Coronavirus: Why we need improved Medicare for All

Activists stand up for improved Medicare for All in Broomfield

by Marjorie Allison

The impact of President Donald Trump’s evisceration of the public health infrastructure we desperately need to fight the coronavirus was discussed at the Feb. 25th Democratic debate.

What has not been widely discussed is the impact the coronavirus could have on the public’s perception of the need for improved Medicare for All and why income inequality affects us all. Candidates who support improved Medicare for All must connect the dots for the American people.

Let’s consider the situation of too many Americans who live paycheck-to paycheck—even if they have what might be considered good jobs, with health insurance benefits. Let’s also keep in mind those who are working two or more jobs who have no insurance, or the junk insurance being promoted by the Trump administration.

What will these American’s do when they don’t feel well and think they might have the coronavirus? They might well go to where they will be advised to see their health care provider.

“What health care provider?” some might think. “Do you mean the free clinic that I go to sometimes? Urgent Care where I’ll have to pay at least $125. I know I’m not going to the emergency room because I’ve heard the stories about guy in Florida who went to the ER to get tested for the virus and got stuck with a $3000+ bill that his insurance refused to cover.”

Even those with good jobs that include health insurance might be reluctant to go to their doctors because they have $3000 – $6000 deductibles and will need to pay for the doctor visits out of pocket.

If we had Medicare for All, these concerns would go away because people will not have to wrestle with the question of whether they can afford to go to the doctor.

Even without being diagnosed with the coronavirus, many people in the coming months will be making difficult decisions about whether they can afford to miss work because they aren’t feeling well or need to care for a loved one. This is not a new dilemma, it’s something that anyone who works in the gig economy or has a job (or 2-3 jobs) with no sick days and no health care, must deal with all the time.

It should not be a surprise that, given these circumstances, all of us are at risk–and not just at risk for getting sick. As a friend said to me on Monday, “Have you seen the stock market today? Don’t look. It’s only going to tell you that you’ll need to work at least five more years before you can retire.” We didn’t even begin to discuss how a coronavirus-propelled recession would lead to job losses and families who can’t afford to send their kids to college, etc.

As the often unappreciated and under-funded public health officials of our nation prepare to fight the coronavirus, all of us must recognize that not only is our health care system broken and riddled with greed—it is not serving any of us, rich or poor.

We must support improved Medicare for All. Every other proposed plan will still require consumers to make difficult decisions about whether they can afford to see their health care providers. The coronavirus is not the first pandemic this world has seen. It will not be the last. We must be prepared.

~Marjorie Allison lives in Denver, and has worked on health reform for 30 years.

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