In addition to being one of the most catastrophic events in American history, the COVID-19 epidemic has revealed many of the fault lines that exist within the US healthcare system at large.
Sadly, states where denial of the devastating effects of COVID has been the norm, have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Conversely, political leaders who have consistently played down the threat of the coronavirus outbreak have routinely had access to the best medical care available within the United States.
In truth, there are several ways in which COVID-19 has revealed inequalities within the US healthcare system. Firstly, COVID disproportionately impacts Americans living in poverty – particularly those individuals belonging to racial and ethnic minority groups. These individuals often work in sectors considered to be essential such as healthcare facilities, grocery stores, and public transportation. Such jobs often lack paid sick leave and require close contact with the public putting them at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. Individuals within this population often cannot afford to bear the costs of health insurance policies. Unless they are covered by low-income public healthcare plans provided by local governments, they often face massive hospital bills when they require medical attention due to a coronavirus diagnosis.
Secondly, COVID-19 reveals the problems inherent to congressional efforts bent on delegitimizing the Affordable Care Act. Under proposed changes, the ACA would lose provisions barring insurance companies from denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing health conditions. In a country that has just seen over 15 million of its citizens affected by a devastating virus, such an outcome could remove protections for a significant proportion of the population. We’re only just beginning to learn of the long term effects of the COVID-19 virus.
Finally, it is clear that COVID-19 has shone a light on the quality of healthcare the wealthiest citizens in the United States receive. Where money is no hindrance, COVID patients are far more likely to recover from the virus.
Sadly, this disparity in recovery outcomes often only reinforces the coronavirus’s depiction as a condition that is not serious. When a public figure makes a full recovery from COVID thanks to hundreds of thousands of dollars in top-tier medical care, it leaves less fortunate citizens to wonder whether safety precautions, such as mask-wearing and social distancing, are truly necessary.
Whether present conditions related to the American healthcare system will change in the wake of the COVID crisis is anyone’s guess. Still, it is clear that a system that benefits the wealthy while leaving struggling families to grapple with mountainous and ruinous medical bills is distinctly unfair. In a public health crisis of this scale, access to healthcare should quite simply not be an issue. Sadly, we may learn that lesson too late.