The Hypocrisy of Making ONLY Coronavirus Treatment Free

As a global pandemic pounces on America’s unprepared healthcare system, people are waking up to a harsh reality: cost is a barrier to medical care in this country and everyone is less safe because of it.

One proposed solution, while admittedly a step in the right direction, reveals a fundamental contradiction.

During a Democratic Primary Debate on March 15, Presidential Candidate Joe Biden advocated for free coronavirus treatment. He said “we’re at war with the virus” and because of that, treatment should be “all free, you don’t have to pay a thing.”

Kamala Harris, California Senator and Former 2020 Presidential Candidate herself, joined Biden’s call for free coronavirus treatment with this tweet:

Again, a great temporary solution for the deadly disease we’re dealing with right now. As of this writing, there are over 350,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the US and nearly 11,000 deaths. Nobody should be at risk of dying because they don’t have the money to get treatment.

But what about people suffering from cancer? Or diabetes? How about heart disease? Do these Americans deserve to die or go bankrupt because of medical fees?

Briahna Joy Gray, National Press Secretary for the 2020 Bernie Sanders Campaign, laid out that argument in a reply to the tweet from Harris:

If you aren’t familiar with the statistics or you’re privileged enough not to know someone in this situation, this might sound hyperbolic. After all, emergency rooms HAVE to treat you when you’re sick, right?

The reality is not that simple.

Over 500,000 Americans cite medical bills as a reason for their bankruptcy every year. In 2018, nearly 28 million Americans did not have health insurance. Even for those with health insurance, expensive copayments, premiums, and deductibles lead poor people to avoid care out of fear of financial ruin.

These cost barriers lead poor people to avoid preventative care, which risks letting their condition worsen until it becomes life-threatening and even more expensive to treat. It is a vicious cycle of financial and health burdens.

I have witnessed this fear of medical fees with my own eyes.

Back when I was in high school, my mom got in a car accident. She had just dropped me off at my cousin’s house and got T-boned at an intersection just five minutes away. When we arrived to check on her, the driver’s side of the van was crushed in such a way that she was trapped inside the vehicle and it took about an hour to cut her out.

Luckily she had no serious visible injuries, but as anybody would be in this situation, she was extremely distraught about what happened. It didn’t seem like it, but we had no idea if anything might be wrong internally.

EMTs wanted her to go to the hospital to get checked on, but my mom was conflicted.

After just getting in a car accident and being trapped in her van, my mom begged them not to take her on the ambulance. It wasn’t because she didn’t think it was necessary, but because of her fear that not only would it cost money to take her to the hospital, how expensive would it be if she was seriously injured?

We eventually talked her into going and her injuries were minor, making the ambulance ride seem that much more like a waste of much-needed money. The situation was traumatic for all of us though and it opened my eyes to the harsh reality of the American healthcare system.

Nobody should feel like they need to risk their life to avoid financial ruin. In most countries around the world, this practice would appear outdated and barbaric, but in the richest country in the history of the world, it’s just business-as-usual. In the land of the free and home of the brave, private profit continues to be valued more than people’s health.

It’s time for us to confront the donkey in the room.

If it is so morally imperative that coronavirus be treated for free, as I wholeheartedly agree, why not other health problems?

Getting sick with a deadly disease is already bad enough. Considering that nearly 40 percent of Americans can’t afford a $400 emergency and cancer treatment costs thousands of dollars, even with insurance, our system is quite literally adding insult to serious medical injury.

Biden and Harris are prominent politicians who should understand this reality, so why do they only advocate for free treatment for coronavirus? An estimated 3.5 million people have lost their employer-based health insurance since the beginning of the pandemic; what should these people do if they have health problems that aren’t COVID-19?

These are fair questions that have yet to be sufficiently answered.

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