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The United States, the wealthiest and most powerful nation in world history, is also number one in COVID-19 infections and deaths. As White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Deborah Birx warned last weekend, “It is extraordinarily widespread. It’s into the rural as equal urban areas. To everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune or protected from this virus.” President Donald Trump responded by calling Birx “pathetic.” Six months into the pandemic, he’s offered no national plan to stop the spread of the virus, which is thriving.
As Trump daily demands rapid reopening of schools and the economy, the lines for tests stretch ever longer, and the ever-expanding wait for test results, in many cases up to two weeks, renders the results essentially useless, making contact tracing and isolation of infected people virtually impossible.
The American Association of Medical Colleges recently released “A Road Map to Reset the Nation’s Approach to the Pandemic,” urging the Trump administration to invoke the Defense Production Act to overcome the unconscionable shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE, testing supplies, and therapeutic drugs.
Further, and more fundamentally, the AAMC calls for addressing systemic racism and other inequities that exist in our healthcare system and for a massive increase in funding for our beleaguered public health infrastructure. Included would be the fair, equitable and rapid distribution of a safe, effective vaccine when one becomes available, not only nationally, but globally.
This roadmap sounds sensible, but what chance does it have with a science denier in the White House more concerned with his TV ratings and reelection than addressing the greatest pandemic in a century? Trump is providing socialism for multinational corporations, doling out billions to big pharmaceutical companies, supposedly to develop vaccines. Public Citizen’s Peter Maybarduk has said Trump’s $6 billion, taxpayer-funded program benefitting private companies has “a striking lack of transparency.” Pharmaceutical company insiders are making millions through stock options, as poor and uninsured Americans are left to fend for themselves in the “free market.”
A simple, overdue step would be to immediately expand Medicare, the national health insurance system for people 65 years old and above, to cover all Americans from birth. Medicare for All would separate health insurance coverage from employment status or wealth, saving trillions of dollars and, most importantly, saving lives.
“People with low or moderate incomes do not get the same medical attention as those with high incomes,” President Harry Truman told Congress in 1945 when he first proposed single-payer healthcare. Twenty years later, a scaled-down bill passed Congress, establishing Medicare for older Americans, and Medicaid for millions of poor and disabled people. In signing the Medicare act on July 30th, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson made compromises with the American Medical Association, shoring up the inefficient, employer-based private health insurance system that has left tens of millions of Americans without access to healthcare.
The ranks of the uninsured and underinsured are now swelling, as more than 54 million people have filed for unemployment since the onset of the pandemic in March.
While some of those people have returned to work, millions of the jobs lost as a result of the pandemic may never come back. An Urban Institute study from mid-July predicted 10 million people will permanently lose their employer-provided health insurance. And, just as poor people and people of color are more likely to die of COVID-19, they are also more likely to be uninsured or underinsured.
One recent, mid-pandemic poll showed close to 80% support for Medicare for All among Democratic party members. Joe Biden, though, opposes single-payer healthcare, and said he’d veto a Medicare for All bill if, as president, it made it to his desk. But activist pressure has forced Biden to change his position in the past. Last week, an initial vote by the party’s Platform Committee shot down the Medicare for All proposal. Despite that defeat, at least 700 delegates to the upcoming Democratic National Convention have vowed to oppose the party platform if it doesn’t include Medicare for All.
In both Missouri and Oklahoma, the public recently passed Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion by statewide ballot initiatives, overriding their red state governors and legislatures. And in three recent, remarkable primary upsets, Black Lives Matter activist Cori Bush in St. Louis, Marie Newman in Chicago and former middle school principal Jamaal Bowman in New York defeated establishment incumbent Democratic Congressmembers. All three challengers are expected to win in November, joining a growing, diverse contingent of progressives in Congress who support Medicare for All.
When the people lead, the saying goes, the leaders will follow. It’s a matter of life and death.