COVID-19 presents unprecedented challenges for us here at Healthcare-NOW. Many of our activists have underlying health conditions or are part of other vulnerable populations (the uninsured, seniors, low-income) and must take quarantine very seriously; some – healthcare workers at the front lines, or residents of assisted living communities – will be separated from their families indefinitely. Regarding our education and organizing work, everything is on hold: the office and all of our volunteers and interns, the podcast, and crucially, face-to-face organizing.

Has there ever been a more compelling real-life example of the need for Medicare for All? The faulty logic of free market healthcare and “skin in the game” has been exposed, with even Trump and many Republican lawmakers supporting a bill that would force all insurers to provide testing 100% for free. Yet the establishment isn’t ready to admit what is clear: that our for-profit, patchwork healthcare system isn’t equipped to deal with a pandemic. Joe Biden, who bragged he would veto a Medicare for All bill, doubled down at the debate; he claimed a single-payer system wouldn’t “solve the (COVID-19) problem at all”. Then, in almost the next breath, he proposed what is essentially a Medicare for All plan for the virus: free testing and treatment for just this one diagnosis.

Even if our politicians won’t do it, it’s important we connect the dots here; to battle a pandemic, we need Medicare for All.

More people will die because we don’t have Medicare for All

We are behind other wealthy countries in responding to this outbreak, largely because we don’t have a Medicare for All system. Instead of putting all of our efforts into ramping up testing capacity and containment measures, Congress right now is tied up with the most American of problems: who is going to pay for testing and treatment of the virus? Until when, and to what extent? At what rate will tests be reimbursed and providers be paid?

South Korea has the capacity to test up to 20,000 people a day, through 688 free testing sites, many of which are drive-through and take 10 minutes. The state’s swift action is the reason the country was able to flatten the curve, preventing an overrun of their hospitals. In Denmark, the first hospitals began postponing non-essential operations as a preparation for future cases of COVID-19 on March 11th;  6 days later this was done in all hospitals nationwide. Spain, a single payer healthcare system, just nationalized all of its private hospitals and providers for the duration of the epidemic. 

So while the U.S. is stuck solving the frankly stupid – and deadly – problem of a healthcare system hamstrung by patient billing, single payer countries like South Korea and Denmark are busy moving around resources and preparing for the medical emergency that this is. 

Medicare for All would ensure infected workers get timely treatment

Astonishingly, part-time TSA agents – the ones that hover 3 inches away from your face as you get patted down in the airport – do not receive health benefits. Neither do many of the workers who prepare and serve your food, stock your grocery shelves, drive your ubers, etc. etc.

Watch Rep. Lou Correa put the administrator of the TSA on the hot seat about their decision to stop paying health benefits for part-time workers:

Treating workers like this is not only immoral, it puts us all at risk.

Medicare for All would mean healthier Americans and fewer deaths when disaster strikes

Doctors have warned people with asthma, diabetes, and other exacerbating conditions to get to a good baseline level of health in preparation for infection with COVID-19. That means taking medications as prescribed, often daily. But for those who struggle to see a doctor, to afford their medicines, many live with compromised health. 

Epidemics hit everyone, which is why there’s suddenly concern from all sides of the political spectrum about universal access to treatment and testing; but this virus will disproportionately impact the underserved. And that’s a policy failure. 

Our failure to provide long-term healthcare puts seniors at risk

Shamefully, the United States does not have a national system for long-term care. In non-pandemic times, this means that many will spend all of their life savings on home care, or spend down everything they have to qualify for Medicaid coverage of long-term care. It also means poor oversight over and inadequate resources for nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and home care, with abuse rampant through the network of mostly for-profit institutions that serve our elderly.  Many facilities are chronically understaffed. This creates a real danger when a bug like coronavirus hits the streets. Just last week, COVID tore through the Life Care Center nursing home in Seattle, killing 26 people as of Friday.

Another compounding factor: more people are in institutions than need to be, putting them at unnecessary risk. This is because Medicaid has an “institutional bias” – all states must provide Medicaid coverage of institution care (nursing home, assisted living facilities) but home care is excluded. We’re driving people into institutions when they’d be better served and happier at home in their communities, while also creating a dangerous setup for a virus to capitalize on.

Ok, what about Italy? 

Unfortunately, for all its benefits, Medicare for All can not prevent pandemics from happening! 

Italy was the first country in Europe to be stricken with the virus, and its government was slow to understand the deadly potential of the situation. It also has one of the world’s highest proportion of elderly, second only to Japan. The high prevalence of multigenerational homes provides opportunities for asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic younger people to mingle with more vulnerable relatives. 

Terrifyingly, Italy is still much more equipped to handle an outbreak than we are. It has 3.2 hospital beds per 1,000 people – more than our 2.8 per 1,000, and also more physicians than the U.S. – in addition to as a single payer healthcare system, with all the benefits that confers. 

Medicare for All won’t fix everything

Keeping everyone healthy is a huge part of defeating corona, but how can we “flatten the curve” if over 28 million workers don’t have paid sick leave – even if the Families First bill passes? Many of these poorly-benefited workers are in the service industry, and could spread the virus exponentially. Finally, we should follow the lead of other countries supporting the majority of workers unable to telecommute and provide not only paid sick leave, but wage assistance; Denmark for example  just passed a financial relief package for workers forced into quarantine.  

How do we organize during a pandemic?

COVID has created a massive challenge for organizers. In-person events have been indefinitely cancelled, as well as campaigns like signature collection, office visits, birddogging during the primaries, etc. 

The short answer is, we’re still figuring it out. We’re going to have to get creative.

Outreach and base-building work – which by definition involves talking to unknown people – will be the hardest to continue during the quarantine. Talking to people face to face, making a meaningful connection, is much harder to do online. 

Coalition work, coordinating existing organizations that support Medicare for All to take action, may be our best bet right now. This is something you can do without a lot of base-building.

Important coalition work right now, during the election season, would be trying to leverage candidates running for office as well as sitting legislators; get your Congressional and state reps on the Medicare for All bill or the Patients over Profits pledge! Phone calls rather than emails will be most effective. (Note: Congress is not in office this week but should be back next). 

Social media & Online Forums – this is a great time to boost your social media presence through educating people between the link to COVID-19 and Medicare for all. Hold a webinar, launch a call for action. Use existing hashtags #Coronavirus, #COVID19, #MedicareForAll, and join the conversation!

Get creative with tactics – This it the time to think outside of the box! For inspiration, consult Beautiful Trouble’s list of tactics, and submit to us your own. 

Take Action

The first #coronasafe step to take, if you haven’t already done so, is to sign the Patients over Profits pledge. 

The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, a corporate front group, is pumping millions of dollars into an all-out effort to defeat Medicare for All. Our allies at National Nurses United have started a campaign to break this link between money and politics by urging all candidates to sign a pledge that they will not take their dirty money. 

The Patients over Profits campaign calls on politicians to reject campaign contributions from executives, lobbyists and PACs affiliated with the hospital, insurance and pharma corporations supporting the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future. While we can’t get out there right now and collect signatures for the pledge, we can sign this petition and push it onto our electeds’ radar.

We will use these signatures next month during a week of action where we will ask candidates for Congress and other political offices to sign the Pledge.

17 Comments

  1. Phyllis Arist on March 18, 2020 at 4:59 pm

    to say the least: Medicare for All is DECADES OVERDUE!!!!!!!
    so is controlling capitalist power;!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. M. Bear on March 18, 2020 at 5:13 pm

    Big insurance big Pharma big corporations all needs to stop we need to focus on everyone being able to have access to healthcare, it is a right not a privilege!

  3. Andrew Seles on March 18, 2020 at 5:28 pm

    The answer couldn’t be more obvious. Medicare for All is an idea whose time has come. The rapid spread of Covid-19 shows that a rapid response is required of governments that the private sector, with its competitive, self-interest, is ill-equipped to provide.

  4. Margaret Johnson on March 18, 2020 at 5:33 pm

    This outbreak of the Corinavirus is telling us that we are behind. Too little too small, too few Doctors, too few Nurses, too few Lab workers, etc etc etc. We need Medicare for All. We especially need honest, loyal workers overlooking the jobs.

  5. Janice Brown on March 18, 2020 at 5:37 pm

    Medicare for All is the only solution to our health care issues! Take it from a retired critical care RN. Once the health industry gave up its non-profit status and started escalating their profits it has gone very bad for consumers. Why should anyone make huge profits off of someone else’s misfortune? Why should those living in the USA pay twice as much for less effective treatment?

  6. Pat Gutierrez on March 18, 2020 at 6:25 pm

    I agree that Medicare for all should be adopted. But, our goal right now should be to defeat Trump and our best option is Biden. For now, I think that Biden should be the democratic nominee and he will beat Trump. When he assumes the presidency, he can work on improving Obamacare, adding a public option – let anyone who wishes to buy in to Medicare. Then, we can focus on trying to implement Medicare for all.

  7. Linda Sturgeon on March 18, 2020 at 6:52 pm

    Here is one among many reasons we need medicare for all:

    We are behind other wealthy countries in responding to this outbreak, largely because we don’t have a Medicare for All system. Instead of putting all of our efforts into ramping up testing capacity and containment measures, Congress right now is tied up with the most American of problems: who is going to pay for testing and treatment of the virus? Until when, and to what extent? At what rate will tests be reimbursed and providers be paid?

    South Korea has the capacity to test up to 20,000 people a day, through 688 free testing sites, many of which are drive-through and take 10 minutes. The state’s swift action is the reason the country was able to flatten the curve, preventing an overrun of their hospitals. In Denmark, the first hospitals began postponing non-essential operations as a preparation for future cases of COVID-19 on March 11th; 6 days later this was done in all hospitals nationwide. Spain, a single payer healthcare system, just nationalized all of its private hospitals and providers for the duration of the epidemic.

    So while the U.S. is stuck solving the frankly stupid – and deadly – problem of a healthcare system hamstrung by patient billing, single payer countries like South Korea and Denmark are busy moving around resources and preparing for the medical emergency that this is.

  8. nora Coyle on March 18, 2020 at 7:05 pm

    I just watched an interview with Trump about testing supplies availability. The statement was that the well to do are getting tested, but healthcare workers are still not able to get tested or get their results if they do. These people are putting their lives on the line for us. Trumps response, ” Well, things happen like that sometimes.” That should be all anyone needs to hear to get rid of this ignoramus and get people in who will actually do something for the general population.

  9. Athina Collins on March 18, 2020 at 7:39 pm

    Yes MEDICARE FOR ALL and PAID SICK LEAVE and PAID VACATION AND MATERNITY LEAVE

  10. henry kuharic on March 18, 2020 at 7:41 pm

    good work

  11. tanya marquette on March 18, 2020 at 7:43 pm

    I can agree that this health scare can and should be used to promote the need for a national health care system instead of a privatized, for profit one. The core issue really is the mindset, the base philosophical rubric that is operable. Currently that rubric is one that values profit and commoditizes lhuman life. It needs to be called out for this. Instead we need to elaborate your concept of people over profits. We should be stating that the purpose of government is to meed the needs of the majority of the people on an equitable basis. Government of, by and for the people seems to have gotten lost in the capitalist swarmp.

    However, I cannot agree with some of your focus. There is a big difference between a medical industry, which is what we have now, and a health care system that focuses on building health and not profits. Such a system must be based on the very things a medical industry has worked on destroying –a system that is based on nutrition with clean, non-chemicalized, non-GMO clean foods. It needs to be based on the resources from nature which includes herbs and other forms of holistic healing. What the medical industry offers should be the last choice as nothing it does promotes health. It is all about profit and keeping people alive to produce more profit. If the rose colored glasses are removed, this understanding is vividly clear. The reason Italy and Japan have so many people living to over 100 is not just because of single payer but because the people are eating wholesome food, accessing outdoors regularly (sun and exercise) and use various forms of healing that are not drug based. We need a health care system that is free from control by drug corporations. WE need to take back control of government agencies set up to control the drug industry such as the FDA and CDC. We need to stop the revolving door between the drug industry and these agencies. This is part of what we need to be promoting.

    As regards this bruhaha of a novel virus? Where is the promotion of steps to build health, improve our immune systems. Washing hands and isolating will not do this. If it weren’t for the drug industry we would be telling people to take a few grams of Vit C daily and up their Vit D3 supplementation as we are just coming out of a very low light season and Vit D levels are notoriously low in the population of the northern hemisphere. Both of these nutrients are critical in maintaining good resistance to illness and they are also capable of curing us if taken in sufficiently high doses. Many studies showing this to be the case. This is the focus I apply to my life and encourage others to do the same–not sit home and worry about someone touching them!

    This is what we should be doing to utilize this artificially created health hysteria for promoting a real health system that is government run without interference by private industry promoting their self interest–not ours.

  12. jacqueline knable on March 18, 2020 at 9:02 pm

    Yes, we’d be much better off in this crisis if we had a single payer system that already had every one covered. DUH!!

  13. sandy draus on March 18, 2020 at 11:02 pm

    This is America..we should be concerned with everyone’s health!!!

  14. Michael Lyon on March 18, 2020 at 11:54 pm

    Yes, we do need to get rid of health insurance companies, and hospital chains and drug companies, but the single-payer movement needs to get over its preoccupation with promising the capitalists to lower healthcare costs. The current coronavirus crisis show us that an adequate healthcare system, with adequate surge capacity, will be considerably more expensive than now. BUT WE DESERVE IT AND SHOULD DEMAND IT, REGARDLESS OF THE COST! If the system can’t afford it, then it’s the system that has to go, not our just demands.

    Let me give an example of how single-player’s preoccupation with cost-containment perverts our thinking. Several years ago, the NY Times ran a big piece saying single payer was unaffordable because, among other things, when single-payer came in there would be a huge rush of people who had put off care, and the cost would be overwhelming. Instead of celebrating the fact that people would finally get desperately-needed care, Physicians for a National Health Plan argued that 5he limitations on hospital beds and trained health providers would prevent thus surge from taking place, and therefore single-payer would be affordable. On one hand they say (truthfully) that tens of thousands die each year, but then they argue that the lack of surge capacity will make single-payer affordable. I assume they’re not saying that any longer, but it shows how a preoccupation with cost-containment perverts our thinking.

  15. Liz Davila on March 19, 2020 at 2:05 pm

    I agree with you. We do need Madicare for All. I have been raising 3 grandchildren for over 15 years. One is 20 is in college, working and has health insurance, one graduating this year 18 and uninsured and is diabetic one. she needs insulin to eat and insulin to sleep. she cannot live with out insulin. It’s personal Medicare for all needs to happen it’s been way over due!! The youngest is 17 uninsured.

    I work at a church where most of my parishioners don’t have healthcare and they can’t afford it or they are undocumented. Many are diabetic. It’s frustrating!

    Liz

  16. Anne Scheetz on March 19, 2020 at 2:19 pm

    I agree that focusing on the cost issue is mistaken. The PNHP statement about a surge in health care use with implementation of Medicare for all is correct, but beside the point. We should spend money when doing so benefits people. We need a jobs program in health care (but also in education, recreation, childcare and other fields) because we need more public health workers especially at the community level; birth workers; personal assistants for people with disabilities; nurses; physical therapists; nurse and PT educators; peer mental health counselors; nutritionists; peer counselors to help people transition from nursing homes into the community; and others–we don’t even know what workers we need. If the cost of training and employing those workers exceeds the savings from eliminating insurance company jobs (which do harm and need to be eliminated right away), then we should pay the extra cost. The federal government can, but does not have to, balance its budget; some would argue that there are benefits to a federal deficit as long as the deficit is financing useful services. (Whether or not one agrees, it is useful to know something about Modern Monetary Theory.) As all of us know, the issue of cost does not come up among those in power in regard to killing people for profit through war and empire, but only in regard to improving people’s well-being rather than generating corporate profits.
    Thanks to Healthcare-NOW! for this excellent statement and acknowledging the importance of long-term care!

  17. Angela Dupin on March 20, 2020 at 9:08 am

    Joe Biden needs to know what is in this email.

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