The Time for Medicare for All is Now
April 8, 2021
By Sana Sethi
Most Americans know that our healthcare system is broken. Whether they have faced unexpected out-of-pocket costs from primary care visits or accrued an incomprehensible amount of medical debt, the stories are abundant. Perhaps someone from another country would be surprised to learn that Americans, who live in the wealthiest country on the planet, often put off regular check-ups and life-saving treatment because healthcare is so unaffordable.
The pandemic has only confirmed what we already knew, with more urgency: we need to overhaul our deplorable healthcare system that leaves 30 million people uninsured and 40 million underinsured for a system that guarantees healthcare for all. With enough wealth and resources to give comprehensive, quality medical care to every individual in the United States, including undocumented folks, there is no excuse why so many in our country are left without healthcare, especially during the deadliest pandemic of our lifetimes.
If we had universal healthcare, families in this country would not fear losing their coverage when they lose their jobs, 114 million of which vanished during 2020 due to the pandemic. People would not have to choose between taking days off to fight insurance companies on the phone for coverage they were promised, and working enough hours to pay their premiums so they can seek care in the first place. People who were un- or underinsured would not be forced to forgo medical treatment for COVID-19, which has proven to be fatal and increases the risk of community spread.
Yes, some countries are seeing a high number of cases and deaths from COVID-19 too, but the U.S. has all the resources it needs to get the pandemic under control and yet, at the height of the pandemic, an American died every 30 seconds from the virus. There is no justification for the fact that COVID-19 is now the leading cause of death for Americans while other countries, specifically those with universal healthcare, were able to limit the spread of the virus by ensuring those who were sick did not have to worry about cost when seeking treatment. If you need more proof that universal healthcare would have saved lives during this pandemic, look no further than the fact that countries with universal health coverage are seeing a more successful vaccine rollout while the U.S. lags behind. Our fragmented, multi-payer system has made our response slower and less efficient. How many lives could have been saved had we made healthcare a top priority, and encouraged people to get treated and vaccinated for COVID, instead of deterring them from doing so with unaffordable out-of-pocket costs? How many more of our loved ones would be alive today if our lawmakers had not allowed the pharmaceutical and insurance industries to profit off of sickness and monetize peoples’ wellbeing?
Yet amongst all of this — a year of mass death, all-too-soon goodbyes to our loved ones, a ravaging economic downturn as a result — the two major political parties in the U.S. continue to turn their backs on the answer: Medicare for All. The pharmaceutical industry, who cut checks to over two-thirds of sitting Congressmembers last year, maintains its grip on even our politicians who tout a public option. A public option would not address the glaring issue of cost-sharing — copays and deductibles — which deters 22% of our nation’s population from seeking medical care. Avoiding preventative care because it’s too expensive only leads to more expensive and riskier reactive care later. A public option would also fail to address the fact that insurance is so expensive in the U.S. in large part because our insurance system is such a complicated jumble of companies with varying policies and networks, that to navigate this tangled web, administrative costs in the U.S. are more than double the average costs in other wealthy countries, leading to higher expenses for patients to offset those costs. Only Medicare for All would create the simple system needed to sweep away this mess. Not to mention, a public option would still leave millions of people un- and underinsured, bringing forth the question of whether this policy is being pushed by politicians because they actually care about helping people access affordable healthcare, or whether it’s to silence the call for serious reforms by throwing us a bone.
Half a million people did not have to die in the U.S. While the reasons for this profound loss of life are plentiful, the ideology of putting profit over people precedes many of the unethical actions that led to the rampant spread of the virus, like opening businesses too early and forcing people to work in close quarters without proper PPE. The same ideology that capital is worth more than human life shows itself in the fact that a deadly pandemic uncovering the blazing cracks in our healthcare system is not enough reason for our lawmakers to wake up and do the right thing.
It’s time to once and for all guarantee healthcare as a human right for every individual in the United States. The solution is not a middle-of-the-road policy like a public option to keep Big Pharma and insurance companies happy; the solution is to put people first and catch up with every other industrialized nation in the world. The solution is Medicare for All.