The coronavirus may exacerbate the ongoing healthcare crisis

After a grim warning by top CDC official Dr. Anthony Fauci that a coronavirus outbreak in the United States was inevitable, there are now at least 536 confirmed cases with 22 deaths at time of writing. Around the world, the virus has rapidly spread and has now infected over 97,000 people in 81 countries, with the death toll rising over 3,300. As Washington and California have each declared a state of emergency, the Trump Administration is racing to stop the spread of coronavirus by expanding testing following the initially slow rollout. In addition to this, the House and Senate have both approved of an $8.3 billion emergency response bill to battle the new coronavirus.

This coronavirus infects the lower respiratory tract, causing patients to develop a fever, cough and aches until it progresses to shortness of breath and pneumonia. According to new reports, the mortality rate ranges between 2% to 3.4% based on the number of confirmed cases and deaths, all of which change on a daily basis. COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is highly contagious but much is still unknown about the virus. This makes it difficult for the United States and our healthcare system to be fully prepared to fight the deadly outbreak.

Although the confirmed cases of coronavirus are lower in the U.S. than other countries and its spread is not as pervasive, we must take the potentially devastating effects that a surge in coronavirus cases may have on a country already plagued by an ongoing healthcare crisis seriously.

According to a 2018 report from the Commonwealth Fund, researchers estimated that 87 million Americans were uninsured or had no coverage for at least a part of last year. In addition to this, studies consistently show that the healthcare system in the United States remains among the worst compared to other developed countries such as Canada, France, Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom and others in terms of access, outcomes and quality of care. Even with the “strong economy” that President Trump boasts of, nearly 7 million Americans have become uninsured since Trump took office in 2016. Combine all of this with the fact that over 500,000 families will go bankrupt this year due to medical expenses and, suddenly, it becomes clear that our healthcare system is not only incredibly fragile, but would amplify a public health nightmare.

In the case of a massive outbreak of disease, millions of vulnerable Americans who don’t have access to quality healthcare and cannot afford to pay thousands of dollars in copays and deductibles will suffer under our current system. The Miami Herald reported on the story of a young man named Osmel Martinez Azcue. Azcue, upon his return from China, made the responsible decision to get tested for coronavirus. Fortunately, Azcue was found to have no traces of the novel virus, however that visit to the hospital still ended up costing him $3,270. After insurance, Azcue is responsible for paying at least $1,400 of the bill due to his new insurance company’s strict requirements, but this shows that even those who are insured face tough numbers. Worries about such catastrophically high deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses will undoubtedly deter many Americans from seeking necessary care and will put more people at risk. 

Despite being one of the wealthiest nations, the United States is also one of few developed nations that does not guarantee paid sick leave to workers, meaning that millions of Americans cannot afford to take days off of work to recover from illness. More than a third of American workers today are unable to get paid sick leave and are forced to work while sick, passing illnesses to their coworkers as well as those they interact with due to the fear of missing a day of work and the financial devastation it would cause. 

In recent years, a dozen states and many cities across the nation have made progress in passing paid sick leave laws but more needs to be done to avert a potential outbreak. No American should ever have to worry about getting paid sick leave or experience bankruptcy as a result of crippling medical costs, especially during a global epidemic. There should be no cost barriers in seeking and receiving necessary medical treatment. The U.S. is unprepared for a massive disease outbreak if millions of Americans today do not have access to universal healthcare and are not guaranteed paid sick leave. 

We should be asking ourselves why we continue to uphold a failed healthcare system that leaves millions uninsured and poses a threat to the security and well-being of the entire country. As the risk of a global epidemic rages across the country, millions of infected Americans will be left in its dust and the economy will be ravaged by a failed healthcare system.

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