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COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates challenges to U.S. healthcare system

Science & Military2021-08-27


According to the United Nations, everyone has the right to health, which has become even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the United States, there is no universal healthcare, so people have to rely mainly on private and sometimes unaffordable health insurance.

The Affordable Care Act and more recent American Rescue Plan created more affordable health plans for people to access health insurance marketplaces in each U.S. state. There is also Medicaid for lower-income Americans who can't afford private insurance, and Medicare providing health insurance for Americans aged 65 years and older.

Despite these programs, there are still around 30 million people uninsured and another 40 million people who have health plans but are under-insured, with the burden of significant out of pocket costs.

Health research group The Commonwealth Fund recently ranked the U.S. last out of 11 high-income countries when assessing access to care, administrative efficiency and equity.

Laurie Zephyrin, vice president of Health System Equity at The Commonwealth Fund, said the pandemic has highlighted inequities that affect minorities the most.

"I think COVID has really unveiled the significant challenges in our healthcare system, and it's really played out in ways that really highlights the impacts of the structural racism and inequities in our system. When we look at Black and Latinx belts in the U.S. who've historically had higher uninsured rates, than White adults, for example, we see similar inequities in terms of COVID diagnosis and COVID deaths."

There are groups that help people get healthcare, such as non-profit Community of Hope, which is working to end family homelessness and improve health in Washington, D.C. It holds events providing communities with essentials and has three healthcare centers in the U.S. capital that accept patients regardless of their ability to pay.

In 2020, Community of Hope provided healthcare for around 12,000 people.

Leah Garrett, vice president for development and communications at Community of Hope, said that healthcare doesn't just keep people healthy, it also ensures they can work, have shelter and support their families.

"If people don't have health insurance, their health fails, they lose their jobs, they become homeless. The Community of Hope helps service families. Their lives are lost at times, and the family suffers, with that kind of a loss." 

For others she said, "They neglect care and become worse, then if their situation escalates they could end up in the emergency room for urgent care, and it could end up costing them a lot more."

DC Health Link is Washington, D.C.'s health insurance marketplace providing a range of insurance options. People can also sign up for federal program Medicare or federal-state program Medicaid.

Even so many people remain vulnerable without access to healthcare, said Rodrigo Stein, director of Health Equity and Community Partnerships for La Clinica Del Pueblo.

"Here at La Clinica we do believe that healthcare is a human right and healthcare should be provided regardless of our ability to pay or the type of job that we have. Unfortunately that is not a reality in this country. So we have numerous barriers to receive healthcare."

La Clinica Del Pueblo provides primary healthcare in Washington, including mental health and substance abuse treatment. It caters particularly to Latinx immigrants, who would otherwise not get any healthcare, due to administrative barriers.

Many of the people getting help from groups like La Clinica are also the people providing essential services during COVID-19; bagging groceries and serving food to keep restaurants and take-out services running. So, Stein said getting them healthcare is not just benefiting the individuals, it's also crucially important for the wider community and nation as a whole.


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