In a prime-time televised address so filled with blatant errors that fact-checkers and the White House struggled to keep up and correct the record, President Donald Trump Wednesday night claimed that major U.S. insurance companies "have agreed to waive all copayments for coronavirus treatments" as the disease rapidly spreads across the nation.
A spokesperson for America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a major insurance industry lobbying group, was quick to clarify that, actually, companies are only waiving copays for "testing." For those who test positive for COVID-19, any treatment will still come at a (potentially massive) cost.
"Insurance companies exist to make a profit. They do not exist to provide you with healthcare. Profiting off a pandemic is beyond immoral."
"For testing. Not for treatment," the AHIP spokesperson told Politico healthcare reporter Sarah Owermohle after Trump delivered his prepared remarks, which included a muddled declaration of a temporary travel ban from much of Europe, sparking widespread confusion and sending markets into an even deeper tailspin.
A White House official also stepped in to correct Trump's claim that insurance companies agreed to waive copays for coronavirus treatment after meeting with the president at the White House on Tuesday.
"Heaven forbid they miss a chance to bankrupt sick people," tweeted Lori Kearns, legislative director for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the most prominent champion of a policy that would entirely eliminate insurance copays, premiums, and deductibles.
Private health insurer: "Yes, you may have a #coronavirus test without meeting your deductible or paying a co-pay."
Patient: "Ugh, I have the virus!"
Private health insurer: "Good luck with your $8,150 deductible and $1,200 ER co-pay, sucker!" https://t.co/6D0xfptbaE
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— Medicare for All (@AllOnMedicare) March 12, 2020
Insurance companies exist to make a profit. They do not exist to provide you with healthcare. Profiting off a pandemic is beyond immoral. https://t.co/5CS69Ja5P2
— Kim Nelson For Congress (@KimforSC) March 12, 2020
The coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. has thrown into sharp relief the systemic flaws at the heart of America's profit-driven healthcare system, which has left around 30 million people entirely without insurance and tens of millions more with inadequate coverage. As Common Dreams reported, some have been hit thousands of dollars in surprise medical bills after seeking coronavirus testing.
"The national healthcare system is of course the most important tool for any country trying to fight off an epidemic—all citizens need to be able to get tested, receive treatment, or be quarantined if necessary," wrote The Week's Ryan Cooper in a column last week. "If and when a vaccine is developed, the system needs to distribute it to everyone as fast as possible. That means handing it out for free in locations across the country, and perhaps making it mandatory if uptake is insufficient."
"The American healthcare system fails at every one of these tasks," Cooper added.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a supporter of Medicare for All, suggested in a tweet Wednesday night that—among other measures—the U.S. government should extend Medicare or Medicaid coverage to everyone in the U.S. amid the coronavirus outbreak, which has hit at least 34 states and killed more than 30 people.