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Commentary: How COVID-19 caused the US to implement universal health care

By Amy Faith Ho, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government made a stunning declaration: Health care is a right, not just a privilege — a right that would be immediately funded and backed with more than $100 billion.

As one of the most unassuming side effects of the coronavirus, America, for the first time in its history, implemented a system of universal health care.

Here's how it happened.

In mid-March, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act was enacted in the face of looming economic turmoil — it required sick leave be paid by certain employers, expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits and established the standard of free coronavirus testing. This was quickly broadened by the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, to a total of $2 billion in reimbursement to providers to cover testing for the uninsured. Around the same time, the CARES Act was passed, which allocated as much as $100 billion more to the health care industry to treat uninsured COVID-19 patients.

Initial fear and uncertainty of the virus' toll established the political climate to pass this disease-specific universal coverage, without debate on whether health care was a privilege or a right. With this series of rapidly signed bills, policymakers answered that question — and with resounding consensus.

Remarkably, six months into universal "COVIDcare," there have been no constitutional challenges, no "death panels" and no political theater or doomsaying about it.

 

The provisions of these COVID-19-response bills will expire when the public health emergency ends. While the panic surrounding the coronavirus has decreased, the social and economic impacts of it are just beginning to be realized.

Another emergency is brewing.

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Hospital charges are still being tallied, cases continue to climb, and the country's cumulative COVID-19 bill is already crippling. Insurers will likely offset these towering costs by drastically raising premiums, possibly beyond the threshold of affordability for most Americans. Unemployment continues to rise as funds from the Paycheck Protection Program — a federal loan program designed to help small businesses keep workers on the payroll — run out and furloughs become permanent layoffs.

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