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.
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.