Coronavirus: Medicare for All is what Americans need to face the global crisis, not unaffordable medical help

Medicare for all will allow people to go for medical help and screening and might save the country from the disease becoming a greater scare

                            Coronavirus: Medicare for All is what Americans need to face the global crisis, not unaffordable medical help
(Getty Images)

A story about a Miami man receiving a $3,270 medical bill from tests after fearing he was infected with the novel coronavirus, is making waves across the internet, serving as a cautionary tale for Americans who are 'accustomed' to their rather overpriced, for-profit healthcare system.

Fortunately, Osmel Martinez Azcue tested positive for regular flu and not COVID-19. However, he is left with a significant financial burden. 

While hospital officials told Azcue he will only have to pay $1,400 as he's covered under a limited insurance plan from National General Insurance, he will have to provide three years of medical records to the insurer to prove that the flu didn't relate to a pre-existing condition.

"How can they expect normal citizens to contribute to eliminating the potential risk of person-to-person spread if hospitals are waiting to charge us $3,270 for a simple blood test and a nasal swab?" he told the Miami Herald.

Chinese children wear plastic bottles as makeshift homemade protection and protective masks while waiting to check in on a flight at Beijing Capital Airport on January 30, 2020, in Beijing, China (Getty Images)

Several experts think Azcue's story foreshadows the havoc the COVID-19 could wreak in the United States. According to them, the United States' piecemeal healthcare system is designed in such a way that it disincentivizes the uninsured and underprivileged from seeking medical attention owing to the massive costs incurred — a far cry from universal healthcare plans of other developed nations.

There is growing support for a universal healthcare system plan in the United States in the guise of Medicare for All, with several pointing out how medical costs incurred during a pandemic will be far less with such a system in place.

"I can't tell you how many times the people who handle your food — who are already overworked and underpaid — show up sick to work because our country refuses to guarantee healthcare or paid sick leave," Congresswoman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) wrote on Twitter.

U.S. health officials made it clear on Tuesday that more aggressive measures might be needed to stop the spread of the coronavirus. There have been 14 confirmed cases in the United States and 445 people have been tested as of Thursday, February 27.

A Chinese health worker checks the temperature of a man entering a subway station during the Chinese New Year and Spring Festival on January 25, 2020, in Beijing, China (Getty Images)

"It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but more really a question of when it will happen," Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told reporters on Tuesday in a press conference. "We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare with the expectation that this could be bad."

An estimated 44 percent of Americans reportedly don't seek medical intervention when they're sick primarily due to the high costs associated with treatment.

In 2018, about 30% of Americans said they had to choose between paying medical bills or spending on basic necessities like food or housing, per federal data. What's more? The number of Americans without health insurance increased to 27.5M the following year. And as Dr. Messonnier warned on Tuesday, impoverished communities will be hit the hardest if the deadly virus continues to spread.

Thus, with inequality in medical care, even those getting the best medical help are vulnerable to COVID-19, since they might come in contact easily with the not-so-fortunate who cannot go for medical treatment even after being infected. Medicare for all ensures, in a way, that everyone in the country is safe from the outbreak or at least gets the necessary treatment, not endangering others' lives.

Democratic presidential candidates advocated their respective healthcare plans as they took to the debate stage on February 25. And while critics of Medicare for All often argued that such a plan only works on paper, one can't refute the fact that a lack of universal health insurance does leave us vulnerable in the face of a potential pandemic.

"There does seem to be obvious advantages to this system. However, it would depend on what the free market approach offers for individual patients for this particular outbreak," Dr. Stephen A Hoption Cann, a clinical professor at the University of British Columbia, told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW). "One would not want a symptomatic patient to avoid going to the hospital to seek advice simply over the potential costs of treatment," he added.

National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Director Nancy Messonnier speaks during a press conference at the Department of Health and Human Services on the public health response to the 2019 coronavirus (2019-nCoV) as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield looks on January 28, 2020, in Washington, DC (Getty Images)

Speaking to Salon, Peter Kolchinsky, author of 'The Great American Drug Deal: A New Prescription for Innovative and Affordable Medicines', made a case for government-funded healthcare in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

"If we paid for fire departments the way we pay for healthcare, the fire department would charge high copays and let the homes burn down of families who couldn't afford the out of pocket costs... and then if that fire were a virus, it would spread from house to house," he explained.

"So either the U.S. government must fund development of a vaccine and treatments, likely by using tax dollars to contract with private industry to develop the drugs it knows how to develop, or Congress must ensure that all insurance plans be mandated to pay for testing, vaccination, and treatment, and then offer coverage for the millions of Americans who have no insurance,"  Kolchinsky added.

President Donald Trump with Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, back center, and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health Anthony Fauci, right, and other members of the president's coronavirus task force speaks during a news conference at the Brady press briefing room of the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Washington (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

We asked Dr. Cann how one could keep medical expenses to a minimum if they are tested positive for the coronavirus.

"Now that we know a little more about this infection, we also know the characteristics of those who may suffer more severely (i.e. older individuals or those with other health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease) and those who may only have mild symptoms (such as younger, healthier individuals)," he explained.

"Thus, for many who have the infection, they are asked to stay at home until they recover. This would, of course, keep medical expenses at a minimum as not everyone needs to be put in isolation in a hospital," he advised.

As of now, the only approved American lab to perform testing for the coronavirus is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And while it is not charging potential patients for the testing, those who test positive for the virus may have to foot sizeable medical bills out of their own pockets.

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