COVID-19 creates a perfect storm for America’s 27.5 million uninsured.
They tend to work in low-wage pubic service jobs where they are exposed to the people who have COVID-19, but they have no health insurance to cover medical treatment if they contract the virus.
America is the only industrialized nation without a universal health care system.
The Trump administration and the U.S. Congress took an important step earlier this week by passing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provides free coronavirus testing to uninsured workers. According to Section 105 of the Act, the National Disaster Medical System will reimburse the costs of COVID-19 diagnostic testing provided to individuals without insurance.
However, testing does nothing to cover the cost of treatment for those who have COVID-19 and require treatment.
The uninsured are “disproportionately” likely to live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The vast majority of America’s uninsured are between the ages of 16 and 64 and about 60% are Hispanic, African-American, Asian or mixed-race. According to the Bureau, about 1 in 3 uninsured workers are in service occupations, compared with about 1 in 5 workers in the U.S. overall.
The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation reports the largest categories of uninsured workers are drivers, cashiers, restaurant servers and cooks, hotel workers, and retail salespersons.
Service occupations involve regular contact with the public, making it more likely that uninsured workers will be exposed to people with COVID-19. Conversely, uninsured workers who contract COVID-19 will be more likely to expose the public to infection.
Will low-income workers who are uninsured seek treatment at the first sign of symptoms or will they remain at work as long as possible and try to avoid debt.
Even before the appearance of the coronavirus, a study by the Federal Reserve found that one-fourth of American adults skipped necessary medical care in 2018 because they were unable to afford the cost. The Federal Reserve said 40% of Americans in 2018 couldn’t cover a $400 emergency with cash, savings or a credit-card charge that they could quickly pay off.
It makes little sense from an economic or public health standpoint for society to create conditions that discourage workers from seeking treatment for COVID-19 due to lack of ability to pay.
Time reported Friday that a Massachusetts woman, Danni Askini, was charged $34,927.43 by a Massachusetts hospital for treatment for COVID-19. She was in-between jobs and has applied for Medicaid to retroactively cover her medical bills.
The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates the average cost of COVID-19 treatment for someone with employer insurance ranges from $9,763 to $20,292. Workers with insurance generally pay a deductible ranging from $1,000 to $6,000.
In recent days, several industries with large numbers of uninsured workers were targeted by public health authorities for closure to minimize the spread of COVID-19, including the bar and restaurant industries. Meanwhile, the hotel industry has been decimated by travel bans.
Uninsured Americans likely make up a large part of a massive employee layoffs that are currently taking place around the country. This will make them not only uninsured but unemployed, which might actually help them qualify for taxpayer-funded medical treatment through Medicaid.
Still, many of the uninsured, unemployed will not qualify for Medicaid and they will face catastrophic medical bills if they undergo treatment for COVID-19.
Cash To Help Out
The Trump administration also plans to help American workers by sending them a stipend(s) to cushion economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus outbreak
Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin said earlier this week the Trump administration wants to send out checks in the near future amounting to $1000 per adult and $500 per child. The actual amount is still being debated in Congress.
Clearly, low-income Americans who are uninsured need help but even a few thousand pales in comparison to medicals bills amounting to tens of thousands of dollars.
Meanwhile, exit polls from the recent Democratic primaries in Florida, Illinois and Arizona show that a majority of Democrats support a government health insurance plan instead of the current patchwork quilt of private insurance plans.