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Analysis: How For-Profit Health Care Worsened the Pandemic

Hundreds of Thousands of Deaths and Millions of Infections Would Likely Have Been Prevented Under Medicare for All

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new white paper by Public Citizen lays out how the for-profit health care system left the U.S. vulnerable and unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, and how a single-payer, government-run health care system in which all Americans were covered would have helped the U.S. response to the crisis and prevented thousands of deaths.

“The pandemic has shown how wide the gaps in our health care system remain and how easy it is for families to fall through them. Too many Americans were already suffering unnecessarily prior to the pandemic and COVID-19 just exacerbated the challenges people face,” said Eagan Kemp, Public Citizen’s health care policy advocate. “We already spend far more than any comparably wealthy country on health care while achieving far less and were left wholly unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The U.S. remains the only one of the 25 wealthiest countries to not provide universal health care, and the health care system’s focus on profits and not health has cost Americans their lives. Despite having less than 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has had 25% of the world’s confirmed cases and 20% of the deaths. Public Citizen’s new report demonstrates how:

  • Before the pandemic, approximately 87 million Americans were uninsured or underinsured. About one-third of COVID-19 deaths and 40% of infections were tied to a lack of insurance;
  • About half of Americans receive their health care through their employer. With more than 22 million Americans losing their job during the pandemic, millions have lost their health insurance;
  • Racial health disparities, including access to care, have led to disproportionate deaths in communities of color;
  • We have the highest rate of unmet need of any comparably wealthy country, with one-third of Americans reporting that they or a family member has avoided going to the doctor when sick or injured in the past year due to cost;
  • Americans are significantly more likely to die of chronic respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes or cancer than people in comparably wealthy countries with universal health care systems; and
  • A lack of essential funding led to insufficient hospital capacity. The U.S. had only around half the hospital beds per capita of peer nations and far fewer than countries like Japan or Germany.

Thousands of deaths would have been avoided if Medicare for All had been in place prior to the COVID-19 crisis, highlighting the need to enact policy before the next pandemic hits. Under such a system:

  • Hospitals, particularly rural hospitals, would receive the funds they need to stay open via yearly budgets instead of relying on admission rates and elective procedures;
  • Providers would better be able to coordinate patient care;
  • No American would have to skip a doctor visit because of cost or a lack of insurance; and
  • People of color would no longer face disproportionately high rates of uninsurance, reducing an important contributor to racial disparities in access to health care.

“We need to be prepared for the next pandemic, and we can’t be under the current for-profit system. The time has come for a health care system that guarantees health care for everyone in the U.S.,” said Kemp. “The time has come for Medicare for All.”

Read the full paper here.