Medicare for All – If not now, when?
Initial statistics show African Americans far more likely to die of COVID 19 than white patients. Supporters of Medicare for All note that lack of good quality universal healthcare for everyone naturally impacts heavily on people who are poorer and without access to good quality healthcare. Those without such care are much more likely to suffer from underlying conditions that worsen the prospects for those hit with the virus. Hospital personnel assist people at a coronavirus screening tent outside the Brooklyn Hospital Center March 19. If they determine that someone may have the virus they are brought into the hospital. | Mark Lennihan/AP

What passes for a health care system in America is an incredibly expensive and complicated proposition that has never really worked. Many millions continue to be, as they always have been, uncovered by health insurance in the U.S.

President Trump asked last year, “Who knew that health insurance could be so complicated?” Well, the coronavirus pandemic has now simplified that problem by boiling down the number of choices we face to only two.

We can choose Medicare for All, or we can make the choice FEMA has made, which is to start ordering thousands upon thousands of body bags, “remains pouches” as funeral directors call them.

The nation is battling a virus that is killing Americans at a rate that grows exponentially every day and which has already destroyed the livelihoods of millions as it dismantles the economy of the most powerful nation on earth.

Many excellent programs that we had before COVID-19 are no longer adequate to meet the needs of this new coronavirus reality.

Social Security was a great thing, but in the new reality, the monthly payments must be drastically increased if they are to help preserve the lives of their recipients.

Unemployment insurance was a great reform, but it too would not be able to achieve its goals had Congress not hiked the weekly benefit by $600. Even that must be increased.

Obamacare was a great reform that put a 20-million-person dent in the number of uninsured in America. But today, with hundreds of thousands getting sick, losing their jobs, and even dying, it is no longer adequate.

The Medicare for All that so many said only eight weeks ago was too radical, is now an absolute necessity. People who had gold-plated insurance plans by virtue of their jobs are losing both their jobs and their health coverage.

A system that ties health insurance to employment was always going to be a system vulnerable to a pandemic such as the one now sweeping the globe.

Republicans, of course, refuse to address this question. Vice President Pence assures Americans that they can get free coronavirus tests and treatments via some vague system of reimbursement. First, reimbursements are useless to people who are broke to begin with, and, second, it is important to think about what he is not saying: After you get a coronavirus test (which is not available to you anyway) you can go ahead and die of any other disease you may or may not have.

A few Democrats have come out for Medicare for All, but where is the leadership of the party? Now that Sen. Bernie Sanders is suspending his campaign, Joe Biden is the presumed Democratic opponent to Trump in November. He’s doubling down on his opposition to Medicare for All, and his only alternative is “re-open the Obamacare exchanges.” Of course, they should be re-opened. But all that will do is make available to those who can afford it plans that are inadequate and plans that the insurance companies will make more and more expensive if and when the crisis ever ends.

All the arguments against Medicare for All are gone. It’s the only alternative we have right now to save the lives of our people. The cost is far less than the cost of the big corporate bailouts since 2010 and the $8 trillion spent on wars.

In terms of the lives of our people, we already see what lack of Medicare for All is doing. African Americans are dying of coronavirus at five times the rate of everyone else. They are overrepresented, of course, in the ranks of the uninsured, and tragic figures like their higher death rate in this crisis would be quite different if we had Medicare for All.

Social distancing will slow the rate of infection, but according to all the medical experts, up to 60% of the population will end up being infected with coronavirus nevertheless. Those who get sick will need care. Medicare for All is the best way to make sure all of them get that care and everyone who does not get sick is protected. It’s the only real way, too, to guarantee that we have an economy left to revive after this is all over.

The Trump approach to this crisis is killing us. Trump and the class forces he represents, the body baggers, must be swept out of office in November. The party that would be the alternative to Trump must present itself as a real alternative if it hopes to succeed. That means embracing things that were once too radical for it to embrace. They should not have been thought of as too radical, but unfortunately, they were. Medicare for All is one good place for the Democrats to start if they are going to embark on a road that can oust Trump and his enablers.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.