With up to 300,000 people falling sick every day and up to 5,000 people dying daily from Covid-19, the U.S. is at war with the virus. Some 115,000 West Virginians have already gotten Covid-19 and almost 2,000 have died.
Millions of Americans struggle to make ends meet. Millions are without work. With a new more rapid, more transmittable Covid-19 variant spreading around the nation,
President Biden announced on Jan. 22 that Covid deaths are expected to reach 600,000 in the U.S. and it will get worse before it gets better, even with the most rapid roll-out of vaccines the can arrange.
In this health crisis, it is imperative that each person who needs health care gets it both for him/herself and to assure that he or she does not need to go out and risk spreading Covid-19 to others. Health care must be available and affordable for everyone.
People who worry they are sick with the Covid-19 virus need to seek immediate medical care. But in the U.S., 30 million people don’t have health insurance. Another 44 million have such bare-bones coverage that they are always worried about the costs of getting care. And 74 million Americans are at risk of financial hardship or bankruptcy from Covid-19.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA or “Obamacare”) has already allowed people with pre-existing conditions to get health care for the first time in 2010. As Cynthia Corbin, Hampshire County, told me: “As a 54-year-old woman with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, the ACA has allowed me to continue to get treatment and medications. With the ACA, my insurance helps pay for these conditions. Before ACA, these would have been considered pre-existing conditions which were often not covered.
“I could not afford to pay for the medicines or the inhaler on my own. Without the inhaler, I would be struggling to breathe every day and I would not be able to work; I could not even walk across my house.”
Biden’s current efforts to further strengthen the Affordable Care act would include
• Reducing drug costs;
• Setting up a public insurance option to our current private insurance; and
• Making federal subsidies larger, thereby reducing the per-person cost.
Because private insurance company-based health care can be very expensive, Biden proposes an alternative, public, government-managed option to try to lower the costs. Some people think it’s a good idea and some don’t. Let’s look at both sides closely.
Some people say that taxes will increase. However, we would not necessarily pay more taxes, but could pay the U.S. government insurance directly. If the participants do pay for the public option in taxes, the rise in taxes would likely cost less than the amount you pay now to private insurance.
Some people are concerned that it would not give as good health care coverage. However, the World Health Organization evaluated quality of health care in different nations and found that U.S. was No. 37 this year (and the past 15 years) in longevity and healthcare quality.
According to WHO, the best plans around the world are national plans, not for-profit insurance company plans.
Others say that it would be too expensive. My answer: If the public option is more expensive than your current option, don’t take it. But since insurance companies can spend up to 15-20% in profits and salaries, and the government does not need to make a profit, it would likely cost less. And the U.S. government may negotiate with healthcare providers and drug manufacturers to dramatically reduce the cost of drugs. WHO explained that the US private insurance plans cost almost twice per person of those in any other nation, and all the nations with less expensive and better quality care have national plans.
But will there be limitations so that I cannot see my chosen doctor or hospital? The plan can be designed so that one can choose the doctor and hospital you want.
What if I want to stay with my current private insurance plan? My answer: it’s your option. Stay with your current private insurance company.
A public option gives more insurance choices and, as we have seen around the world, the costs are often much lower for the public option than for private insurance.
When we combine these plans with a proposal to provide an additional $1,400 per person to American who make under $75,000 per year, Biden wants to provide critical assistance to those most in need.
These changes would lower the cost of health care and it make more affordable. And that is just what all of us West Virginians need in this health care crisis.
Charlie Streisel is half of the medical podcast “Cosmic Charlie and Doctor Andy” that appears occasionally on the Review website. He’s a retired educator living in Augusta.