Home > Uncategorized > On the need for the response to keep up with the emergency – posted 4/5/2020

On the need for the response to keep up with the emergency – posted 4/5/2020

Events have fast outpaced our thinking and ability to respond. Whatever we initially thought the coronavirus pandemic was going to bring back in January, outcomes are turning out to be far more catastrophic than initially predicted.

The toll in public health and economic well-being has already been enormous. There are now over 330,000 coronavirus cases in America with over 9400 confirmed deaths. Those numbers will be rising dramatically.

At the same time, in the last two weeks, over 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits. Millions of these folks had health insurance tied to their jobs. I think for the great majority it is likely their health insurance is gone.

These newly unemployed join the 27.5 million who were uninsured even before the pandemic, along with the 88 million people (45% of U.S. adults between the ages of 19 to 64) who are inadequately insured. By that I mean those who had gaps in coverage or had out-of-pocket costs that were so high they could not receive needed care.

At the federal level, the HHS secretary Alex Azar has said coronavirus patients will be covered by the government if they fall sick with COVID-19 illness but that has not been established by any rule or regulation. Trump has offered no help to the uninsured with medical issues besides coronavirus and has refused to reopen Obamacare enrollment to allow uninsured Americans to buy health coverage now. The Trump health care plan would appear to be the purchase of body bags.

The situation with far too few ventilators and inadequate personal protective equipment is a window into our failing safety net. People can point to the too late, botched response by the Trump Administration which has cost untold lives and that conclusion is absolutely true but the problem goes deeper.

Our safety net has been fraying and shredding for forty years and our collective response has been to look the other way. An administration committed to deconstructing the administrative state left us grossly unprepared for an out-of-control pandemic. The desire for maximizing profit has corrupted our national response.

The absence of a strong, coherent federal plan, as exposed in the desperate spectacle of states battling other states and the federal government for ventilators, shows we need to go another way. Companies that use the pandemic as an opportunity to maximize profits and price gouge should be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Being too small-minded is literally killing us.

Let me offer some doable ideas that have not received enough serious consideration. These are suggested in the hope that mainstream politicians of both parties will not strangle all progressive untried ideas.

Leading off with a big one, we need to nationalize health care immediately. I know many will say that is impossible but Ireland just did it on March 24. Ireland’s Health Minister Simon Harris announced,

“For the duration of this crisis the State will take control of all private hospital facilities and manage all of the resources for the common benefit of all of our people. There can be no room for public versus private when it comes to pandemics.”

Ireland’s move follows a similar change by Spain. The goal is for equality of treatment as well as free treatment. So many Americans are worried now, not just about getting sick, but also about incurring unaffordable medical expenses. There is tremendous anxiety and reluctance to go to medical facilities because of cost. It should be obvious how harmful that is to public health, especially now.

Earlier, during the first primaries, Bernie Sanders always got asked about how he would pay for Medicare For All. After a two trillion dollar bailout bill, the cost of Medicare for All hardly seems extreme. There is also a cost in not having universal care as we are finding out with coronavirus.

Another idea that I would suggest is to have the government pay for all cable TV, internet, and phone coverage for the duration of the pandemic. Service should be free. The government could pay communications companies and cover this cost..

I heard the economist James Galbraith make this argument and I find it persuasive. If people do not have to pay for cable, internet and phone, they would have more money for other critical needs. Since we are at home and we need good information, government coverage for a limited period makes total sense.

We need to pay essential workers extra hazard pay. And the pay needs to reflect the true importance of the work which has been devalued. While white collar workers are typically home now, many blue collar workers are risking their necks by going in to work. Besides health care workers, this includes food service workers, grocery store workers, warehouse workers, delivery drivers, personal care attendants, pharmacy workers, checkout clerks and security guards.

These workers are some of the most poorly compensated employees and yet we are all dependent on them. Maybe readers have seen the photos of New York City workers packed together in the subway as they head to work.The danger of such close proximity is obvious but economic need drives these workers in. They need the money to avoid hunger and homelessness.

A year from now, will we be appreciating these workers? Doing something for them should be a no-brainer but admittedly it goes against the logic of capitalism. Maybe we can make an exception though. The people who do the most dangerous work do not deserve the worst pay.

Finally, let me suggest we address hunger in the context of the pandemic. Even before the pandemic, it was estimated that one in every seven children was going hungry as well as 5.5 million seniors. I have been hearing from food banks that are running out of food, in part, because donations have been inadequate. We must ensure that the most vulnerable in our communities are not going hungry.

Food stamps, the SNAP program, should be increased along with WIC. Although the bailout bill included $15.5 billion more for SNAP benefits that was designed to cover the projected increase in applications. We should be promoting at least a 15% boost to the SNAP maximum.

Many people who have never gone to a food bank are going now. In California, the. Guardian newspaper has reported that the demand for food aid has increased as much as eightfold in some areas. In Amherst Massachusetts the food pantry there distributed 849% more food in March compared with the previous year.

Nationally, many families with school age children, have depended on school lunch as a way to help meet daily nutritional needs. Almost half of all U.S. public school children rely on free or reduced price meals. School administrators have been facing a Sophie’s choice between potentially allowing children to go hungry or risk exposing them to the infection. Many school officials fear children will go hungry during the school shutdown.

Creative ideas about addressing food need should be a top priority. Hungry children will not be learning. It is reasonable to assume, given economic circumstances, that hunger will worsen over time.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed everything. I am reminded of an Albert Einstein quote from a different context when Einstein worried about the threat of nuclear war. Einstein said:

“The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”

Now, in this crisis, we need to change our modes of thinking. Nothing less than big structural changes can save us.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. rwise65@tds.net
    April 6, 2020 at 12:48 am

    Thank you Jonathan.

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Patricia Dawson
    April 6, 2020 at 1:03 am

    Nicely done. This is such a mess. I hope you are well and safe.

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