According to a study, the United States could have saved more than 338,000 lives and more than $ 105 billion in health care costs in the Covid-19 pandemic with a universal health system.
More than 1 million people have died in the United States as a result of Covid, in part because the country’s “fragmented and inefficient healthcare system” meant that uninsured or underinsured people faced financial barriers that delayed diagnosis and aggravated transmission, the report states.
The United States has the highest virus-related death rate among large rich countries and is also the only one among these countries without universal health care. It spends nearly twice as much on health care per capita as in other rich countries, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“The current health care system in the United States is economically inefficient and leaves millions of Americans without adequate access to medical care,” said Alison Galvani, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis at Yale School of Public Health and lead author of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The authors recommend that the country adopt Medicare for All, a single-pay health program, to “facilitate recovery from the ongoing crisis and strengthen preparedness for the pandemic, as well as safeguard well-being and prosperity more broadly.”
To determine how many deaths from Covid were potentially preventable, the authors drew on previous studies on the insurance gap and death rate in the United States with data on how many people lost employer-sponsored insurance due to business closures. linked to Covid and the restrictions that led to unemployment.
“While stay-at-home orders and temporary closures of non-essential businesses have curbed the immediate spread of Covid-19 and prevented catastrophic demands on hospital capacity, the measures have also led to spikes in unemployment,” the report said. “For employees, a layoff often results in an insurance loss or the need to switch to a different type.”
The authors calculated the potential cost savings of universal health care in part by reviewing the average Medicare and Medicaid costs for a Covid-19 hospitalization that required mechanical ventilation, which were $ 57,522 and $ 47,396, respectively, according to the report. . The average private insurance charge was $ 114,842.
The study also says that fear of losing health insurance during a pandemic may have caused people to continue going to work even when they were feeling unwell.
“Single-pay universal health care is both fiscally responsible and morally imperative for the United States,” said Galvani.
David Rosner, who studies public health and social history at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, described the study as “the final condemnation of a health system from a public health perspective.”
“It was clear that the essential workers who were delivering our food [and other items] the middle class were disproportionately exposed, “Rosner said.” I’m not surprised they found these people were dying at a faster rate.
A single-pay health system could prevent such deaths because it would improve access to primary care, which would lead to faster diagnosis of a virus and better treatment of comorbidities such as diabetes, the study says.
Ann Keller, an associate professor of health policy and management at the University of California, Berkeley, said the lack of a single-pay health care system isn’t the only reason the country has high rates of chronic disease. You also blamed a weak welfare state, poverty and food deserts.
“But all other things being equal, if you provide people with consistent health care, they are better able to prevent chronic disease and / or manage it once it is present,” Keller said.
Recent Democratic efforts to implement a single-pay health care system or expand the Affordable Care Act have stalled.
“The results of studies like ours collide with a Goliatan healthcare industry that contributes heavily to political campaign funding and lobbying,” said Galvani. “The lawmakers swaying under that influence are not working for the health or prosperity of their constituents.”