Sean Kinlin: COVID-19 and the case for single-payer system

Published: 4/8/2020 1:55:05 PM
Modified: 4/8/2020 1:54:55 PM

With the spread of COVID-19, it is critical that testing and treatment be widely available. This situation makes clear the need for a universal, equitable and more effective way of funding health care in the United States.

The crisis highlights the reasons why a single-payer system (also called Medicare for All) would benefit public health in the case of disease outbreaks, as well as for day-to-day population health. In the case of COVID-19, steps are being taken to require free testing. Public funds will likely be used to make sure that testing and (hopefully) treatment are available free to everyone.

Government officials are absolutely correct to do this to ensure that people get screened, and the spread of the virus can be slowed. What’s true of this pandemic is also true at other times: A community’s health and safety rely on mutual wellness. Each person is only as safe as the most vulnerable people in society.

A publicly funded single-payer system would also make equity an important goal. We know that many people will be more susceptible than others to severe harm or death from this pandemic. Social distancing and increased testing and treatment aim to ensure that those who are immunocompromised, who are disabled or medically fragile in all sorts of ways, will be as safe as possible.

Often, the most vulnerable medically also are the least insured. Society needs a health system guaranteeing every person the care they need, without financial barriers.

Coordination is another vital aspect of the COVID-19 situation. With Medicare for All, data can be coordinated and disseminated more quickly than with the current large number of payers. There would be less red tape, and people would get care sooner, without the delays often experienced now.

It is apparent that private insurers often need to be pressured into doing the right thing. Their main reason for existence is to make profits, not to help people. A publicly owned and funded Medicare for All system would be designed to “do the right thing” as its main goal.

Sean Kinlin


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