Before the pandemic, roughly one-third of those with health insurance got it as a public provision (mostly Medicare or Medicaid), but well over half (55 percent) of Americans with health insurance got it as a benefit of employment. A system that pins health insurance to employment makes health care a commodity rather than a right. Such a system is a textbook example of “institutional racism”—a system that looks “neutral” but that produces and reproduces the racial inequalities of the labor market.
Thirty-nine million former workers have filed for unemployment benefits. This loss is bad enough without the additional worry of paying for medical treatment during a pandemic. To protect individuals and advance public health, Medicare should provide coverage for all medical costs during the pandemic.
An improved Medicare for All is the best policy, but even an extension of Medicare would be a better option than what is presently available. Medicaid enrollment will increase under the pandemic, but many will still be left behind, as not all states expanded eligibility for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Individuals and families will turn to private plans offered under the Affordable Care Act, which are subsidized for those with incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Line, but these plans, by design, differ in quality (they are euphemistically categorized “gold,” “silver,” and “bronze”).
Laid-off workers might continue their insurance coverage under COBRA, but this program does not cover all jobs and it requires former employees to pay for the full cost of their insurance premiums. Depending on the circumstances COBRA is available between 18 months and 36 months.
Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction