Columns, Opinions

Schmidt ’21: The U.S. healthcare system is a failure, and the coronavirus proves it

By
Staff Columnist
Friday, March 13, 2020

The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has quickly developed into a global pandemic of catastrophic proportions. The virus is said to cause mild to moderate flu-like symptoms in most cases, resulting in severe respiratory illness in particularly vulnerable populations such as the elderly and immunocompromised individuals. Many countries have taken extensive measures to contain the virus. For example, in China, where the virus originated, the government has instituted a lockdown of over 60 million people in Hubei and is blanket testing to identify and isolate infected patients.

No such measures have been taken in the United States. U.S. officials in the Trump administration have consistently mishandled the prevention and containment of this virus, either by downplaying its severity or enacting inefficient protocols for screening. This outbreak truly exposes the weaknesses in the Trump administration and just how ineffective the private health care sector is in combating contagion.

The Trump administration has continuously and vehemently downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak, spreading lies as quickly as the virus has spread around the world. For example, President Trump claimed that the disease will die out by April. Trump has also attempted to reassure the general public that the risk to the average American “remains low,” most likely referencing the relatively few cases the country has compared to others that are now experiencing sustained community spread like Italy, Japan and Iran.

These ideas are ludicrous. There is no evidence to suggest that the virus will behave like the seasonal flu, and public health officials have urged people to expect the virus to continue to spread. Moreover, the low amount of confirmed COVID-19 cases is indicative of insufficient widespread testing and proper preventative screening measures. This virus has been circulating since December. It is highly unlikely that cases are limited to those  330+ officially reported in the United States as of March 7.

Clearly, there is no immediate end in sight. Therefore, it is irresponsible of the Trump administration to give the American people false hope. The American public lacks access to affordable health care, efficient testing and overall an effective plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Meanwhile, President Trump and his cabinet are thoroughly protected from infection.

The lack of confirmed cases in the United States may expose one of the most crucial flaws of the American health care system: It’s mostly privatized. Reports are varied, but COVID-19 testing appears to cost $1000 or more, depending on the type of insurance coverage. As more private laboratories take on coronavirus testing, the out-of-pocket costs for testing are sure to skyrocket. And while the CDC might be funding some of these testing costs, most tests will occur at sites like hospitals whose personnel will bill an insurer. The tests, in addition to the time spent in isolation while recovering, can be upwards of thousands of dollars. Not everyone may be at risk of COVID-19; most people will identify their symptoms as the common cold or flu and easily recover. But for vulnerable patients with severe respiratory illness, the necessary testing and hospitalization may be financially inaccessible.

The main entity at fault for these failures in testing is the Trump administration. In 2018, it cut the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s budget for fighting infectious disease by nearly 80 percent, further exposing an already vulnerable U.S. population to a devastating pandemic or bioterrorism attack. The domino effect of this action is evident today; currently, the CDC is running an extremely short supply on test kits for COVID-19. Potentially eradicating the disease is nearly impossible if the patients cannot be identified and isolated properly. Adding on the exorbitant price tag of these tests, inefficient testing is certainly one of the main pitfalls that has exacerbated COVID-19’s spread. The virus has reached countries across the globe, racking up more than 4,900 deaths and infecting more than 134,500 people as of March 7.

Thankfully, some state and local governments have realized that the only way to accurately assess the spread of this virus is to make testing free and accessible to all. On Thursday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that California residents on private or Medi-Cal insurance plans would be eligible for free lab tests for the novel virus. At last, people will not have to make a choice between their health and their wallet.

In a time where transparency with the public is crucial to preventing widespread panic and frenzied doomsday stocking of supplies, the Trump administration has failed in every possible way. Once again, this administration has put the American public in jeopardy, funneling money out of Medicare and other Obama-era policies. The government has colossally failed to address the coronavirus crisis, which proves that it is time for change in the U.S. health care system. COVID-19 is circulating in this country as we speak, camouflaging itself in the midst of seasonal colds and the flu. The lack of confirmed cases of COVID-19 proves why we need universal health care in the U.S., and why President Trump’s policies have only heightened the danger the pandemic poses to the public.

Rachael Schmidt ’21 can be reached at
rachael_schmidt@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to
letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

2 Comments

  1. Crisis is not a reason for communism says:

    Meanwhile, countries with universal healthcare are either the ones who let it get loose in the first place (China) or currently rationing ventilators- picking and choosing who they think is worth saving (Italy). Because, you know, government always does things better, and death panels would NEVER be a thing in a universal healthcare system. That’s what we’ve been told from the beginning, right?

  2. Rachel,
    You couldn’t be more wrong.
    I’ve been in microbiology for 15 years, and wrote a book on an epidemic in Russia (See “Antidote” by John Lonergan).
    As of yesterday, we had 211,000 tests performed (not counting CDC), source:
    That’s an increase of 40K from the day before, and 70k from two days before.
    Within 10 days, we’ll be testing 5 million people a WEEK. Compare that to anywhere in the world.
    Unlike socialist and “universal” health care systems, like in Germany, Italy, France and the UK, testing is falling far behind. Furthermore, their cases are climbing faster than ours. As to the claim of “wait 2 weeks,” we’re still in much better shape than those countries were at that time. The reason? Capitalist response to the pandemic.
    What I mean is: two large, centralized lab testing services, TriCore and LabQuest, have the capacity to take in millions of samples. FedEx and UPS and the USPS deliver. Companies like Roche (Cobas) and Cepheid (23K systems in the world) are geared up and supplying tests. GM will restart making respirators. We’re responding, just as we did in prior periods of crisis.
    In Germany, for example, doctors are left waiting for hours on the phone just to get an authorization to test. Many have given up.
    The EU’s generalized, national approach is showing up its weaknesses. They’re relying on bureaucrats in Berlin, Paris, London and Rome to make up their minds. Meanwhile, while our federal politicians dither, our companies and individuals are pursuing the right actions on our own. We’ll win. The EU will fail.
    Our antiviral, antibody-mediated and vaccination initiatives are moving much faster than anywhere else in the world. We’ve already injected the first person with a vaccine…and expect first results in six months.
    The US’ attempts to “flatten the curve” will prove effective…perhaps nearly as effective as in South Korea, but certainly much more effective than in the EU.
    If you want to read more about how an epidemic is started and can spread, read my book, “Antidote,” available in 6 languages on Amazon and on Audible.com.
    “Failure?” Far from it, Rachel. You need perspective to see how much we’re ahead.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*