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We Should Be Fighting For Healthcare For Everyone, Not Taking It Away

As a nation, we will only be healthy if everyone has access to healthcare.

The only comprehensive solution is Medicare for All. (Photo by Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The only comprehensive solution is Medicare for All. (Photo by Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A deadly virus has infected millions of people worldwide. Our President refuses to acknowledge this and refuses to take aggressive action to control the situation. Millions of people lack adequate healthcare coverage and can’t afford a trip to the doctor. Hospital systems are overwhelmed with patients and essential workers are risking their lives and their families across the country, without access to proper PPE or hazard pay. Instead of protecting us, the Trump Administration is trying to strip health coverage from millions of its citizens.

It sounds like a dystopian movie plot, but this is our reality. In the midst of a pandemic and some federal and state officials are trying to slash healthcare coverage exactly when it is most needed.

Despite Trump's false statement that the virus just “...snuck up on us,” epidemiologists warned of the coming disaster months ago. As other countries are on their way to containing the virus and carefully reopening their economies, the U.S. hit another record day of coronavirus cases. Despite Trump’s claim that we would run 5 million tests a day in late April, we’re still only testing about 500,000 people a day. Because of the administration’s failure to implement basic public health tools and its lies about the pandemic, we are falling further and further behind other countries in testing, tracing, and ensuring that all our people have the healthcare and financial safety net needed to weather the storm.

The pandemic is exposing the true cost of our for-profit healthcare system.

As COVID-19 disproportionately impacts communities of color, overwhelms our hospital systems, and shuts down businesses leading to an all time high unemployment rate, one thing remains clear: our ramshackle healthcare system is failing in the face of the pandemic. At the start of this pandemic, 87 million people were already uninsured or underinsured. That number has continued to grow as 5.4 million people and their families have lost their employer-sponsored insurance amid the crisis, which is more than in any other single year.

Additionally, immigrants were excluded from coronavirus relief enacted into law thus far and nearly 202,500 DACA recipients and approximately 131,000 TPS holders serve on the frontline of this crisis and lack access to healthcare.   

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To make matters worse, Republicans from 20 states and the Trump administration are challenging the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in court and working to strip health insurance from millions of people, during a pandemic. President Trump asked the Supreme Court to strike down the entire ACA since “the individual mandate penalty has been set to $0." The Supreme Court already dealt a serious blow to the ACA’s protections this term by ruling that allows employers to refuse to include contraceptives in their health plans.

We should be working to ensure healthcare coverage for everyone, not taking away people’s health insurance or access to basic health care like contraceptives. Instead of trying to dismantle health care protections during a pandemic, Congressional Democrats are fighting to strengthen the ACA through H.R. 1425, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act, which passed in the House on June 29, 2020 with some key additional positive amendments. This legislation would significantly increase the ACA’s affordability subsidies, negotiate for lower prescription drug prices, expand coverage, and strengthen protections for people with pre-existing conditions. It’s a step in the right direction, but we must go further.

Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Mark Pocan and other progressive champions successfully added positive provisions from Reps. Jayapal and Haaland’s Health Equity and Access under the Law (HEAL) for Immigrant Women and Families Act that would expand access to healthcare for DACA recipients. DACA recipients, especially the 27,000 DACA healthcare workers, often struggle to obtain healthcare coverage and have been excluded from other relief packages. Although the Supreme Court overturned Trump’s termination of DACA, hundreds of thousands of Dreamers still face a number of challenges including accessing healthcare. The HEAL Act is crucial and would provide immigrants with some of the relief and protections they deserve, including removing the restrictive 5-year waiting period to enroll in health coverage.

In June, Democrats in the House passed the Heroes Act, a $3 trillion dollar relief package that will provide people with continued unemployment benefits, direct cash assistance, housing protections, relief for immigrants, voting rights, and more. Instead of taking up the Heroes Act or the HEAL Act, the Republican-led Senate is pushing for more corporate bailouts, resisting continuing expanded unemployment insurance, and trying to give corporations immunity from lawsuits if they recklessly endanger their workers and customers.

The pandemic is exposing the true cost of our for-profit healthcare system. As a nation, we will only be healthy if everyone has access to healthcare. The only comprehensive solution is Medicare for All. People of color are dying at disproportionate rates due to COVID-19 and although the virus does not discriminate, our healthcare system does. Dreamers and immigrants are left behind, people are unable to afford testing and treatment, and the pandemic is only getting worse. With the expiration of expanded unemployment insurance, millions facing evictions as layoffs continue, and cases, hospitalizations, and deaths surging nationwide, we need to do more, not less. Congress must take immediate action to help those in need during this crisis, and then we must build a system that could have prevented many of the issues we face today. That means fighting to achieve Medicare for All.

Hebah Kassem

Hebah Kassem, MPH, is the organizing associate at the Progressive Caucus Action Fund where she leads the organization's advocacy efforts on Medicare for All. She is a long-time organizer and advocate for communities of color to achieve racial and health equity.

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