Katie Porter gets the CDC to agree to free coronavirus testing

Opinion: Trump’s Incompetence Shows Us Why We Need Universal Healthcare

The world is shutting down as the novel corona virus continues to wreak havoc. While we cannot blame Trump for the panic, illness and death surrounding the virus, we can blame him for making an already bad situation far worse. Trump’s incompetence means some people will die who did not have to.

In some cases on the sidelines, it will be an immigrant who could have known about precautions and symptoms if they had had the chance to read a poster while at immigration court. Or maybe it was someone who heard Trump claim the corona virus was a just a “Democrat Party” conspiracy to make him look bad. As if he needs any help with that.

Most of it is because of Trump’s special blend of dishonesty, ignorance and bigotry. Trump didn’t want to know how serious it was and didn’t care. As precious time was lost, Trump denied the virus’s existence, then denied that it would be serious. Once he finally accepted that maybe we should get around to testing for it, he refused test kits offered by the World Health Organization in January.

When he could no longer use the authoritarian tactic of denial, Trump trivialized the seriousness of what is now a pandemic. He talked about miracles and warm weather. When that didn’t work, very restrictive testing started and Americans were prevented from coming home so the numbers were to Trump’s “liking.”

While other countries have been testing people and taking measures to prevent further spreading, Trump dug in with plans to hold rallies (now, thankfully cancelled) and met with the world’s dictators at Mar-a-Lago. He kept shaking hands, and some of the people he had contact with have either tested positive or are in self-quarantine awaiting testing. That makes him a walking health hazard, and proves that it doesn’t matter how rich or powerful you are, anything that’s transmittable will come after you.

Meanwhile the first wave of COVID-19 cases reached our shores and we had almost no clue how big a wave it was. Hindsight tells us we would have had a better chance of containing the virus had we just gone with the WHO kits. While other countries also opted for developing their own tests, we had additional delays. Some of them had nothing to do with Trump, like the flaws in the CDC’s kits. Still, that meant that while other countries were testing and getting a handle on the scope of the pandemic problem, we couldn’t.

As a consequence, the best options are no longer available to us. Solutions like free testing only begin to address a problem that got worse and more complicated, and largely because Trump didn’t want to know how serious it was and didn’t care.

This business of not caring has been around since he took office. In the years preceding the virus, Trump dismantled every plan we had for foreseeing and preparing for severe medical crises. He spent the bulk of three years gutting the Affordable Care Act, which is the closest to a healthcare system this country has seen.

But now, epidemics and pandemics remind us of the value of a public healthcare policy and infrastructure. The worst thing for those of us who actually value life is in knowing that wasted time may put doctors in the position of deciding who lives and who dies. People will die not because of the illness but because of the treatment that was denied because we weren’t ready.

A comprehensive public health plan could have contained the virus sooner. We would still have some deaths, we would still have school closings and social distancing, but we would have a handle on the problem sooner. The economic consequences stemming from the Trump administration’s incompetence would have been minimal, if any.

Instead, we weren’t ready. We weren’t ready because a medical crisis came at an inconvenient time for Donald Trump. We weren’t ready because Donald Trump let his bigotry take over.

While most of these delays make the case for competency and compassion in the White House, universal healthcare would make testing available to anyone who needs it. And while most of the emphasis is on the cost benefit analysis, that’s only part of it. Universal healthcare assumes that healthcare is a right, not merely a privilege for people who can afford it.

Built into that assumption is the realization that in cases of contagious diseases, protecting all people’s health would benefit all of us. We are seeing this in economics while daily life shuts down around the world. Just look at the list of industries  likely to be affected. And layoffs start at the bottom, where people can afford it the least, and are unlikely to have paid leave and decent healthcare. That means consumer spending goes down and so on and so on.

Other industrialized countries recognized the nexus between healthcare security and productivity. It’s why even conservative political parties in those countries are on board with a single-payer healthcare system.

We have a chance to see how it could work in America, thanks to Congresswoman Katie Porter’s  follow up to a letter she and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley wrote to CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield in advance of the hearing.

They outlined the commitments already made during congressional testimony to assure that testing would be available to all.

“In the midst of global pandemic, fear of surprise medical bills and financial ruin will only lead to more devastation and harm to the global community.”

The letter was co-signed by several members of Congress: Rosa DeLauro, Lauren Underwood, Joseph P. Kennedy III, and Pramila Jayapal.

These members of Congress saw a chance to test universal healthcare, and it’s because Trump messed up every step of the way. Our jaws may drop at the cost, not to mention the costs for sick pay, food security and other programs needed to contain the virus and eventually bring it to an end. The fact is we either pay this now or much more later.

We can use this time to see if there are policy steps we can leave in place for future emergency situations like this one. A universal healthcare system, one with solid crisis planning, isn’t just about people getting free stuff. Rich and poor alike will benefit. At the very least, people who already have jobs with sick leave or telecommuting won’t be at risk from encountering someone who couldn’t afford to be tested or take steps to avoid spreading the virus. This is about everyone being safer.

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