Last month, a record 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in one week as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, Time reported.
About 18 percent of Americans report that they’ve been laid off or lost hours due to the outbreak, and the rate is higher for Americans earning less than $50,000 a year, the Los Angeles Times reported. Millions of Americans who have been laid off or furloughed directly because of COVID-19 will now lose their benefits, Forbes reported. If they get sick, then what?
The high costs of COVID-19 medical care are expected to financially cripple many Americans experiencing economic hardship at the moment, which can lead to increased debt and bankruptcies, the Hill reported.
Our current health system is not working — it’s a for-profit establishment with exorbitant medical bills only adding to financial hardships and record-breaking unemployment rates. Now more than ever, our policymakers need to support universal health care.
Universal health care is a system where all people and communities have equal access to quality health services without financial harm, according to the World Health Organization. The United States is the only large wealthy nation in the world without universal health care, the Economist reported.
About 27.5 million people in the U.S., or 8.5 percent of the population, did not have health insurance in 2018, an increase from the previous year, according to a 2019 report by the U.S. Census Bureau.
This is especially concerning given the current COVID-19 outbreak, where Americans could pay anywhere from $42,000 to $74,000 for COVID-19 medical care if they are uninsured or receive care deemed out-of-network by their insurance company, CNBC reported.
While COVID-19 tests are currently free due to changes made by state insurance regulators and insurance companies, individuals who test for COVID-19 but have another viral infection, like the flu or a cold, may be hit with medical bills, the New York Times reported. This has experts worried that people who are sick may not seek medical care for fear of high costs.
In countries that have universal health care, citizens do not have the same apprehension Americans have about seeing a doctor, said Krys Johnson, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Temple University.
“They are also subsidizing people’s incomes in a meaningful way,” Johnson said, “People are not having to stress out about not going to work as a hairstylist or a waitress, so they not only can see health care providers with no repercussions, but they are also social distancing without having to fear not having a paycheck.”
Unfortunately, this is not the case in the U.S., and the dependents of people who are unemployed are also likely to suffer, said Bari Dzomba, a health services administration and policy professor.
“We’re seeing these inequities since in the U.S., our health insurance is tied to our employment,” Dzomba said. “And if it’s a college student or child, then their insurance is tied to their parent’s employer.”
But an estimated 67 million Americans are currently working in jobs that are at a high risk of layoffs amid the COVID-19 pandemic, CNBC reported. Americans who have lost their jobs may also lose their health insurance, ABC News reported — this only adds financial stress to an already difficult time.
Rather than giving everyone mandatory health coverage, the government has just put a band-aid over a gaping wound.
On March 25, the Senate voted in favor of a bill that would send a one-time check of at least $1,200 for workers, small businesses and industries affected by COVID-19, The Hill reported. But not everyone is eligible to receive this check, including people who didn’t file taxes in 2018 or 2019 and people who are still considered by the government as dependents, like college students, the Huffington Post reported.
Our current attempts at ameliorating nationwide financial hardship are honorable, but they aren’t accessible enough — we need universal health care.
Ari Glazier, a freshman journalism major, believes the coronavirus pandemic has put a spotlight on the systemic inequalities at the root of our health care system, which treats good health as a privilege.
“I believe that medical care is a human right,” Glazier said. “Under this belief, it is unconscionable to charge people any money for health care, let alone the inordinate cost of our corporate health care system.”
At a time like this, it seems as though the wealthy are the only ones who can afford to stay healthy. As some employees are fortunate enough to be able to work from home, most of our essential workers, on which our country relies, must still go into work every day to make ends meet and keep our country afloat.
As the economy slowly recovers from this recession, it will take even longer for individuals to recover from the thousands of dollars of medical debt they could potentially find themselves in.
Universal health care should have been an established policy in the U.S. long before COVID-19, and it shouldn’t have taken a pandemic to open our eyes to the truth.
“It is unarguable that if we, the richest country on Earth, adopt a single payer system like nearly every other country on Earth, millions of lives would be saved every year,” Glazier said.