By Ruby Scanlon
As a young girl, my sister always had this innate goodness to her– always tending to whatever weeds grew in the outside patch of grass we called our backyard, or caring for any stray cat that came wandering it’s way to the front door. I think the enormity of her heart was best revealed in her declaration of what she knew her profession to one day be. While her peers all wished to grow up and be a princess, rockstar, or athlete, my sister gleefully declared one afternoon that she was going to be “the President of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!”
It was only a few weeks later when she came trudging home from her sixth grade civics lesson with puffy eyes and red cheeks that we all realized she knew the truth.
Alas, she had been born in England, and according to Article Two of the U.S. Constitution was thus ineligible for the Presidency.
No one had the heart to tell her at the time.
Luckily, my sister was quite enthralled by the dissection of a frog in her seventh grade biology class and set her sights on medicine from then on. Her hopeful profession would change from year to year, but the one thing that would stay constant was that goodness of heart, her keenness to help others, and the reliability of her motivations as selfless. It was that sincerity that drove her towards governance as well, however at the time, she was all too young to know the broader truth of what governance entails. And while there is corruption scandal after backdoor dealing to point fingers at as proof of the depravity involved in U.S. politics, it’s in times of crisis where depravity is best revealed.
See, there’s a saying in politics: never let a good crisis go to waste.
The current pandemic we have before us is no different.
It’s why we see political officials such as the likes of Congressman Richard Burr walk away from a preparation meeting on COVID-19 and instead of alerting his constituents, drop $1.7 million in his stock shares.
It’s why our Senate is willing and eager to bail out affected corporations, but force hospitals and local municipalities to enter in bidding wars for essential healthcare supplies.
It’s why instead of immediately providing essential care to diagnosed citizens, we see COVID-19 patient Danni Askini walk away from her healthcare center carrying a bill for $34,972.43 in treatment costs.
Despite such upsetting circumstances, some proactive Senators are calling for “ all COVID-19 related treatment to be free of charge”. And that’s wonderful, I agree with that sentiment, but it begs the question: if the government is willing and able to pay for COVID-19 related treatment, well why not treatment for cancer? Or heart disease? Or stroke?
While the COVID-19 epidemic has struck thousands with serious ailment and injury, just as serious medical issues face thousands of Americans each and every day. So while COVID-19 patients should unquestioningly be granted treatment, no one, regardless of illness, should die because they’re too poor to afford treatment. However, according to the American Journal of Public Health, approximately 45,000 annual deaths are due to people avoiding care due to a lack of health insurance. And I’m sure that number will spike as people have avoided COVID-19 testing due to associated costs, and as 3.5 million Americans have entirely lost their health insurance in the past two weeks due to job loss.
Avoiding the doctor for fear of the cost is bad in the best of times, disastrous in a crisis like this current pandemic, and unheard of in places with a single-payer system.
This is why America deserves and requires a universal healthcare system.
With a universal healthcare system, people won’t have to avoid medical treatment and can instead receive the life-saving care they need.
With a universal healthcare system, we can close the gap between black and white citizens, where black and brown people die at disproportionately higher rates due to their incomes.
With a universal healthcare system, we can better fight pandemics like the one we’re facing now and prevent their global spread.
Because while the COVID-19 crisis has done so much harm, it’s also shone a spotlight on the deep failures within our system. It’s allowed our society to collectively realize that our healthcare system doesn’t work as it should. And that the impetus to help our most vulnerable and ailed citizens must not stop with COVID-19 patients, but instead extend to every citizen regardless of their illness and regardless of their income.
My sister Grace, that same little girl with the big heart and adoration for stray cats, nearly died due to a lack of healthcare when she was just two years old. We were living in the U.S., too broke to afford health insurance and so as she continued to ache, cough, and burn off fluids, we treated her with home remedies because seeing a doctor simply wasn’t a financial option. But when her temperature finally reached 103, we were off to Cedar Sinai and after a few tests, she was diagnosed with biological meningitis. The doctors told us to “prepare for the worst”, which is simply code for there’s little hope left. After two restless nights of intubations, a code blue, and overwhelming feelings of dread, she miraculously pulled through and got better. But the reality remains that my sister nearly died because we were too broke to afford health insurance.
And while my family was lucky enough not to lose a loved one due to our financial situation, 45,000 families suffer that loss every single year.
So yes, we ought not let a good crisis go to waste.
Because out of the horrors of this pandemic might come something good; might come the possibility to grant millions of Americans their fundamental right to healthcare and prevent thousands more from losing the ones they love most.