From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject The Pandemic Proves We Need Single Payer, Medicare For All
Date May 12, 2020 12:05 AM
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[From our vantage point at the beginning of this pandemic, it is
not hard to see how it would have been different if we had had a
Medicare for All system before the virus arrived.]
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Marilyn Albert
May 11, 2020
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_ From our vantage point at the beginning of this pandemic, it is not
hard to see how it would have been different if we had had a Medicare
for All system before the virus arrived. _

, J. Bicking


It is often said that events like the COVID19 pandemic open minds to
bold ideas previously not accepted.  We can see this every day --
with both immediate and longer-term solutions coming into clearer and
clearer focus.  We are also learning more about the crisis before the
crisis – in the hospitals, nursing homes, working class communities,
and especially among oppressed people.


Think back to the Presidential primary debates of three months ago and
their frustrating discussion of Medicare for All.  But then, exit
polls in each primary, whether Sanders won or lost, showed a majority
of Democratic voters favoring Medicare for All.

As COVID19 has circled the world, the whole discussion about Medicare
for All, single payer is shifting -- as the people ask, how could this
happen? How can we prevent it from happening again? When should
publicly accountable government replace profit making? These are no
longer theoretical questions.  The utter failures of the profit-based
health care system are right before our eyes every day.


When the symptoms of the coronavirus appear, everyone is told
“don’t come to the Emergency Room!  Call your doctor!”  - 
which is correct, except that at least 25% of Americans do not have a
primary care doctor they can just call.  For those with underlying
chronic conditions – the comorbidities that make the virus so
dangerous– the COVID crisis has displaced their regular sources of
care – doctors’ visits of all kinds have dropped precipitously,
 so the chronically ill may sicken more quickly, becoming much more
vulnerable to the virus.

When we are so sick that we succeed in making our way into a hospital,
we encounter an industry functioning very poorly.  The whole idea of
“surge capacity” in hospitals has been a joke for 30 years – the
United States has the lowest number of hospital beds per capita than
any other country. Ever expanding hospital networks, including those
owned by private equity capital, are regularly closing unprofitable
hospitals in both urban and rural areas, while simultaneously building
brand new hospitals in well insured neighborhoods. Long standing
hospitals have been subjected to continuous cuts of departments,
units, and beds for 30 years.   Patients lining hallways of ERs even
for days was the crisis before the crisis -- ER staffs have coped with
this for many years. “Just in time staffing” of hospitals has been
refined to the point where many nursing workers do not know their work
schedule for the upcoming week. Newly minted registered nurses have
trouble finding full time jobs.  

Hospital systems have been in ruthless competition with each other for
market share.  Huge reductions in “covered lives”, as the
insurers call them, resulting from the pandemic’s unemployment
explosion, will further destabilize the hospitals’ finances. The
bailout of the hospitals in the first round of COVID legislation has
been turned over for administration to the biggest profit-making
insurance company, United Health! How these funds will be used has
been a mystery so far.  Supposedly a lot of COVID care will be
directly paid for by the government to the hospitals, but we don’t
know yet how much of the cost of care will be billed to patients.
 Bills for critical care could be hundreds of thousands of dollars,
and many ER bills will be unpaid by insurance companies because ER
doctors have been moved out of hospital networks, again a product of
private equity capital’s intrusion into health care. This is the
cause of so-called “surprise billing”.

 Another predictor of the private insurance-based health system
collapse is that private insurance premiums may increase by up to 40%
after the pandemic.

As of mid-April, about 9000 health care workers in the United States
have been infected.  We know many have died, as have transportation
workers, grocery workers, and other “essential workers”. Some in
the industry suspect that hospital managements are hoarding personal
protective equipment and not distributing it to workers who need them
immediately.  This is consistent with how hospital managers have
inured workers to worsening conditions for years, telling staff
 “this is only temporary, do the best you can” as they hope
workers get used to it and save the hospital money long term.

10,000 residents of skilled nursing facilities are dead from the virus
as of the last week of April. In California, 40% of COVID deaths have
been attributed to elder care facilities.   70% of nursing homes are
run for profit, and many have been the sites of bitter union
struggles.  The vast majority have been chronically understaffed,
with extremely high turnover rates. Before COVID, 400,000 residents
died due to nursing home infections nationally every year.  Even in
unionized homes, one nursing assistant often cares for 15 patients
during a shift.  Family members who are accustomed to doing their own
checking on conditions cannot go inside the facilities now.

In mid-April, we began learning of extremely high infection rates
among both among symptomatic and asymptomatic residents and staff
members in the few homes where everyone has been tested. Another big
problem is that infectious and non-infected nursing home and
rehabilitation residents are being mixed together, which will possibly
prove disastrous.  The Governors of California and Connecticut have
called in the National Guard to do inspections, fast COVID testing,
isolate the infectious, and care for the residents at risk.
Governments cannot rely on reports filed by those eldercare facilities
which are dishonest – which is way too many!  More emergency action
must be taken to save our elders at the epicenter of the crisis!


Medical racism has been a crisis before this crisis. But the data we
are seeing in recent weeks is shocking. Chicago, Louisiana, and
Milwaukee are areas where the African American death rate is hugely
higher than the percent of Black people in the general population,
sometimes 40 to 70% of all total deaths!  In South Carolina, where
African Americans compose 27% of the population, they represent 55% of
the COVID deaths.   The death rate for Latinos in New York City is
twice that of whites. The Navaho Nation ranks third in deaths
following New York State and New Jersey.  

The immigrant detention camps – hardly mentioned by the media lately
– could be COVID breeding grounds. The immigrants must be moved into
humane living conditions immediately.

Being in prison or a jail could be a death sentence, no matter why the
incarcerated person is there or how short a time.   The ACLU has
done a study showing that mass incarceration will add 100,000 deaths
unless there is substantial reduction of the jailed population

Dr. Fauci was wrong when he was asked about the racial disparities in
the pandemic and he said nothing can be done right now to address this
other than give everyone good care.  

There _are_ immediate steps which can be taken to reverse the death
toll in oppressed communities and these steps must be called for!
 This is an area where the Medicare for All movement should coalition
with community and worker leaders. Such steps include:

· Immediate expansion of Medicaid in the states which have refused to
do it.

· Immediate COVID testing, and culturally competent COVID education
in neighborhoods and workplaces where people are too crowded together.

· Emergency food distribution in food insecure communities.

· Early medical care when symptoms appear in the people, as well as
voluntary, comfortable isolation of infectious persons, accompanied by
continuous testing of their status.

· New plans of action for chronic illnesses to improve the peoples’
health as fast as possible. Hypertension, diabetes, and chronic lung
and heart diseases must be addressed as an emergency.



Some economists predict 40 to 50 million people will lose their jobs
as a result of the pandemic, losing their healthcare also. This makes
the biggest anti-Medicare for All talking point -- that everybody
loves their employer-paid insurance -- now practically useless to our
opponents.  People are convinced that we need universal health care
not related to employment.

There is good news in two new polls. The first, done by Politico the
last week of March – shows that from February to March, somewhat
early in the pandemic in the US – support for Medicare for All rose
by 9 points.  And that is following months of massive attacks on
Medicare for All during Bernie Sanders’ primary campaign.  The
second poll, released by Hill-Harris on approximately April 24th,
showed that 88 percent of Democrats favor Medicare for All. Biden is
being told his previous position is politically untenable.  Bernie
Sanders and other progressive forces are said to be in negotiation
with Biden over his health care position in light of new levels of
support for Medicare for All.  


We can scroll through HR 1384, Congresswoman Jayapal’s Medicare for
All Act of 2019, and see how each section of the bill now resonates
with meaning in new ways:

· Everybody will be covered equally – the government will pay the
bills – no premiums, deductibles and copays, which are the costs
that are keeping people from presenting for care until they are
extremely ill from COVID and cause people to delay care for chronic

· What has been sorely lacking in the United States - _planning,
cooperation, and_ _coordination_ are fundamental to a single payer
system.  Everyone could choose their providers freely, with hospitals
competing only on the basis of the quality of their care.  Although
most hospitals would still be privately owned under our current
Medicare for All proposals,  decisions about opening and closing
hospitals would be made by the publicly accountable governing
structures on a national, state, and regional basis, not by hospitals
or their owners themselves.

· Long term care will be a major benefit under Medicare for All,
placed under public financing and control. Life care for our elders
can be transformed under Medicare for All to being safe and enjoyable.

· Our single payer system would participate in a global public health
network, likely led by the World Health Organization of the United
Nations.  Data collection from health facilities, universities, and
localities would be uniformly collected by states and the Federal
government, facilitating much more efficient medical research, absent
any profit motive. Thus, American health research would be more
sharable and useful to the rest of the world.

· A reserve army of health workers could be built. New types of
health workers would be necessary in a single payer system –
increased numbers of community level workers, greater numbers of home
care workers, nurses, mental health and substance use counselors and
especially,  primary care doctors,   would be needed and funded.



From our vantage point at the beginning of this pandemic, it is not
hard to see how it would have been different if we had had a Medicare
for All system before the virus arrived.

Thousands have probably died unnecessarily because of the Trump
Administration’s malfeasance, corruption, and

Now is our chance – if we act with confidence and sharpen our
tactics – to convince the people to support publicly financed,
accountable, unified, national health insurance – a big structural
change, which could be one of many.  Another world is possible with
COVID19 and Donald Trump gone!

_ Marilyn Albert is a retired Registered Nurse and health care union
activist, living in Richmond, California._

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