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Coronavirus exposes the many weaknesses in the US healthcare system

  • Ali Cinar
  • 2 Apr 2020

The US healthcare system is clearly broken and the pandemic shows us why.

A healthcare worker walks outside a newly constructed field hospital in the East Meadow of Central Park during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 1, 2020. ( Reuters )

While the number of coronavirus cases worldwide is about to hit one million, the number of people who have lost their lives has almost touched fifty thousand. 

Outpacing all other countries in number of confirmed cases, the US has become a major hotspot for the coronavirus pandemic. 

President Trump warned Americans to brace for a “rough two-week period” ahead as the White House released new model projections that there could be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the US from Covid-19.

Some state governors, most notably that of New York, have criticised the federal government and requested emergency assistance. 

The governor and mayor of New York are complaining almost daily about the lack of bed capacity, the insufficient number of ventilators, and the limited number of healthcare employees. 

The mayor of New York has emphasised the severity of the situation, claiming that he has only one week’s worth of medical supplies on hand.

In a daily press conference from White House, President Trump talks about the measures put in place. In particular, President Trump occasionally brings up the flaws in the US healthcare system. He even criticises state authorities, asking why they didn’t take precautions earlier.

There is obviously conflict between the federal government and state administrations. So, is the health system in the US, the merits of which trigger some of these spats, on the verge of a breakdown?

In the US, health becomes a major issue every election cycl. Every government changes its health policies with new approaches in every tenure. 

Before Obamacare, there was no general and universal health insurance, but Obamacare aimed to provide everyone with at least one insurer, and thanks to the act, about 20 million people more were insured. 

However, having stated that, Obamacare was a flawed system. President Trump tried to push through a new US health reform through the House of Representatives in 2017, which was rejected by the Senate. Thus, the health policy that Trump wanted to implement could not be carried out. 

Now, President Trump says that they have a great healthcare plan with much lower premiums and bigger discounts than ‘Obamacare’ provided he is elected as president again in 2020.

But what are the facts when it comes to US healthcare? According to the American Hospitals Association, the total number of hospitals is 6,146, of which, 5,198 are 'community hospitals' defined as "nonfederal, short-term general, and other special hospitals". 

The total staffed beds in the US amounts to 924,107 beds. The total expenses for hospitals is over $1 trillion. 

The KFF states there are 1,005,295 doctors in the US

The US Census shows that out of 164,000 healthcare professionals surveyed, 17 percent were born outside of the US, and five percent were not even US citizens. 

According to the US Medical Association, there will be a shortage of 105,000 physicians in the US by 2030.

The US has begun its push to recruit doctors and medical personnel from abroad due to a shortage of trained specialists and the fact that the coronavirus has made the problems in the health system more transparent. 

The US announced a “Visa update for medical professionals” issued by the Consular Affairs Department of State to inform potential recruits about gaining convenient access to a visa.

Now I'd like to move to a few recent examples of the healthcare system in action since the coronavirus pandemic to illustrate how the healthcare system is flawed in practice.

In California, a 17-year-old who had coronavirus wasn’t admitted to the hospital because he had no health insurance and died - although it is not yet confirmed whether Covid-19 was the cause of death.

In Florida, the cost of treatment for one uninsured Covid-19 patient was $34,927,43. In the latest report by FairHealth, there are shocking details about  treatment costs that could increase to up to $73,000 for an uninsured Covid-19 patient.

If you are a Covid-19 patient and have insurance, the amount you will pay ranges between $9,000-20,000. There are 27 million uninsured people in the US. Among those, there are many US citizens who avoid doctors, even if they are ill, due to the fear of exorbitant bills.

According to IBISWorld, the market share of health and medical insurance measured by revenue is $1.1 trillion. We are talking about a market that makes a great deal of profit. 

Many insurance companies in Washington DC have been working for a long time to get their way through lobbying Congress.

In a population of approximately 330 million people, the problems in the health system, which have been brought to the top of the agenda again with the outbreak of the coronavirus, must be resolved as soon as possible. 

I can say that President Trump is putting up a great fight against coronavirus at the moment. As far as we can see, even though precautions were taken late at first, President Trump and his team have been providing every state with financial and moral support, some of which includes bringing the US National Guard into action and a stimulus package worth $2.2 trillion.

At the last press conference, President Trump said, “human lives first,” and that precautions would increase. The most important issue is that everyone should support each other to fight the coronavirus, regardless of their politics.

With the coronavirus outbreak, what has become clear for many countries, particularly the US, is that it is more significant to invest in human health first instead of spending trillions of dollars on other industries that are not as essential.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to opinion.editorial@trtworld.com

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