If Medicare for All had been in force, hundreds of thousands killed by COVID would be alive

Black-healthcare-worker-sits-exhausted-on-steps-outside-Brooklyn-Hospital-Center-NY-040120-by-Tayfun-Coskun-Anadolu-Agency, If Medicare for All had been in force, hundreds of thousands killed by COVID would be alive, National News & Views
An exhausted healthcare worker sits on the steps outside the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York on April 1, 2020, as the COVID pandemic raged. – Photo: Tayfun Coskun, Anadolu Agency

by Jake Johnson

A new report by the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen makes the case that the United States’ fragmented for-profit health care system hampered the nation’s coronavirus response “at every turn.” This resulted in millions of COVID-19 infections and hundreds of thousands of deaths that likely would have been prevented under a Medicare for All system.

Titled “Unprepared for COVID-19: How the Pandemic Makes the Case for Medicare for All,” the report by Eagan Kemp builds off a recent analysis showing that around 40 percent of U.S. COVID-19 infections and 33 percent of virus deaths are associated with uninsurance, which was high before the pandemic and soared last year as mass layoffs threw millions off their employer-provided coverage. The growing uninsured rate has hit frontline workers particularly hard.

“The reality is that our for-profit health care system put the U.S. at a dangerous disadvantage and hindered rapid response,” Public Citizen’s report reads. “It has also meant millions of Americans have contracted COVID-19 unnecessarily and hundreds of thousands of deaths could have been prevented.”

“Under Medicare for All, everyone would have consistent coverage regardless of their employment status or employer,” the report continues. “And because Americans would have their choice of providers, instead of facing the narrow networks their employers choose for them, they would face fewer challenges getting care, especially during a pandemic where some hospitals and providers are overwhelmed by demand.”

The case for Medicare for All, as Public Citizen argues in its report, has only grown stronger since 2019, with the coronavirus pandemic further exposing the private system’s fundamental and deadly flaws as well as the rapacity of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

If the U.S. had in place a single-payer system that provided everyone in the country with comprehensive health care for free at the point of service – as proposed by supporters of Medicare for All – “the U.S. would finally be able to ensure sufficient funding for public health, including future pandemics,” and “the nation could finally begin addressing massive health disparities in a comprehensive way,” the report argues.

“As the pandemic has shown, everyone depends on the health care system throughout their lives,” the report adds. “Whether we face a public health emergency like a global pandemic or simply need to meet routine medical needs, Medicare for All would ensure necessary treatments are available to everyone regardless of their ability to pay.”

Kemp, Public Citizen’s health care policy advocate and the author of the new report, said in a statement that the “pandemic has shown how wide the gaps in our health care system remain and how easy it is for families to fall through them.”

“We need to be prepared for the next pandemic, and we can’t be under the current for-profit system. The time has come for a health care system that guarantees health care for everyone in the U.S.,” Kemp said. “The time has come for Medicare for All.”

“How is it possible that the United States, the richest country in the world, is the only major country that does not guarantee health care to our residents?”

Public Citizen’s report came one day before Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, and Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, introduced the Medicare for All Act of 2021, which is expected to broadly resemble single-payer legislation that Jayapal sponsored in 2019.

The bill proposed a two-year transition to a Medicare for All system that would provide dental, vision, reproductive health, mental health, long-term care and other services, with no out-of-pocket costs attached.

“The state of our health care system is absolutely atrocious,” Jayapal told reporters on the eve of the bill’s release over two years ago. “How is it possible that the United States, the richest country in the world, is the only major country that does not guarantee health care to our residents?”

The case for Medicare for All, as Public Citizen argues in its report, has only grown stronger since 2019, with the coronavirus pandemic further exposing the private system’s fundamental and deadly flaws as well as the rapacity of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

“The COVID-19 pandemic showed just how greedy private insurers are, as they were reporting record profits because they were paying out far less in claims due to millions of Americans delaying care,” Kemp writes. “This disparity highlights just how little value insurers are bringing to the health care system despite how much they cost consumers and the health care system in general.”

While Congress recently approved a significant expansion of Affordable Care Act subsidies with the goal of helping more people afford insurance in the marketplace, Kemp contends that “the scope of the reforms is limited and so Americans will continue to struggle without a comprehensive solution like Medicare for All.”

“Under Medicare for All,” Kemp concludes, “our health care system would focus on health and wellbeing instead of generating profit and revenue for wealthy insurers.”

Jake Johnson is a staff writer at Common Dreams, where this story first appeared. Follow him on Twitter @johnsonjakep.