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The US Healthcare System, Is it time to change it or not?

Updated: May 18, 2020

With the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus, countries have been forced to focus their medical arsenal towards fighting this virus. Perhaps, this offers us the opportunity to observe respective healthcare systems through a lens, most notably the US healthcare system.

Many developed countries in Europe and fellow North American neighbors, Canada and Mexico, have adopted what is referred to as universal healthcare: a system by which the government covers a citizen’s complete healthcare costs. Some may wonder why the US has not adopted the system while other developed nations have. A few reasons could be the strong belief in a free market, a monopoly held by huge players in the pharmaceuticals industry, or merely the massive amount of money and therefore taxes it would take to fund such an initiative. Past attempts like Obamacare have tried to mimic such a system but a lack of confidence from the US population led to its failure.

One issue that has been brought up is the disproportionate number of Latino and African-American people affected and who have succumbed to the Coronavirus. While reasons such as the types of occupations that these races often partake in or personal responsibility in the situation have been referenced by the US Surgeon General, this could outline a larger problem. The fact that these races had the highest number of deaths and that they had the highest percentage of citizens in poverty could indicate the inability of the current healthcare system in aiding the working class. The dependence on health insurance is risky for low-income workers as jobs lost during this crisis could lead to the ineligibility of their insurance and later themselves to cover the cost of the treatment. The lack of a strong welfare support system nor a universal healthcare one could lead to more deaths amongst the working class as they scramble to get the money necessary to cover healthcare costs. Other issues such as discrimination have been observed in a medical setting, preferring treatment for one race over another. A more uniform healthcare system would help look past such issues.

However, the current utilization of the “free market” does argue otherwise. While the concept of cost-cutting as a means of beating out the competition is observed to a less extent in the US pharmaceutical market it encourages comparison with regards to research. The few companies that do have a stronghold over US healthcare, have in fact proven even during this crisis that they are some of the most technologically advanced in the world (perhaps possible due to large funds for research). For example out of the handful of companies that had started testing their novel vaccines on human trials, three of the five firms- Moderna, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, and Pfizer- were US-based. Furthermore, the US has also proved itself more capable in the testing department with Abbott’s ID NOW Covid-19 testing kit. It takes only 5 minutes to produce a positive result and can be taken at point-of-care. On the other hand tests from countries like India and Germany require a lab to test and take over 2 hours to produce a result. (This difference is primarily due to its use of LAMP technology over Real-time PCR in the testing process.)

The Urban Health Policy Center approximates that it would take over 44 trillion USD to fund universal healthcare in the US via Medicare. Restrictions on healthcare firms’ profit margins, higher tax rates on the wealthy or the general population, or employing measures to fight against the monopolization of the industry are ways that the US can retain this free market structure while heavily reducing the cost of treatment. Nevertheless, with the current state of the economy, thousands may lose access to healthcare insurance while the largest pharma firms may only grow richer with the sale of their soon-to-be vaccines. Options such as placing a cap on the cost of treatment for coronavirus patients could be utilized for the time being to help reduce uninsured hospital expenses.

Overall, the future of the US healthcare system, let alone the economy is filled with uncertainty. We do not know whether the system will in any way be altered or if so to what extent to which it will be altered. Drastic measures such as having fully government-run hospitals may be used or laws weakening capitalistic stronghold in medicine may come into play.

Author : Arjit Dogiparthi

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