Cracking Under Pressure: How COVID-19 Exposes Flaws and Failures of the U.S. Healthcare System

Scrolling through social media during quarantine, we came across a post of a woman from New York who had recently lost her sister because hospitals had failed to diagnose her with the coronavirus.

Scrolling through social media during quarantine, we came across a post of a woman from New York who had recently lost her sister because hospitals had failed to diagnose her with the coronavirus. Despite her sister's efforts to get tested, she was ignored by healthcare officials, and eventually died, because she came from a lower socioeconomic background. We are living in unprecedented times, and Americans need healthcare now more than ever; however, our own system is failing us. Despite America's status as the wealthiest nation in the world, COVID-19 cases have surpassed one million in number, and deaths have soared to over 65,000, far beyond the figures of many other countries. Moreover, these are only the confirmed cases and deaths-the true numbers are likely higher than this. Although America's healthcare system was struggling to protect its low income citizens even before the pandemic, the global health crisis has truly exposed the underlying inequalities deeply rooted in this system, and the critical need to reform it.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, about 11 million Americans have lost health insurance because they were laid off from work. Nearly half of all citizens depend on their employers for healthcare. Thus, if people lose their jobs, they would have to shell out thousands of dollars for medical treatment, including treatment for COVID-19. According to the Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC), in 2018, the average American household spent around $5,000 in order to gain basic access to privatized health care systems and so that every member maintains their right to live. As a developed nation, Americans pay more than half the amount that other developed nations of the world pay, yet the coverage is not ensured. Too much of the money citizens pay is spent on medication costs (especially brand-name pharmaceuticals), expensive tests and procedures, and administrative costs, causing medical bills to skyrocket.

Moreover, citizens who cannot afford healthcare are hit with a huge decision if they contract COVID-19, as the United States is notorious for overcharging citizens for procedures or medical care. While those with medical insurance do not have to pay the majority of the inflated medical bills, citizens without medical insurance have to pay the full cost. Currently, uninsured Americans infected with COVID-19 could face up to a $70,000 medical bill to receive a six day treatment. Only those who are financially stable can truly afford healthcare, even during a crisis. The virus has already struck low-income households the hardest, as these are often the people who work in fields that require constant interaction with others; therefore, many low-income individuals who have contracted the virus are choosing to stay at home because of high treatment costs. Over the past two months, there were likely thousands of Americans who died at home because they are unable to afford visiting a hospital. Healthcare costs should never be high enough to make people afraid of seeking medical treatment, and it is a fundamental right that all Americans should be able to enjoy at least a basal degree of social security.

Regardless, even if low-income Americans can afford treatment, they don't always get the same quality of care as wealthier citizens. A glaring weakness of the American healthcare system is the disparity of aid for private hospitals versus publicly funded ones. For example, while all New York City hospitals struggled to obtain resources during the peak of the pandemic, public hospitals were even more deprived of funding and supplies, an issue that is highly ironic considering the number of patients they have to attend to compared to those in private medical centers. During this pandemic, many have questioned why communities of color have been hit the hardest. Although COVID-19 has been called the "great equalizer," Latinx and black people are much more likely to die of the coronavirus than people of other races. Yet it is the disparity in funding between public and private hospitals that explains why COVID-19 disproportionally affects people of color-the majority of communities of color are lower income and are consequently treated in public hospitals.

On the other hand, wealthy private hospitals in Manhattan like The Mount Sinai Hospital can utilize their connections to secure aid. For example, the hospital managed to obtain N95 masks, courtesy of Warren Buffet. This access is unfair when compared with the publicly funded University Heights hospital, which resorted to GoFundMe in a desperate attempt to get protective gear. Spain, meanwhile, solved this issue by allowing the government to take federal control of private insurance and private hospitals, guaranteeing that the quality of care in both types of hospitals was equal. This also allowed for more effective and affordable care to be implemented. It's clear that Spain prioritizes the health of all its citizens, but the same cannot be said for the United States-the very nature of the U.S. health system puts those working in and being served by public hospitals in danger. While the pandemic has made these disparities more apparent, these issues are nothing new. There is inequality within the system that will not be solved without healthcare reform.

If the United States does not make a change to its healthcare system, many lower income households will continue to suffer, especially during the current pandemic. In order to make healthcare equal and accessible to all American citizens, the United States needs to change from a privatized healthcare system to a public one which can sustain everyone. According to Bernie Sanders, eliminating tax loopholes, using tax revenue from richer people, and an employer payroll tax could make implementing Medicare For All feasible within the next 10 years. Eventually, the benefits of the program would outweigh the costs and save thousands of American lives. The current American health system harms those who are already marginalized in society. Healthcare for all is not socialism; it is simply a basic human right.


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