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COVID-19 Crisis Underscores Crisis in America’s For-Profit Health Care System

By Zach Brown

The dire health care implications of the COVID-19 crisis underscores the importance of being informed –not only of the devastating harms caused by the virus, but also the various solutions being offered to address the crisis. For decades, Public Citizen has advocated for a health care system where a person’s finances would not determine whether they can get the treatment they need. Our expensive, for-profit health care system is failing working families at the worst possible time.

Fortunately, there are multiple members of Congress who share this sentiment and are crafting legislation that Public Citizen strongly supports. First, there is the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Karen Bass (D-Calif.). Under this bill, our current Medicare system is bolstered to be able to cover all out-of-pocket costs, including for coronavirus-related treatment for all uninsured Americans, for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. The bill also has several additional equitable provisions detailing that there will be a ban on surprise billing, a limit on prescription drug prices, a stop to the decrease of coverage by private insurance companies, and ample oversight on the implementation of the program.

Another recent proposal gaining traction is the Medicare Crisis Program Act. Introduced by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), the Medicare Crisis Program Act would allow Americans applying for unemployment to enroll in traditional Medicare, meaning they could maintain health care coverage after losing their employment-sponsored insurance. The bill would also eliminate out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 treatment and cap other out-of-pocket costs for Medicare enrollees as well. The bill also incentivizes states to expand their Medicaid programs to aid people who were uninsured before the COVID-19 crisis. Finally, the bill would pay for the COVID-19 care for Americans who are uninsured.

While immediate legislative action on these bills is necessary, these temporary measures highlight the absurdity of tying health insurance to employment. With unemployment rates soaring, the effects to health care coverage have already been dire. While it istrue that COVID-19 has impacted virtually every country around the world, among comparably wealthy countries, America is uniquely vulnerable to its dangers because of our nation’s absurd approach to health care coverage. America’s profit-based health care system has truly dug the pit we now find ourselves in.

For this reason, Public Citizen will continue to lead the charge to pass Medicare for All, which would guarantee that everyone in the U.S. could finally get the care they need, regardless of their ability to pay, and not be limited to moments of health care emergencies like we are facing now. While the arguments for Medicare for All have never been stronger, in the midst of a nationwide pandemic, the expansion of our national healthcare provision to cover everyone is simply non-negotiable.

We encourage you to please contact your representative and your senators by calling (202) 224-3121 and ask them to support the Medicare Crisis Program Act and the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act. And, after making the call to Congress to ensure these pandemic health care protections are passed, find out how to get engaged in your local community to pass Medicare for All to ensure that moving forward, anyone who needs health care is able to get it.