COVID-19: millions lose their job – and health insurance – during a pandemic

COVID-19 reveals what we knew all along: that employment-based health insurance is messed up. In this episode, we explore the consequences that unjust policies and an inadequate safety net have brought to bear in the face of a public health crisis. Joe Biden also takes some heat for doubling down on his opposition to Medicare for All.

Show Notes

The M4A podcast is back! We were down for 3 weeks while coronavirus took out our recording studio, but Ben & Stephanie recorded episode 8 from the comfort of their homes.

Stephanie leaves out Joel Freedman, the venture capitalist who acquired Hanhemann Hospital in Philadelphia, ran it into the ground, then tried to profit off the pandemic crisis by offering to re-open the hospital for COVID-19 patients for $1 million per month.

First we look at the relief bill passed by Congress to address the coronavirus crisis. While it requires health insurers to cover testing of coronavirus for free, it does not require health insurers to provide free treatment for those who contract the virus. While some insurers are voluntarily waving co-payments and deductibles for treatment of coronavirus, many are not – and for “self-insured plans” – which is most large employers – each individual employer can choose whether they want to cover coronavirus treatment for free for their employees.

This is why a “multi-payer” healthcare system is insane – every insurer and every employer gets to make a different decision about whether you can afford to receive care for the pandemic. To witness the insanity up-close, visit AHIP’s page listing how every different insurer in the country is offering different levels of coverage for coronavirus patients – including some who are doing nothing but marketing their irrelevant “telehealth” packages.

If you want to see what happens when you let employers choose their employee’s healthcare access during a pandemic, look no further than Hobby Lobby, who’s CEO has kept their stores open – risking the lives of customers and employees – because God told his wife they should. He has refused, however, to offer Hobby Lobby employees paid sick leave.

Despite promises to the contrary by the CDC, Americans are in fact facing bills amounting to thousands of dollars when seeking – and receiving – care for coronavirus. This includes Walking Dead actor Daniel Newman, who went to the hospital with flu-like symptoms and left with a $9,000+ hospital bill – but no diagnosis of whether he has COVID-19 or not. When a blond, muscle-bound Hollywood can’t get care for coronavirus without being bankrupted, we are all fucked!

One silver lining of the crisis: the Trump administration has been forced to back off new regulations that penalize immigrants for accessing Medicaid when they apply to become citizens.

Flashing back to the last Democratic debate between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, Biden rejected the notion that Medicare for All would help with addressing the coronavirus crisis, and instead recommends only requiring coverage of testing and treatment for COVID-19. Stephanie reminds Joe that the millions of people who lose their jobs during this crisis (40 million projected in April alone), are going to lose access to all healthcarebecause we don’t have Medicare for All.

Ben & Stephanie discuss the mind-boggling fact that Congress’s relief bill included no provision for extending healthcare coverage to any unemployed people. It is harder than people think to qualify for Medicaid or subsidized care through the Affordable Care Act, and in states that did not expand Medicaid, uninsurance levels are going to be catastrophic.

Already, the horror stories of uninsured patients dying from coronavirus after not receiving care, or receiving massive hospital bills when they do get care, are being covered in the press. This will lead many of the uninsured to avoid care, for fear of crippling medical bills. Joe Biden doesn’t give a fuckhe doubled down on his dismissal of Medicare for All in an interview, even after all of this.

Finally, Ben & Stephanie discuss the myriad other ways in which our profit-driven healthcare system has hurt our ability to deal with this crisis. The U.S. has lost more than 70% of our hospital beds since 1960, in large part because rural and safety-net hospitals are unprofitable, and continue to have to close. This has particularly decimated When we have fewer medical resources – like hospital beds, ventilators, and masks – we have to “lower the curve” of the pandemic even lower than countries with more adequate resources.

In addition to the overall shortage, states and hospitals are now engaged in bidding wars for desperately needed medical supplies, whereas sane countries with M4A systems are coordinating their response and sending resources where they’re most needed.

To not end on a completely depressing note: we’re super inspired by the uprising of workers who are at risk in essential service areas like hospitals and supermarkets, plus a hat-tip to the California Nurses Association for organizing an amazing and creative social distancing picket in Modesto!

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