The pandemic has wrought pain and death on our neighbors, friends and coworkers and has hurt the economic well-being of Americans. In addition, it has demonstrated the frailty and inadequacy of our current patchwork health care system. As the number of persons laid off increases weekly, the number of uninsured Americans rises.
We watch as others lose their health insurance or feel the pain of our own loss at a time when we see that the coronavirus does not select its victims by any fault of their own. Rather, like most diseases and illnesses it can strike any person at any time in his or her life. We worry about how we will pay for expenses if we ourselves get sick or our loved ones do. Nurses have heard dying patients whisper: Who will pay for this?
Upon losing health coverage, individuals can pay for expensive, temporary coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or Cobra. They can try to purchase new coverage on the insurance exchanges if this is allowed. They can sign up for Medicaid in states that expanded Medicaid, get a new job with benefits, or just go without insurance.
The sheer cost of Cobra when no money is coming in is a nightmare. This is also a terrible job market, with 36 million people now seeking unemployment benefits. Some politicians and unions are suggesting that the government cover all medical charges for coronavirus treatment and then subsidize Cobra payments temporarily during the pandemic.
Once again, like the Affordable Care Act and its subsidies, we taxpayers would be providing corporate welfare for the insurance barons. These are the same companies whose chief executives receive million-dollar salaries and stock options and golden parachutes when they either leave their company or fail and are terminated.
The Affordable Care Act helped decrease the number of Americans who were uninsured. However, the efforts of President Donald Trump and the Republican Party to destroy the program cannot be ignored. The number of uninsured Americans has risen in the last few years. So has the number of underinsured Americans with high deductibles and larger premium shares paid by employees. These have combined to make people defer seeking treatment.
Sen. Bernie Sanders has a much better idea. He proposes to fill the void with Medicare. Isn’t now the time for us to embrace improved Medicare for All? Health care would finally be recognized as a human right rather than something that has to be earned and rationed by one’s ability to pay.
Those who have lost their insurance would be enrolled in Medicare through his Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act. Others would seek enrollment once they see that Medicare works and is much better than their employer insurance, which can change or disappear overnight. Seniors uniformly agree that Medicare works. For many, it is the best health plan that they ever had.
This guaranteed enrollment would also include people from all age groups rather than only those over 60 who would be added by former Vice President Joe Biden’s plan.
It is almost a certainty that insurance companies will follow their usual track record and use this pandemic to raise premiums in the upcoming year. Small businesses would no longer be able to offer health insurance, and those left in the trap would see their premiums, deductibles and copays rise as employers endure losses due to the pandemic.
Let us make something good come out of this tragedy. We have all sheltered in place to protect each other. Now we can make quality health care part of our life, our liberty, and our general welfare. We can ensure that our children and grandchildren do not have to decide whether to eat or see a doctor when they are ill, nor will they be forced to stay in miserable jobs just because they need health insurance. Americans can work to create innovative job opportunities and not be driven into bankruptcy by health care costs. This is the American dream.
Pamella Gronemeyer, M.D., is a pathologist with a pathology/cytology practice. She lives in Glen Carbon.
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