The global pandemic has highlighted just how ill-equipped the United States is to deal with a public health crisis.
The last thing you should have to worry about when you are wavering between life and death is who is going to pay your medical bills. In the United States, however, this question has now sadly become commonplace. The novel Coronavirus has displayed to federal and local governments just how ill-equipped and broken our public health system is. Instead of focusing on survival, our patients are wondering how much survival will cost them. Derrick Smith, a certified registered nurse anesthetist in New York City, shared just how poignant this problem is, CNN reports. In a Facebook post, he revealed one of his patient's last words: "Who's going to pay for it?" If that doesn't show you that there's something devastatingly wrong with our public health system, then nothing will.
If only we were living through some unique moment in history teaching us the importance of universal health care and a strong social safety net. Maybe next time!— Jess Dweck (@TheDweck) April 8, 2020
Posting a photo of himself with painful lines on his face from wearing personal protective equipment, he wrote, "'Who’s going to pay for it?' Last words I’ll never forget, the response my patient gasped out (between labored breaths) to me and my team after we explained that he needed to be intubated and placed on a ventilator." In an interview with CNN, Smith shared the details of this encounter. "[This patient] was in severe respiratory distress, had difficulty speaking," he stated. "And yet still his main concern was who could pay for a procedure that would his extend his life but statistically he doesn't have a good likelihood of survival."
After being placed on ventilators, most patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 will die. The mortality rate reaches about 80 percent in intubated coronavirus patients, according to the nurse. Though he does not know if his patient survived, the chances that he did were "pretty unlikely." Before he passed, Smith wanted his patient to have one last chance to talk to his wife. Therefore, Smith and his colleagues called his wife to give them the one last opportunity they may have had to say goodbye to each other. He claimed that this incident was "by far the worst thing" he had witnessed in his 12 years of practice.
this pandemic has taught everyone that we need universal health care and that’s why i am so happy that we have two candidates who are both against it 😊— taylor garron (@casualafro) April 8, 2020
"I was very sad and honestly, a little horrified," he shared. "This demonstrates that we have a profound failure when one has to worry about their finances when they're dealing with much bigger issues that have to do with life or death... The pandemic has highlighted a lot of structural inadequacies in our country, not only the response to the pandemic itself but [also] our approach to health care coverage." At present, the United States is the only developed nation in the world without universal healthcare coverage. As per the most recent Census data available, close to 28 million non-elderly Americans, or 10.4 percent, were uninsured in 2018.
Effectively tackling the ongoing public health crisis while millions of Americans remain uninsured is no easy task - impossible even. Larry Levitt, the executive vice president for health policy at Kaiser, stated, "Addressing coronavirus with tens of millions of people without health insurance or with inadequate insurance will be a uniquely American challenge among developed countries. It will take money to treat people and address uncompensated care absorbed by providers." Improving public healthcare while simultaneously battling a global pandemic will prove rather difficult. However, there is simply no other way to move forward.
This isn’t about Bernie, it’s about the #extortion of our health care system relying on GoFundMe. We’ve fought for over 12 years for “affordable” healthcare. The private sector for-profit model MUST END #UniversalHealthcare #MedicareForAll pic.twitter.com/R04hjyZrY4— Liberal Resistance (@LiberalResist) April 13, 2020
Smith affirmed, "This can only get worse if we don't improve equitable access to health care. As a result of the many job losses related to the pandemic, the uninsured population will only increase, and it will still remain a challenge for those who do retain private health insurance. The last analysis I saw projected up to a 40 percent increase in insurance premiums by next year so that's going to be an even bigger burden we need to talk about."