctor, have lower risks of death, and access to better care. During a pandemic, the insured still hold these advantages, leaving the uninsured at a higher risk. Studies show that the uninsured are more likely to spread disease due to lack of diagnoses and treatment. The international growth patterns of coronavirus infections have prompted the nation to mandate curfews, restrictions, and “social distancing,” yet a persistent lack of health insurance still poses a large threat to the nation.
Due to the coronavirus’ unprecedented threat to the country’s healthcare capacity, millions of Americans must think twice before getting treated, especially when they lack insurance and are unable to pay medical costs. Though some insurance companies have agreed to waive testing costs, the cost of treatment could have deadly consequences for the uninsured if they, the CDC, private insurance, or the state are unable or unobligated to cover the expenses. A study published March 13 estimated the cost for an insured coronavirus patient to be up to $20,000, and it is unclear how much medical bills could total for the uninsured. A 2018 survey by the University of Chicago and the West Health Institute found that 44 percent of respondents did not see a doctor when sick or injured because of the cost. Thus, those who contract the flu and are uninsured may also be less likely to be diagnosed and treated by a doctor due to medical costs. In times of crisis, especially a pandemic like the coronavirus, people who are unable to seek medical care could endanger themselves and their communities.
Several studies have concluded that increased mortality rates are linked to a lack of health insurance. Three studies from 2009, 2017, and 2018 all found that the uninsured are more likely to die than the insured. Another study more definitely concluded that the uninsured are 25 percent more likely to die than those who are insured.
It is important to note that these studies focused on American citizens during a time when the nation was not enduring a global health crisis. The statistics mentioned above show that the uninsured are more likely to spread disease, less likely to seek treatment, and more likely to die without factoring circumstances of a global pandemic. With this crisis in mind, the uninsured will likely suffer greater consequences than those with private insurance.
Policies like “Medicare for All'' could not only save lives, but also protect the health and wellbeing of others. If healthcare policy reform can save the lives of fellow Americans, why is its effectiveness still coming into question during a worldwide pandemic when healthcare is needed the most?
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