After millions of Americans abruptly lost their jobs this month due to the coronavirus, resulting in a record-shattering 3.28 million unemployment claims in one week, Medicare for All advocates are pointing to the crisis as the latest and clearest evidence that the U.S. must abandon its for-profit healthcare system once and for all.
"I've been told people like 'choice' when it comes to healthcare, the 3 million people fired this week didn't have any choice when losing their health insurance."
—Adam H. Johnson, The Appeal
Nearly half of the American population has health insurance through their jobs, a system which critics—including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—have long said is precarious for millions of workers.
With restaurants, retail stores, and other businesses closing their doors across the country to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, millions of workers could now be forced to seek coverage through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), through the Affordable Care Act, or through Medicaid.
Medicare for All means never losing your health insurance if you lose your job. That is what we must guarantee to the American people.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 26, 2020
Highlighting the March 2020 spike in a graph showing U.S. jobless claims over the past five decades, advocacy group Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) issued a reminder that "under Medicare for All, nobody would have to worry about health coverage after losing their job."
Under #MedicareForAll, *nobody* would have to worry about health coverage after losing their job. No COBRA with its outrageous premiums. No exchange policies with their sky-high deductibles. Just comprehensive #SinglePayer coverage that you can never, ever lose. https://t.co/pFvcs7gtim
— Physicians for a National Health Program (@PNHP) March 26, 2020
The image, Sanders' campaign advisor, David Sirota, tweeted, "explains one of the reasons why employer-based private health insurance is extremely bad."
Other critics suggested the coronavirus pandemic should mark the end of claims made by politicians and commentators that tying health coverage to one's employment is beneficial for workers and the economy.
"You have zero excuse for supporting a candidate who opposes Medicare for All at this point," podcast host Benjamin Dixon tweeted. "3.3 million people just lost their 'if you like your employer benefits you can keep them' benefits. Healthcare can never again be tied to employment."
Remember being told: 'If you like your private health plan, you can keep it'?
3 million+ Americans filed unemployment claims last week.
50% of Americans get their health insurance through work.
Millions will lose their insurance. DURING A PANDEMIC.
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— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) March 26, 2020
I've been told people like "choice" when it comes to healthcare, the 3m people fired this week didn't have any choice when losing their health insurance. To say nothing of the fact that, if they were lucky enough to have it, they didn't even choose the plan, their employer did
— Adam H. Johnson (@adamjohnsonNYC) March 26, 2020
"if you like your insurance you can keep it" https://t.co/kv9PH2F6VT
— Sarah Jaffe (@sarahljaffe) March 26, 2020
sure seems like Medicare for All is a much smarter plan than tying health care coverage to employment!
— Sarah Jones (@onesarahjones) March 26, 2020
As Fordham University professor Ashar Foley wrote in an op-ed at Common Dreams Wednesday, the explosion of jobless claims and the resulting crisis of uninsured and underinsured Americans which is likely to follow is just one way in which the coronavirus pandemic has proven the private, for-profit health insurance model to be unsustainable and dangerous:
It is too early to say which countries will prove most successful in containing the virus, but there are indications that those with single-payer systems have the advantage.
As Helen Buckingham of the Nuffield Trust told the Washington Post, the U.K.'s National Health Service is well-positioned to cope. It has a clear and comprehensive emergency planning structure with the ability to optimize resource use, even after years of government budget cuts.
Federalized health care means centralized patient information. As Kelsey Piper reported for Vox, Taiwan's ability to get information quickly from citizens' medical files, combined with proactive containment, enabled testing for the virus as early as December. Despite high traffic with mainland China, Taiwan only had 45 confirmed cases of the disease and one death in early March.
Similarly, South Korea's aggressive testing and universal coverage helped the country "flatten the curve" more effectively than any other so far.
"If we continue to put our political and economic ideologies ahead of our health, we stand to lose everything," Foley wrote.