The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed long-ignored flaws of our healthcare system. As more patients are admitted to hospitals and infection rates are increasing, we can see how healthcare services are only working for the upper class. In the US alone, the high costs of COVID-19 medical care are expected to financially cripple thousands of Americans who are currently experiencing economic hardship.
According to The Temple News, an online site created by the Temple University community, Americans could pay anywhere from $42,000 to $74,000 for COVID-19 medical care if they are uninsured or receive care deemed out-of-network by their insurance company. Since their health insurance is tied to their employment, many Americans will likely suffer from the lack of affordable healthcare services during this pandemic.
Recent reports showed that 18% of American employees have been laid off or lost hours due to the outbreak. An estimated 67 million workers are currently at high risk of being laid off. Even those who still have jobs may lose their health insurance. As a result, many people who are sick may not seek medical care for fear of high costs. Krys Johnson, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Temple University, said that citizens in countries that have universal health don’t have the same apprehension Americans have about seeing a doctor.
“They are also subsidizing people’s incomes in a meaningful way. People are not having to stress out about not going to work as a hairstylist or a waitress, so they not only can see health care providers with no repercussions, but they are also social distancing without having to fear not having a paycheck,” Johnson said.
Many activists believe that the coronavirus pandemic has put a spotlight on the systemic inequalities at the root of our healthcare system, which treats good health as a privilege. But even before the crisis happened, healthcare systems in many countries were already flawed.
State of the World’s Healthcare System
Every person’s right to health has long been recognized across the world, however, not everyone has the privilege to use this right. The World Health Organization’s Tracking Universal Health Coverage: 2017 Global Monitoring Report revealed that over 800 million people spend at least 10% of their household budgets on health expenses for themselves, a sick child, or other family members. Of this figure, nearly 100 million people see these expenses as high enough to push them into extreme poverty.
The report also showed that the progress of having more people to access basic healthcare services is uneven. While basic healthcare services such as family planning and infant immunization are becoming more available in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, the lack of financial protection means increasing financial distress for families as they pay for these services out of their own pockets. It was reported that a growing number of people in Eastern Asia, Latin America, and Europe are spending at least 10% of their household budgets on out-of-pocket health expenses.
According to the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas, people living in low and lower-middle-income countries are often faced with the highest risks on their health. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO, said that there’s still much to do before 2030.
“While we have made remarkable progress on several fronts, huge challenges remain if we are to reach the targets for health, we have set ourselves. In some areas, progress has stalled and the gains we have made could easily be lost,” Ghebreyesus said.
Universal Healthcare is Important
Many progressive policymakers, activists, and advocates across the world are pushing for universal healthcare. With universal healthcare, everyone would have health insurance and access to medical services while not going bankrupt for medical fees. People can get the same level of care because it equalizes service, meaning, no health professionals or hospitals can specifically treat or cure wealthy patients.
Having universal healthcare also means benefiting communities and economies. Experts say that every $1 invested in health can produce $9-$20 in full-income growth by 2035. Families can choose to focus their spending on sending a child to school, saving money for the future, or starting a business. Countries that are planning to implement universal health coverage can help stop the world’s biggest killers. This is because they can easily prevent diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and non-communicable diseases.
Ultimately, having universal healthcare means that we are seeing health as a right and not a privilege. Nicole Hassoun, professor of philosophy at Binghamton University, State University of New York, said that the human right to health is important for protecting everyone's ability to live minimally good lives. A recent study conducted by researchers from the Binghamton University, State University of New York revealed that to make people and organizations push for major improvements in health worldwide, we should acknowledge health as a universal human right.
Human rights advocates have proven this to be effective. They refused to accept the claims of pharmaceutical companies saying that it was impossible to lower prices and educated patients to demand access to treatment. “Mass protests shifted public opinion and generic completion brought prices down from $12,000 per patient per year to $350. Similar efforts have transformed the global health landscape helping us eliminate smallpox and reduce the prevalence of many other devastating diseases,” Hassoun said.
According to Phys.org, an internet news portal that provides the latest news on science, Hassoun believes that the human right to health could guide national and international policy. Acknowledging universal healthcare as a human right can convince governments and organizations can help in finding the resources that are needed to fulfill the lack of services.
"People need many things for health, but that is not a reason to reject the right. By fulfilling everyone's right to health, we may also fulfill many other rights (e.g. rights to clean water, education, and food). Moreover, the human right to health can require protecting public health with things like vaccines. Doing so is important for protecting communities as well as individuals,” Hassoun.