The Medicare for All Congressional Caucus held a virtual panel to build a case for universal health care after the effects of COVID-19 via Zoom and Facebook Live Friday afternoon. Around 450 people attended through both platforms.
U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., and Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., co-authored and are the lead sponsors of the Medicare for All Act of 2019. The panel discussed the future of healthcare because the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the deep disparities Americans face in healthcare access.
Jayapal said it is essential to address the flaws in America’s privatized healthcare system that has allowed the pandemic to claim more American lives than in the two decades-long Vietnam War and has caused almost 27 million workers to lose healthcare access due to unemployment.
“COVID-19 has exposed and widened the cracks in our healthcare system, the cracks that have put at least half a million Americans into medical bankruptcy each year,” Jayapal said. “I’ve been struck, once again, by how important it is that we make healthcare a human right for everyone.”
Dingell said the U.S. healthcare system spends twice as much per person on health care than other countries with universal healthcare. She said that many Michigan residents hesitate to get diagnosed with illnesses as they are unable to afford treatment.
“The current system has resulted in disparities in this country that mean that how long you are expected to live for is determined by your zip code,” Dingell said. “We should just have a healthcare system that takes care of everybody.”
Dingell explained the battle for accessible healthcare has been made personal after hearing countless heartbreaking stories of nurses on the frontlines who are unable to access the medical help they need.
“I’ve had a nurse call me, writing her will, making me promise that if she died, I’d make sure her child didn’t go to foster care,” Dingell said.
Eagan Kemp, who served as a senior policy analyst at the U.S. Government Accountability Office in 2008, spoke about the need for Medicare to keep hospital doors open to anyone in need of medical assistance. He said privatization of hospitals has forced people to rely on employment for healthcare and insurance coverage.
“Profit determines who gets care and who has to go without,” Kemp said. “(Insurance providers) take your money, your family’s money, then they use every sneaky trick in the book to stop you from getting the care you need.”
Marti Garza, director of the Healthcare Department of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said the U.S. must move away from a healthcare system that depends on employment status.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has really been a wakeup call for the unsustainable nature of healthcare benefits tied to employment,” Garza said. “It has really demonstrated the lack of resilience and precariousness of such a model in our interconnected global economy.”
Aaron Seyedian, founder of Well-Paid Maids, offers a zero deductible platinum-level plan to his employees. Seyedian said after the company’s funds for insurance premiums ran dry, he paid for his employees’ premiums out of pocket in March and through the Paycheck Protection Program in April and May.
“I’m faced with an impossible choice of either reopen in an environment that I think is unsafe, risk my customer health, my staff health, just so we can generate the revenue to cover our insurance premiums, or stay closed, which I believe is the right thing to do, and at some point throw my employees off their healthcare plans during a pandemic,” Seyedain said. “In my view, those are both immoral choices.”
Jean Ross, a registered nurse in Minnesota and president of National Nurses United, said she believes the healthcare system does not do enough to protect nurses who risk their lives to provide care to patients during the pandemic.
“Nurses have been risking their lives to care for patients among great challenges from the coronavirus itself, but also from a for-profit health care industry that has been privatizing and prioritizing protecting hospital bottom lines over the health and safety of patients and caregivers,” Ross said. “This pandemic has laid bare the deep failure of our healthcare system and in doing so makes a strong case for transitioning to Medicare for All.”
Daily Staff Reporter Navya Gupta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.