As the coronavirus (COVID-19) winds its way through every aspect of our American lives, it continues to find and slither through all of the holes in the American system. And as Donald Trump blunders his way through attempting to lead us through this crisis, he is finding decreasing success with his go-to tactics of deception, gaslighting, subject-changing, and hyperbole. Coronavirus has brought to light numerous undeniable ways in which our system has failed.
What those who have been the victims of our system’s failures have experienced for years, is now, finally, being felt by many who were previously cushioned from it.
Clearly, health care, how we pay for it, and who gets it is at the top of the list of what’s badly broken in America. For years, a lot of people who had comfortable and affordable insurance plans through their employers didn’t tend to give health care availability much thought. Some even saw it as a privilege instead of a basic right. Suddenly, however, due largely to our administration’s ineptness at managing testing for coronavirus, even those with gold-level health care coverage are finding it difficult or impossible to obtain a test, even if they can pay for it.
For those without health care coverage, the availability of testing is a moot point. As those in charge are finally beginning to acknowledge, this population are not only in danger if they contract coronavirus, but they are also a danger to others. The inability to pay for a doctor visit, let alone possible hospitalization and treatment (and the current difficulty in obtaining a test) undoubtedly leaves many with the virus to make guesses, possibly carry on with their lives as normal, and spread the illness to others.
People who don’t have health care coverage are often people who fall through the cracks and are ineligible for Medicare or Medicaid. Many of them work in the service industry, live paycheck-to-paycheck, and have no paid sick leave or paid time off. They will go to work, even sick, because they have to. If they contract the coronavirus, they’ll spread it to others at work.
The lack of paid sick leave for hourly employees is hardly a new problem. As with the issue of accessible health care, though, many lawmakers act as if it were a new phenomenon that has just arisen from the COVID-19 pandemic.
As lawmakers and others who have never had to worry about health care or missing a paycheck because of illness become aware of how this also impacts them (and all of us), it has finally occurred to Donald Trump and his supporters in Congress to create legislation to allow hourly employees to take paid time off. No one wants to drink their latte and wonder if the person who served it might be seriously, contagiously ill.
As of Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is working with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to pass legislation to provide billions of dollars in aid to state and local governments for food programs and unemployment benefits. This will help.
The portion of the bill that would mandate employers to provide paid sick leave to all workers across the country, however, is still in dispute as of Thursday evening. Democrats would like for the mandate to be permanent, but Republicans are opposing a permanent measure.
The idea that such things as health care for all and paid sick leave should only be reactive and temporary solutions is, in itself, a failure of our system. It illustrates the shortsightedness and unpreparedness with which our government legislates health care.
It demonstrates the way many of us have taken our access to comfort as a given. It underlines how we have, until now, seen the possibility of a health care crisis so monumental that it could paralyze the world economy as nothing short of science fiction. And, as never before, it reveals the now-glaring fact that many of the people who represent Americans in government are not really interested in protecting the health and well-being of their poorer constituents unless the situation, like the coronavirus, poses a threat to them, the lawmakers.
Pelosi, Mnuchin Haggle for Compromise on Virus Relief Bill | Bloomberg Politics [2020-03-12]
Can the US health care system handle the coronavirus pandemic? l GMA [2020-03-12]
Last year, I decided to leave my soul-killing corporate job that I had been staying in solely for the health insurance benefits, to go out on my own as a consultant. I wasn’t downsized or let go. It was fully my choice to leave.
Some of my colleagues called me “brave.” Why? Not because I was leaving a “permanent” salary to go out on my own to a more precarious situation, although that is definitely something to be concerned about. It was all about the health insurance. I was electing to give up a job where my very good (and very expensive) health insurance was generously subsidized by my employer. Yes, some of my colleagues called me “brave,” but I’ll admit that at least one or two others called me “insane.”
I decided to take the COBRA option, at least through the end of the year, while I shopped around for an alternative. At $1600 a month, COBRA was a drain on my finances, but since I have a daughter with a chronic illness, maintaining good health care coverage is important to me.
I have to acknowledge now that maybe my co-workers weren’t entirely wrong about my “bravery,” although it may have been naivete disguised as bravery. I thought I’d have no trouble finding a good and affordable insurance plan on my state’s Health Connector, one of the statewide insurance clearinghouses set up under Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA, or “Obamacare”). Several years ago, I had been able to purchase a nice plan this way when I needed to.
I found, though, that the previous variety of plans and providers was no longer available on the Health Connector. Those that were left were pricey, had high deductibles, and, unless I was willing to pay the amount I had been paying under COBRA, had numerous restrictions.
I ended up purchasing a plan that I’m not entirely happy with, because the premium was the maximum I could comfortably afford each month.
This experience was an acute reminder that in the United States, the reason many people stay in unsatisfying, toxic, or underpaying jobs is that it’s the only way they have access to health insurance. And not all insurance plans are equal in the coverage they provide, the restrictions they have, or the portion of the premium that employees must pay. Even for those who have employer-subsidized health insurance, many will still be at risk of losing everything, should they or a family member have a serious, long, or expensive illness.
We’re told that hospitals will often “work with you” to pay medical bills. Several years ago, I worked in a hospital financial services office. Our patients had to prove that they were practically destitute and had exhausted all other resources before we would “work with them.” Many impoverished people, not to mention those who aren’t destitute but who are still struggling, fall through the cracks.
No one should have to exhaust all of their resources for the sake of their healthcare. No one’s life should be turned upside-down because of healthcare expenses.
It’s no wonder that in a recent Gallup poll (along with numerous other polls), healthcare was the top issue for voters, with 35 percent saying it was extremely important, and 81 percent saying it was “extremely to very important.”
Whether one has insurance through an employer, through a state Health Connector, or through a broker, the cost of treatment and medications (and often, the premium itself) is prohibitive. For those without access to affordable insurance, the cost is impossible. More and more Americans are coming to realize that there but for the grace of God or their employer, go they.
Despite the dearth of great health care options on my state’s Health Connector, I am a staunch supporter of the ACA. For all insurance consumers, not just those using “Obamacare,” it has given us benefits that we have now come to take for granted. It requires that annual checkups be fully covered; prevents insurers from denying us coverage if we have a pre-existing condition (which is important for my family — most families, if we’re honest); provides for a number of previously not well-covered services including those for addiction and mental health care; and requires health insurers to cover prenatal care, among many other benefits that previously, insurers could wiggle out of covering.
Our current president wants to take all of that away. Not because he wants to replace it with a plan that will better serve Americans. Certainly not because he wants more Americans to have access to decent healthcare. He wants to take it away simply because the ACA was Obama’s idea (and was shepherded by Trump’s current rival, Joe Biden). Trump wants to obliterate all things Obama — and we know how Trump feels about Joe Biden, as well.
There is much about the ACA that needs improvement. But it is an important first set of steps toward creating a healthcare system that works for the majority of people, and that could eventually work for all of us. Its guidelines are the best we’ve ever had as far as patient protections, and it’s the best we could hope to have under Donald Trump.
Our health is important, and our healthcare is important. Access to healthcare, however, should not be the force that drives so many of the other major decisions we make about our lives — where we work, how long we stay in an unbearable work situation, how many jobs we have to work, whether we can afford to go to the doctor, and, for many, which other bills to hold off paying in order to pay a medical bill, or even whether to declare bankruptcy.
As more people have experienced or witnessed firsthand what it’s like to have to make life-impacting sacrifices solely for the sake of their healthcare coverage (or because of non-coverage), more and more Americans are coming together on the position that healthcare is a right, not a privilege.
As of Thursday, March 5, the Democratic race for the presidential nominee has been whittled down to two men and one woman. Voters will place their faith in one of these candidates to heal the condition of healthcare in the U.S. Each has a different approach, but Democrat voters have high hopes that one of them will free us from the power that the private health insurance industry has to destroy our lives.
Sanders: The current healthcare system is ‘pathetic’ | CNN [2020-03-02]
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