In our country, hospital are closings, health care workers are being laid off and substandard working conditions for nurses exist. In addition, we have seen a lack of protective equipment, insurance companies’ massive profits without paying for hospital costs and millions of people uninsured and unwilling to have COVID tests because of the cost.
All these conditions are a result of hospital and staffing decisions being made on a financial basis. Since elective surgeries were canceled or postponed, hospitals have lost a primary funding source.
Here are the numbers and facts according to Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP):
80 hospitals in the U.S. closed last year.
80,000 nurses and health care workers were laid off or furloughed.
58,025 of the 138,707 private practice doctor’s offices closed from March to June of 2020. That is a reduction of almost 42 percent.
Furthermore, staffing schedules, personal protection equipment and unsafe working conditions prevail in the country. Failures to track COVID-19 data has led to more than 1,700 health care worker deaths, which jeopardizes public health further. With fewer hospitals and doctors available, less staff, and protection equipment available, we are essentially enabling COVID-19 to spread.
In our privately managed health care system, priority is placed on financial need more than patient need. National Nurses United declare that “employers have taken advantage of every opportunity presented during the pandemic to maximize profits,” as stated in their white paper “Deadly Shame.”
In addition, insurance companies report excessive profits from covid while paying for less service. The New York Times states: “Some of the largest companies, including Anthem, Humana and UnitedHealth Group, are reporting second-quarter earnings that are double what they were a year ago. Although many hospitals have been overwhelmed by the coronavirus outbreaks raging from state to state, insurers have shelled out billions of dollars less in medical claims in the last three months. The companies’ staggering pandemic profits stand in stark contrast to the scores of small medical practices and rural hospitals that are struggling to stay open…”
An enormous amount of money stays with the wealthy and is not getting to the sick. COVID tests often are costly and is not readily available, especially for 30 million people who remain uninsured. There are 70 million others who have such high deductibles that they avoid going to the doctor to get tested or treated for COVID when sick.
COVID-19 grows and thrives with these financial barriers to COVID testing and treatment, and uninsured populations. Are there really financial barriers in the USA compared to other countries?
According to the Commonwealth Fund Data, in eight categories of skipping medical help because of costs, people in the USA as more than twice as likely to skip tests/treatments/ and seeing a doctor when sick compared with even the highest rates of other countries.
The solution is to immediately implement the following items as an emergency measure:
Free testing and treatment: All testing, treatment and follow-up services must be made easily available to everyone at no cost.
Budget all expenditures based on serving medical needs, not serving insurance or administrative profits. All hospitals, clinics, doctors paid on need assessment and COVID treatment, not on profitability. Fund this from insurance company windfall profits and expanded Medicare.
Assure worker protections now. Supply PPE for all staff and nurses; implement safe scheduling of hours and working conditions; boost hiring; provide sick leave for workers, and family leave.
Follow the 8 steps of COVID-19 Response as recommended by the Physicians for Health Plan. (www.pnhp.org)
Pass into law the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All so we can manage COVID and prevent future flat-footed responses to pandemics.
Editor’s note: Arlene Sheak enjoyed living and working in Athens County 45 years.She has been an activist with the Single Payer Action Network (SPAN) of Ohio for 18 years.