America is a land of many myths – some based on reality, others perpetuated by dangerous misconceptions.
One of our most enduring myths is that we have the world’s greatest health care system. Protectors of the status quo cite our genuinely talented medical professionals as proof that we also have a great health care system, when in fact our skilled professionals – many of whom are giving their lives to fight the virus – are helpless to cure the failures of a system that is not designed to serve the overall health needs of 330 million Americans.
As Covid-19 has dramatically exposed the depth of income inequality in America, it also has stripped away the last vestiges of the myth that we have the greatest health care system in the world. As company after company has faltered or shut down, millions of Americans who had relied on their employers for health insurance suddenly found themselves without coverage.
Even before the virus struck, an estimated 25 million Americans had no health insurance. Despite years of efforts that extended coverage to millions of once-uninsured Americans under Obamacare, millions were still not covered because of opposition by Congressional actions and opposition by some states. As the virus advances, the number of uninsured has swelled by the millions, with no end in sight.
Now can we finally face up to the fact there is a better way to take care of the basic health needs of all our citizens and adopt universal coverage through a plan similar to Medicare?
To do that will require a new way of thinking about government’s role in health care. We will have to reject the discredited policy promoted by Washington and private interests that health care is a business – just like selling cars or houses or electronics. It’s clear that that the private market does not, and cannot, provide affordable health care for all even during normal times, and that it is not designed to battle a national health care crisis..
Our current health care system has left our nation totally unprepared to fight a pandemic. The federal government had no plan: no plan to order the manufacture of essential protective equipment, testing supplies and medical devices; no plan to distribute lifesaving medical equipment to hospitals; no plan to warn all citizens of the danger the virus posed; and no plan to institute containment measures to slow its spread. The response to a national calamity was left to the woefully unprepared and underequipped private market, and to state and local governments. But this disaster is of a magnitude that required a coordinated government response, a public action from coast to coast.
With this tragic failure so abundantly clear, perhaps we can at last adopt a national health strategy that takes responsibility for the health care of all Americans — not just the rich who can afford to insure themselves or the citizens old enough to have Medicare. But a plan that says that if you get sick, you can go to the hospital without fear of losing your home.