COVID-19 has decimated the U.S., and many progressive health-care activists and organizations like National Nurses United are now unable to help. have illustratedHow the pandemic has made it worse than what was already intolerable in our for-profit medical system. Some on the anti-vax right have instead used the “preexisting conditions” of our health care system to discredit the people and measures which are trying to stop the pandemic, often disingenuously coopting progressive arguments in the process.
The profit-driven nature our health care system and the pain it causes the U.S. have not only galvanized those in support of single payer, but have also helped to sow the seeds of mistrust that cynical actors have cultivated to make people distrust public health measures. These are just a few examples of cynical political agents doing exactly that.
- Former President Donald Trump has claimed on more than one occasion that doctors and hospitals are part of a conspiracy to enrich themselves by saying patients died of COVID when they actually didn’t.
- Conservative activist Candace Owens tweeted: “‘The Covid vaccine saves lives, which is why the government is making it free!’ K. So explain to me why insulin and asthma inhalers cost so much money. If the vaccines are really about the government trying to save your life — why do life-saving medicines cost so much?”
- One of the most prominent points of the anti-vax movement is that Big Pharma was involved with inventing or manipulating pandemics in order to push vaccines for enrichment.
These claims are false but some people believe they are valid because they are based at least in part on facts. Hospitals and insurance for health are too expensive. We are constantly being told horror stories about the outrageous costs of medical care. $54,000 for a COVID test, $16,000 for having a baby, $1,000 for an ambulanceThese are just a few examples of people who have been insured. Tens of millions have no insuranceGoFundMe is now the most important website for both the insured and the uninsured. There are also heartwarming news stories about people who overcome dystopian realities, such as the girl selling lemonadeTo pay for brain surgery or high school robotics team constructing a special wheelchair for a little boy when insurance wouldn’t pay for it. Just recently, a storyI was told by a friend that he had been in an emergency room for several hours without any treatment. He then received a $700 bill.
Pharmaceutical companies also continue to scam patients to get their drugs. From pharma brosSen. Joe Manchin’s daughter jacking up prices on their company’s respective drugs, to something as common as insulin being much more costlyBig Pharma plays a greater role in the dysfunctional health care system in the United States than anywhere else. Its efforts to make as much profit from the COVID vaccine program as possible, even at the cost of leaving large parts of the world unvaccinated is not something we recommend.
The government has made it clear that they are not concerned about the well-being of the sick or any other health issues. Consider the absurdity of Trump and President Joe Biden, both opponents of single-payer health care, in last year’s campaign endorsing free treatment and vaccines for COVID, while ignoring the financial plight of people suffering from every other disease, ailment and injury, and denouncing efforts to guarantee those people coverage as unworkable and socialistic. While the rest of the developed world seems to have figured out how they can provide health care to all their citizens we still have a system that covers approximately 45,000 people. die every yearLack of health care. One study found that 500,000 people blame medical bills for their health problems. bankruptcy annually.
Why? Why? Because hospital, pharma, and health insurance have corrupt, symbiotic relationships that run counter to the general welfare. This has become especially clear as the reconciliation “Build Back Better” bill has been sliced and diced by Senators Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and a select number of House Democrats, all of whom think it’s a bridge too far to make sure seniors can afford their prescriptions, eyeglasses and the teeth in their heads. If you look at the money, it is not about ideological differences as much as rank corruption and influence-peddling. Sinema has receivedManchin received a lot of money from the pharma and health care industries. a beneficiary of his daughter’s company’s largesse, and Democratic representatives who voted against drug pricing reform have been fundedBig Pharma
All of this is true, and it’s a sad, infuriating mess, but it does not mean doctors and hospitals are inventing COVID cases. It doesn’t mean vaccines are a scam, and it doesn’t mean the pandemic is either fake or engineered.
These arguments are not coherent and the bad faith arguments that the right makes on these subjects are no problem. When Trump accuses the doctors and hospitals of inventing COVID cases for money, he doesn’t suggest nationalizing health care like Britain’s National Health Service. When Owens asks why medications are so expensive, she doesn’t endorse Medicare for All. When the anti-vaxxers complain about Big Pharma’s ill-gotten gains, they aren’t out there supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders’s plan to let Medicare negotiate for lower drug prices for seniors. Each of these three potential policy solutions is instead met by these factions with the same standard chorus of “Socialism! Tyranny!”
Regardless of how false the claims may be, or how fake the concern, the right has been successful in using the faults of our health care system to attack doctors, civil servants, and others who are charged with protecting public health.
Right-wing ideologues and politicos, though they are some of the main defenders of for-profit health care and beneficiaries of its lucre, are still astute enough to recognize that the system they hail is highly dysfunctional and hurts a lot of people — physically, emotionally and financially. They are aware that the profit motives of the pharmaceutical, insurance and hospital industries create perverse incentives to maximize private gains at the expense the public good. They realize that this situation persists precisely due to the incredible control these industries have over government health care policy.
They recognize all these problems, but they won’t identify any of them as such to the public, nor do anything to solve them. They merely expose edges of this reality to their followers as it suits their purposes — in this case, to make political hay out of saying the government and Big Pharma are trying to oppress and/or kill you. They encourage selfish and destructive behavior during a pandemic. This creates a storm of anger against local, state, federal and federal health officials, teachers, school boards and store clerks as well as flight attendants.
There are many factors that contribute to this dynamic. One is, no doubt, the rapacious nature both of our economy and of the health system, which abuses the public. This status quo of societal and political indifference to sickness and bankruptcy reinforces the kind of Thomas Hobbesian mentality that the right is trying to instill — “the war of all against all” — as they seek to shred not only the patchwork social safety net, but also just basic norms of civil society, such as taking minimal precautions to protect others. As long as we make health care a commodity rather than a right, the cynical, dishonest arguments that are currently trying to discredit public health officials and measures will only endure: “They didn’t care about you then, what makes you think they care about you now?”
While the right is trying to blame public officials for the problems created by a for profit system, they don’t have the power or the ability to make insulin or chemotherapy free at the point-of-service, like vaccines. Politicians are the ones who must be convinced, replaced, or circumvented. How do we do that? This issue, like many others is in a perpetual state of doldrums. Our federal political system is hampered by legalized corruption and prevented from solving actual problems in a substantive manner. The fact that polling showsA majority of our representatives in an allegedly representative democracy are not likely to support a single-payer system.
Additionally, the United States’ structure of government is a major impediment. Because a party has to control both houses of Congress as well as the presidency at the same time in order to get most things done, most things don’t get done. Even though Democrats may hold this trifecta at times, there always seems to be a catch. This time it’s Manchin and Sinema, last time it was then-Senators Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson.
To show how much our system slows progress, President Harry Truman began pushing for single-payer around the same time that the United Kingdom. They have had the National Health Service since late 1940s. But here we are. President Lyndon Johnson was unable to get Medicare or Medicaid through Congress because of the inordinate number liberals who were elected to Congress in 1964’s landslide.
Some strides have been made since Reaganism’s advent and the capitulation by the Democratic Party to neoliberalism/privatization, but they have tended not to be market-based. Biden and President Barack Obama both ran on the public option.
This is a constant conversation that leads to the status of Democratic Party. Is this the only way to reach the goal, or are there vested interests that could make it impossible? This discussion is as old as William Jennings Bryan’s former Democratic presidential nomination. There are valid points, but one thing is certain: a greater focus should be placed on primaries and removing those Democrats who are most influenced by corporate power. If enough people oppose single-payer are removed from office, then others will accept it.
The numbers are clear. A large majority of Democrats favor a Medicare-for-All system. exit pollingThis is evident from the 2020 Democratic Primaries. But because Biden beat Sanders, the corporate media and establishment party functionaries spun that as the voters agreeing more with Biden’s policy views rather than their impression of his “electability.”
Sometimes it seems like the party is more interested in destroying social democratic policies that it is in opposing the rise to fascism. But, by carrying out the former, the party lays the foundation for later. This article is just one example of this dynamic: The precarity we expose so many people to and the suffering they suffer is hastening authoritarianism’s rise. This was the time when Democrats realized it, as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt implemented the New Deal partly to counter it.
If federal change seems impossible, a state by state approach is an alternative. Canada did not adopt universal healthcare immediately. It was established in Saskatchewan by decades of activism by labor and agrarian groups. It is crucial to create local and state organizations that focus on single-payer issues and other related issues. It could be particularly impactful to do so in the context of existing union, faith, and other networks. As much as voting in the right people is necessary, ultimately there also need to be groups and spaces outside the partisan framework which are issue-oriented and not subservient to a party’s immediate electoral fortunes.
This is especially true for ballot measures. Voters in a wide variety of states, including those in deep red states, voted for significant progressive changes via ballot measures on issues such as raising the minimum wage and legalizing marijuana. For the 2022 and 2024 elections, organizers in states that have not expanded Medicaid are working to make this happen. This isn’t single-payer, but defending and extending existing public health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid is critical in and of itself and to realizing that eventual goal. Find out about activism in your locality, state, or region. Get involved or start a conversation.
A lot of the work to convince people about the policy substance is already done. It is now a matter of translating belief into actions. Let’s use progressive arguments for progressive ends.