Currently, American healthcare is bound to your employer. If you’re unemployed the cost of healthcare is much greater than what you would pay through your employer and those without an employer are out of luck.
I recently quit my job and while working there I paid a little over $100 a month for medical insurance. Then I quit and was eligible for COBRA. For those who may not know, COBRA is a federal program that allows you to extend your health insurance from work, but you pay the full price instead of having your employer pay a substantial chunk of it. I would have to pay over $450 a month for the same health insurance through COBRA. If I were to get a plan from the healthcare marketplace, I could likely get a catastrophic plan for about $250 a month. Originally, my plan when quitting was to just forego insurance and hope for the best. However, in the midst of a pandemic, I suspect that may not be the best idea.
If you are uninsured and treated for COVID-19 in a hospital, it could cost $34,927.43. That number could be greater depending on where you went for treatment and how long you needed it. I am afraid to risk not having medical insurance with how likely it is I can get the virus, even if I have to pay $300 a month for healthcare that I probably won’t use unless I have an emergency. Even if I do have an emergency, I will think twice about going to a hospital because I will still need to pay costs out of pocket. According to The Verge, people could expect to pay more than $1,300 out-of-pocket for treatment with insurance. That number is taken from how much pneumonia treatment costs, and since COVID-19 seems worse than just plain old pneumonia, it is safe to assume it will likely be higher. Doing the math, The Verge‘s article claims that costs are on average around $20,000 for pneumonia treatment and the above $35,000 for COVID-19 treatment is 75% greater than that. It is nearly impossible to do the math with how insurance covers some costs and not others, but it is safe to say it will cost more out of pocket.
On top of health insurance costs, we must depend on employers for money to pay rent, student loans, utilities, cell phone service, groceries, car payments and insurance, and more. All of these things together can cost thousands of dollars a month for one person. For my student loans alone I pay about $600 a month. If I had an extra $600 a month I would be living much better than I am right now. I’d probably rent a nicer apartment and I might buy that VR headset I’ve had my eyes on for awhile, but regrettably many of us take out loans that give us a degree so we can get a well paying job. Then we’re in debt for at least the next decade of our lives.
The Power of Medicare for All
Medicare for All would ensure that I didn’t have to pay that $300 estimated above and you wouldn’t need to pay hundreds more if you were older. Yes, you would pay a bit more in taxes, but you would save on health insurance greatly. That’s not even taking into account premiums you must pay on top of insurance normally. You wouldn’t have to worry about premiums anymore. If you need care often because of a pre-existing condition, or therapy often because you’re depressed, or anything else that you must pay premiums for every week or two, you wouldn’t have to worry anymore.
Medicare for All would uncouple your life from the whims of your employer. You wouldn’t need to depend upon them for healthcare and you wouldn’t need to go without it to save money when unemployed. Yes, unions would lose their “Cadillac Health Plans” that Pete Buttigieg was such a big fan of, but they wouldn’t need to bargain for health insurance anymore. They could bargain for better pay, more paid leave, or profit-sharing. Union power would only increase under Medicare for All. For those who aren’t part of a union they should also see an increase in pay, since employers won’t be paying a large amount for every individual’s health insurance. Realistically though, this will likely lead to employers hoarding more wealth for their executive committee without legislation prohibiting just that.
Medicare for All would also allow transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people to not be dependent upon their employer for health insurance to pay for hormones or gender confirmation surgeries. There are tons of articles and statistics out there about high suicide rates for transgender people. Some report that the attempted suicide rate for trans people, over the course of their lifetimes, is “almost nine times the attempted suicide rate in the general U.S population.” Would that go down if they had access to hormones and healthcare? Yes, actually.
In general, the entire country and every person would save money under Medicare for All. The only reason the government is not implementing, as far as I can see, is that the pharmaceutical companies and private insurers wouldn’t be making tons of money anymore. Their executives would be able to go invest in another sector that hopefully doesn’t control whether people live or die. They don’t want that though, because the safest thing to invest in is the ability to save lives. No one should have to worry about if they have the money to live.
Insurance for the Unemployed
Unemployment is rising rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic and some estimate it could reach 20%. A current proposal to assist looks like it will pass though. It is a bill that would provide most adults with a one time $1,200 payment, but no alleviation for bills or health care payments (which can cost much much more than that). There are also giant business bailouts hidden within the bill, and they will pass because the mainstream media isn’t focused on them. Many people don’t realize that the bill will help big business much more than individuals. Small businesses get to take out loans that will need paid back later (with interest!) and many will likely go out of business. The bill will be passed in a hurry and many will praise it because the government “acted fast” to help “Americans.” Will we need another bill in a month? In three? Will more big businesses need bailed out? It is too soon to tell, but I can guarantee that individuals will need more help than what is being offered currently.
With the state of little to no help for unemployed workers, how will they pay for health insurance? It is hard to tell if many of the people unemployed now were full time or part time and if they were even getting medical benefits at their job to begin with, so do they even qualify? With the United States’ weird healthcare system, if they didn’t have insurance before being laid off or fired, then probably not.
Many unemployed people who do qualify for a special enrollment period will go to the healthcare marketplace and sign up for a catastrophic plan. Some might use their COBRA benefits to extend the healthcare they had with their recent employer (if they had any), but many will go without to save money. How can you justify paying hundreds of dollars in insurance a month when you have an income of less than a thousand dollars a month? You still have to pay for rent, student loans (if you have any), car payments/insurance, utilities, etc. It’s unfeasible for many people, even when employed, when the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
Temporarily Waiving Payments
If you watched the last Democratic candidate debate, you would have seen Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders sparring over how to deal with the pandemic. Joe Biden focused on temporarily waiving fees for health insurance, specifically fees related to testing and treatment for COVID-19. Bernie Sanders, however, painted a picture with the reality that health issues compound for a family, especially when limited money is involved. Bernie said,
“Let’s just do a hypothetical. A family member is diagnosed with the virus. Terrible tragedy, massive anxiety. The wife has the virus, the husband is a wreck, wants to go to a psychologist, wants to get counseling, doesn’t have the money to do that. Maybe their kid breaks a leg, they don’t have the money to go get healthcare.
(This quote is from Part 1 of the March 2020 debate at 14:07 here)
For some, one health-related payment, like getting treatment for COVID-19, is doable. If health issues compound, then likely not. In Bernie Sanders’ hypothetical above, the husband would likely go without care. The son would get treated first, and the wife if her symptoms got bad enough. They would be forced to go in debt to a hospital or credit card company to cover costs. Issues compound. The money you need to keep your family healthy has the ability to increase greatly at times like these.
Bernie Sanders realizes that every day working class people have to make decisions on what health problem they will take care of in their family. Now the managerial and middle classes worry about those things happening to themselves too, which is why we might get some government help soon.
How would Medicare for All Help Us Contain It?
The only way for us to contain the virus is by making it so everyone can go get testing and treatment without needing to pay out-of-pocket. This includes ensuring that people don’t need to go to work sick because they need to make money. People must be paid for time off. Whether this is through increasing unemployment or forcing corporations to pay for time off, we must let workers take time off when sick. We must cover medical costs for people or else they will not get tested. If a test costs even $100, many will hesitate to go. People will only go if they are gravely ill, have the money for treatment, or are rich and can get tested easily.
People must also receive assistance so the money they are getting from the government doesn’t go to waste immediately. We must cancel rent payments, mortgage payments, student loan payments, and utility payments as well as institute a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. We must also provide housing for all homeless people, especially during the pandemic as they are extremely at risk.
There are many good proposals out there that would help struggling people, but many of them are temporary. For many of us, our struggle and instability isn’t temporary. We can only hope that people realize this over the course of the pandemic and work to keep some of these measures being taken in place.
Temporarily nationalizing healthcare like Spain has already done is one such temporary and partial solution. It would assist us greatly in the short term, but with the economic fallout, people may be struggling to pay for healthcare for years to come.
We must develop comprehensive legislation so that next time a pandemic occurs we don’t need temporary solutions to help people. People are struggling every single day and we should always be assisting them. Medicare for All would be a huge step in the right direction.