What will America’s health care system look like after the coronavirus pandemic?
Indeed, we’re in the middle of the battle and shouldn’t be distracted from our mission of flattening the curve, mobilizing our nation to supply needed ventilators, masks, and gloves, building out hospital bed capacity, creating a vaccine, and assisting individuals and businesses impacted by the economy’s shutdown.
But if we don’t accept the challenge of simultaneously fighting the virus and laying down a foundation for a better America, then the virus will have won – even after it has run its course.
The virus has exposed what no politician’s rhetoric could: America is in dire need of a universal health care system that ensures every person in our country is comprehensively and affordably covered.
The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, was a step in the right direction. But, it was inadequate. Tens of millions remained uninsured or underinsured. Co-payments, premiums, and deductibles have continued their inexorable rise.
With the coronavirus, our nation is discovering a fundamental truth: affordable, quality health care is not only a human right but essential to our national security and economy. As it turns out, our mobility, prosperity, and lives depend on the health of our neighbors and even strangers.
Scientists have been predicting an outbreak of a highly transmissible novel virus for decades, for which there is no vaccine or immunity, and the current coronavirus - SARS CoV-2 - is, statistically speaking, probably not the only such virus in the world. Combined with climate change’s contribution to disease proliferation, globalization, and an ever-expanding human population reducing standoff distance to such deadly, locked-away viruses, we should assume that another pandemic in our lifetime is possible.
Moreover, the mounting, unserved health care needs of our communities - independent of the virus - are undermining the nation. Essential procedures are being skipped by too many in our country who simply cannot afford the medical visits or the related opportunity costs, including the risk of losing one’s job. Preventative care is too seldom pursued, enabling illnesses to get an unfair head start.
That is not only immoral, it’s anti-business. After all, how many potential entrepreneurs with the next big thing in mind - the next Steve Jobs, perhaps - will forgo materializing their dreams into business reality - and the thousands of associated livable-wage American jobs - because of the likelihood of losing employer-dominated health care coverage for their families and themselves? How many companies’ productivity - and profits - would increase if their workers and the country’s labor pool were healthier? How could other nations possibly compete with an America that properly, finally, invests in the health of its people?
As a nation, we’ve lost thousands of our fellow citizens to this pandemic, with a full-blown war’s worth of casualties likely to come. Congress owes it to them and their families that they did not lose their lives in vain, that their fate helped transform America into a more just, secure, and prosperous nation.
Congress should pass emergent legislation this year that establishes Medicare for All or a public option of full Medicare benefits to every person in our country, in perpetuity. And the president should sign it into law.
John Mues is a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Montana. A 4th generation Montanan, he is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and London Business School and has been a four-times deployed naval officer, engineer, and Montana teacher and ranch owner.