Opinion

Coronavirus scare reiterates importance of moving toward universal healthcare

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Nobody can predict with certainty the future of the novel coronavirus, but with groups such as the World Health Organization issuing statements advising people to prepare for a pandemic, the chance of COVID-19 disappearing in the coming weeks appears increasingly less likely.

Paranoia surrounding the virus is not relegated solely to the WHO’s Geneva headquarters — UW-Madison recently suspended a number of study abroad programs currently taking place in Italy, South Korea and China. Last Wednesday, Chancellor Rebecca Blank announced that UW-Madison will be holding alternative (online) classes through April 10. 

Although analysis of the virus ought to be tempered with more humility for the unknown than has been demonstrated thus far, the events of the past two months paint an increasingly grim picture of the potential fallout that may occur if the virus follows projected growth rates.

As it so happens, the spread of the coronavirus takes place at a time in which Americans are having a serious discussion about the implementation of a universal healthcare system for the first time in my lifetime. Many in support of a universal healthcare system argue the financial burdens placed on uninsured Americans in the aftermath of a coronavirus pandemic would finally necessitate the implementation of a medicare for all system. 

Although I am less optimistic with respect to the timeline, the idea of COVID-19 setting in place the motion for a universal healthcare system in the United States has enough merit to not warrant outright dismissal.

As of 2020, the bulk of American ideological opposition to universal healthcare can be situated within either or both of the following objections; the government isn't capable of running a nationwide healthcare service, and/or such proposals would be too expensive

Let’s take the first objection — that the federal government does not possess the capability to run a nationwide healthcare service. Clearly, enough Americans have not bought into the popular argument — however valid it may be — that nations the world over have established and subsequently managed the systems in question with great deals of success throughout the past half century.

How does this relate to the coronavirus?

If appealing to the successes seen in other nations falls upon deaf ears on this side of the pond, what argument will work? One theory stands out in light of the coronavirus — that the United States must undergo a medical catastrophe in order for systemic chance to take place within the healthcare sector. 

The aforementioned theory, however grim, is one that has at least a modicum of historical context to suggest its validity. Despite being proposed throughout the early 1900s, universal healthcare as recognized today was not established in much of Western Europe until after the Second World War — this timing was not coincidental. As Dr. Aaron C Carroll argues in an article for the New York Times, the war decimated Europe such that the only entity able to provide sufficient healthcare was the federal government. In one form or another, such programs have continued through the later part of the 1900s until today, with citizens of these nations reporting widespread satisfaction with the quality of their healthcare.

Fast forward to 2020 — if the coronavirus indeed spreads to over a hundred million Americans, as some experts predict, the federal government will almost certainly be compelled to take decisive and systemic action in order to address the sheer lack of space in American hospitals to house the unprecedented number of patients coronavirus is expected to produce. 

If the American government manages to remedy these problems in such a manner that nobody could deny the efficacy of its results, the thought of some non-trivial percentage of Americans previously skeptical of the government’s capability with respect to healthcare reassessing their position may not be out of the question. 

Moreover, if such government intervention is regarded with even a fraction of the satisfaction rates of medicare, the removal of said interventions would likely be met with the same levels of opposition European politicians face when attempting to roll back systems which produce universal healthcare.

Perhaps you buy the first argument — you concede a well-managed government intervention into the healthcare sector to manage a pandemic would persuade some number of Americans that the federal government is, in fact, capable of running a universal healthcare system; the concern of cost still remains. 

While concerns surrounding the cost of such programs are not unfounded, these concerns will be substantially less difficult to overcome than concerns regarding the government’s capability to deal with healthcare. 

Throughout the history of this nation, elected representatives have consistently found the means to finance programs seen as necessities by the American public, be the wars in the Middle East or the construction of the interstate system. 

Mark my words — if American politicians decide universal healthcare is a program necessary to implement, concerns about its cost will become a footnote.

Leaving the merits of a universal healthcare system for another day, the idea of a virus as contagious as COVID-19 fundamentally changing the dynamics surrounding our discussion of universal healthcare is one that ought to be taken with a great degree of seriousness. 

Steven is a senior studying political science. Do you think the proliferation of COVID-19 will lead to widespread advocacy for universal healthcare? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com

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