Healthcare is the most important aspect of a person’s life. Without access to quality, affordable healthcare, preventable, and sometimes minor, health issues balloon into deadlier illnesses or chronic health complications. But despite massive efforts to reduce uninsured rates in recent years, there remains a great deal of Americans who still lack adequate access to healthcare. Particularly, those individuals coming from low-income and minority communities.
And now, with the emergence of a global pandemic, the U.S., as of Aug. 19, has amassed an approximate of 30 million total unemployment claims since COVID-19 first broke ground in March; with African Americans and low-income citizens bearing the brunt of the economic crisis sparked by the Coronavirus, according to The Washington Post.
According to USA Today’s Charisse Jones, “[w]hile unemployment among white workers fell to 12.4%, unemployment for black workers rose to 16.8%,” the highest rate of unemployment in Black America since the Great Depression.
Additionally, disparities in healthcare have also become increasingly evident over the last few years, making healthcare the number one topic amongst voters’ lists of issues this election cycle. This is also why Joe Biden has taken some considerable political push-back amid criticisms he made in this year’s presidential primary regarding a government single-payer healthcare plan, more commonly referred to by progressives as “Medicare for All.” The Democratic nominee for president said he would veto any measure of legislation that would “significantly raise taxes on the middle-class.” But what about the poor who find themselves most at risk by this year’s economic and healthcare crisis, what does Biden have to offer to them? And does Biden’s refusal to back Medicare for All present a problem for him in this year’s 2020 presidential election to defeat President Donald Trump?
Let us begin by clearly defining what Medicare for All is, and how it correlates with the broader umbrella terminology: universal healthcare. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines universal health coverage as access by all citizens to health services they need (prevention, promotion, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care) without the risk of financial hardship. Whereas, Medicare for All, a single-payer healthcare coverage system, builds on the concept of Medicaid, a healthcare program that assists low-income individuals, which is also predicated on the concept of universal healthcare; therefore, one could infer that Medicare for All is simply a universal expansion of Medicare, meaning mandatory coverage for all Americans who choose to enroll. So, why has Biden expressly denied his support for Medicare for All, surely, he must see it as a step up from the controversial Affordable Care Act (ACA)?
Instead, the Biden campaign has decided to endorse a different interpretation of universal healthcare, a sort of best-of-both-worlds approach, with an emphasis on affordability and accessibility, but no talk of universal mandatory coverage. According to Joe Biden’s campaign website, the Democratic presidential nominee says he wants to build on the ACA by, “giving Americans more choice, reducing health care costs, and making our healthcare system less complex to navigate”: implementing a public option (premium-free) add-on to the ACA, whereby low-income families and individuals may receive mandatory health coverage if they fall below a certain poverty threshold, similar to Medicaid.
Consequently, Biden has received major pushback from progressives who see his vision for healthcare as nothing more than a watered-down version of Medicare for All. A recent poll conducted by a market research firm, HarrisX, showing a whopping 88% of Democrats in favor of Medicare for All, single-payer, healthcare system, with an average of 69% of Americans supporting the policy, according to Newsweek. These numbers clearly present a wide range of support for single-payer healthcare coverage, so why is Joe Biden so against Medicare for All?
In short, Biden’s disdain for Medicare for All seems to be based on his opinion that it would “cost too much.”
But what about what voters want — particularly those coming from low-income minority households — who are already experiencing difficulties in accessing affordable healthcare? While it is true that the ACA has made considerable strides in reducing uninsured rates among low-income African American and Latino households, “medical debt (still) remains a glaring issue for Black Americans,” with people of color “accounting for over half of the total nonelderly uninsured population,” according to the Center for Popular Democracy, a non-profit social justice network.
It is clear — universal healthcare is just as much as a racial justice issue as it is an economic issue. And with so many Americans teetering on financial collapse, one would think Biden would feel more pressured to support Medicare for All.
If Biden really wants to effectuate change in America and bridge the country’s racial divide — there is no greater measure than Medicare for All.