There is no doubt that there were catastrophic errors of judgment by the US government in terms of readying the country’s health system to deal with the current pandemic. These occurred both at the time when evidence of the existence of Covid-19 first emerged and in the two years before its arrival on these shores. The closure of the White House Pandemic Office and the contemporaneous reduction in the CDC budget were, to say the least, short- sighted.
But, if we are honest, the seeds of failure were sown a long time before that. A pandemic of this nature was always going to wreak havoc in the world’s richest nation. For the truth is that the United States, alone among developed nations, has never fully embraced the concept that health security is a fundamental part of the social contract.
By opting to rely on a system that depends on private insurance for all except veterans, the elderly and, in some states, the very poor, government (both federal and states) has chosen to turn a blind eye to the underbelly of society – those who cannot afford insurance or who are under-insured. Until Covid-19, 91% of Americans had some form of health insurance as against 99.9% of those in the rest of the developed world. Post-Covid-19, with 20 million filing for unemployment, that number is going to plummet. Before the virus, 500,000 people went bankrupt every year due to medical crises. That figure will rise.
A society that leaves so many people health-insecure – people who perforce have to work in the front lines – was never going to contain a virus such as this. It is a gaping hole in our national security armory, a Trojan Horse that undermines one of the key tenets of an equal and successful society.
Covid-19 is a wake-up call for all Americans to rethink what health security in this country should look like – and to commit to health as a fundamental and sacred duty of government. How that can and should be done is a legitimate matter for debate, but the commitment itself should be non-negotiable.