The world is a little scary right now, isn’t it? Especially here in the United States, 2020 has been … tumultuous, to say the least.
While the rest of the world is now enjoying declining COVID-19 case numbers and putting into action real plans of getting life back to normal, we here in the States have the unfortunate position of leading the planet in COVID-19 deaths. Quite drastically, confirmed cases are rising across the nation, yet still we’re marching along on our path to reopening the country.
Since we seem so dead-set on spreading this disease, at the bare minimum, we deserve to have a conversation on how our country is handling the treatment of it on an individual level.
The short answer: not well.
As you’re probably aware, the United States is the only “developed” nation to not provide universal health care. Instead, the vast majority of United States citizens have a private health insurance plan; more than likely this plan is tied to their employer.
The pandemic hasn’t exactly been kind to businesses, leading to a massive unemployment rate higher than we experienced at the zenith of the 2008 recession. In May, unemployment was at 13.3% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3.3% higher than the 10% rate seen in 2008.
An adjusted “realistic unemployment rate” calculated by The Peterson Institute for International Economics, which factors in those who are unemployed for reasons other than the pandemic, as well as the 6.3 million Americans who left the labor force in February, puts May’s unemployment at 17.1%.
Considering the roughly 330 million population of the United States, a 17.1% unemployment rate equates to millions of Americans without jobs, millions of families without any form of health care coverage during the middle of the worst pandemic we’ve seen in a century.
It is utterly unconscionable that in the midst of a health crisis, we’re still arguing about whether health care is a right or a privilege. No one should have to weigh the pros and cons of getting treated for a life-threatening disease.
The problem runs much deeper than the issues we’ve seen surrounding our handling of COVID-19. The pandemic simply heightened and brought to the forefront the systemic problems that plague American health care, namely that our system is designed to be for-profit.
Your health care provider, insurance company, and medication manufacturer are all out to make as much money as possible. Pharmaceutical and procedural costs are artificially inflated, insurance companies continually raise premiums, and all the while the people that suffer are those who were unlucky enough to get sick.
The greatest irony about the whole situation is that it would actually be cheaper for the country to insure everyone. According to a study in The Lancet medical journal titled Improving the prognosis of health care in the USA, “a single-payer, universal health-care system is likely to lead to a 13% savings in national health-care expenditure, equivalent to more than $450 billion annually (based on the value of the U.S. dollar in 2017).”
The study goes on to say that “ensuring health-care access for all Americans would save more than 68,000 lives” annually. This year, we could have saved many more.
I could write about the astronomical percentage of bankruptcies due to medical debt, share stories of people who died because of the expense of their medications, or go into detail on how privatized insurance creates unnecessary cost through administration fees and limits bargaining power to reduce medical pricing. The long and short of it is simply that we need a single payer health care system. We need to separate health insurance from employment.
What good is the “best health care in the world” if only a few can afford it?