As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the nation, the 2020 presidential election has been relegated to the backburner as Washington scrambles to fix our deteriorating economy and public health system. As of April 3, the U.S. has seen over 380,000 cases and 12,000 deaths. With around 27.5 million U.S. residents lacking health insurance, Americans have been left without the resources they need to survive this crisis. The pandemic has exposed the stark inequity and faults in the U.S. health care system, and going forward in 2020, we must push our leaders to prioritize reform such as extending coverage and mandating paid sick leave.
People of low socioeconomic status are often forced to choose between paying their bills or maintaining their health, which is only exacerbated during an outbreak. The disparity is glaring: 8% of the highest quarter civilian earners have no access to paid sick leave compared to 49% of the lowest quarter. This health care disparity makes it harder for everyone to contain COVID-19 as low-income people are more inclined to work while sick instead of social distancing. Health care experts also point out that COVID-19 will overwhelm poor communities much faster than wealthier communities. Paid sick leave is vital to curbing the outbreak, and it must be incorporated into our daily lives beyond exigent circumstances. The pandemic has exposed the key ramifications of these flaws in our health care system, and as such, we must demand mandated paid sick leave nationwide to ease the burden on low-income people.
Every individual, regardless of their socioeconomic status, deserves access to health care, and the pandemic further exemplifies the need for health care reform. Last year, 26% of Americans deferred health care because they could not afford it, making them less likely to seek medical care and exacerbating the current spread of COVID-19. In wake of the coronavirus, around 10 million people have filed for unemployment benefits so far, many of whom lost not only their source of income but also their health care benefits. Therein lies the problem of job-based health care; their sudden loss of coverage affirms the pressing need for reform. Health care should not be predicated on employment. The pandemic is a striking reminder of what the U.S. plunged with chaos and fear looks like, and we must do everything we can to ensure that people have access to health care no matter the current state of the nation. A universal health care system, or at the very least expanded coverage, is the most equitable way to fix these discrepancies and mitigate potential future crises.
Even President Donald Trump, despite his minimization of the pandemic and ineffective leadership of the government’s response, has acknowledged the necessity of freely available health care during the COVID-19 pandemic. He recently announced plans to use money from a $100 billion fund to pay hospital fees related to COVID-19 for uninsured patients, although whether states that encompass the highest rate of uninsured individuals will receive the money is questionable.
Trump’s announcement is not as equitable as it might initially seem however, given that he failed to cover undocumented immigrants in this crisis as well. Regardless of one’s stance on immigration, health care is a fundamental human right and denying access to immigrants is immoral and reprehensible. The coronavirus brings key issues to light — it is not enough to expand health care coverage during a crisis; people should have access to health care at all times.
While action in light of the coronavirus is necessary, the issue will not end once the pandemic abates and we return to our everyday lives. While some will have an easier time returning to normality, others will be faced with the same issues that plagued them during the pandemic, including a lack of comprehensive health insurance and paid sick leave. The coronavirus crisis will define Trump’s presidency and the 2020 election, and we must use the momentum to push for reform. Voters, I urge you to call, write and rally to expand coverage and reform in health care — our leaders need to know that this is a key issue on our minds. When we step up to the ballot box in 2020, we must use our votes and voices to make reform an inevitability.
Brammhi Balarajan (23C) is from Las Vegas.