A newly arrived COVID-19 patient is set up with oxygen equipment in a Texas hospital in March 2020. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Orange County School of the Arts

Opinion: COVID-19 showed that the U.S. healthcare system needs reform

The recent and still on-going COVID-19 pandemic left the world in chaos and anguish. In the midst of the global pandemic that this historical event brought on, one of the questions that arise is: Could we have done better in responding to this international crisis?

My answer to this question is, yes.

The United States as a whole could have and should have done better, specifically in the area of healthcare. In fact, our healthcare system definitely did not contribute to the fullest. More than anything, COVID-19 has shown us that our healthcare system needs reform and changes.

In March, the news of a 17-year-old teenager affected by the coronavirus in Lancaster, Calif. being denied medical care was widely spread. It was alleged that the reason this teen was not treated was that he did not have healthcare insurance and that this lack of care led to his death, according to TIME.

Although TIME, in an interview with the mayor of Lancaster, has cleared up the situation and reported that the teen’s death was not because of a lack of medical insurance, this event sparked controversy and audience response because, as the TIME article put it, “it easily could have been true.”

According to TIME, emergency medical treatment can be refused to anyone in the US who is uninsured, and over 27 million citizens do not have medical insurance.

Even with medical insurance, however, the cost of treatment and care in the US is extremely expensive, so much so that even citizens and residents with insurance sometimes cannot afford the care- thus making medical treatment both extremely pricey and inaccessible.

According to The Guardian, 25% of all Americans state that they couldn’t receive needed medical care because of the expensive costs that they brought. In 2009, a Harvard University study revealed that each year, 45,000 individuals die because of not possessing healthcare insurance.

In the specific case of COVID-19, CNBC states that medical care (hospitalizations, treatments, etc.) will cost an average of $30,000 per person. For uninsured individuals, the cost reaches over $70,000 per person for professional treatment and hospitalizations, according to Business Insider.

Although the Trump administration has committed to granting money to different hospitals for them to treat uninsured COVID-19 patients, according to the Washington Post, this may actually mean that patients with insurance will be at a financial disadvantage in paying for their $30,000 medical bills since the administration’s payment does not extend to them.

These bills and huge payments happen normally because of our current healthcare system — and what’s more is that without the pandemic, uninsured individuals would’ve had to pay the full $70,000 for treatment. Such costs are not uncommon, according to Debt.org.

The average hospital stay price goes over $10,000 and many surgeries such as heart valve replacement cost over $100,000, which uninsured patients would have the full burden of under normal circumstances. In comparison to other nations’ healthcare systems, such as in the case of an appendectomy, which, according to the New York Times, adds up to the price of about $13,020 in the US.

Even with these high costs, according to the Commonwealth Fund, the US has the worst life expectancy and spends almost double the amount on healthcare compared to the other OECD nations of the world.

This general contrast goes for the recent COVID-19 circumstance as well — a case reported by CNN stated that while a recovered American patient with COVID-19 had a bill of thousands for their treatment, an Italian individual with similar symptoms in Italy paid almost nothing because of the country’s healthcare system.

As of June 24, there are still over two million COVID cases in the US and of them, over 100,000 deaths according to Google’s data.

In this pandemic and the aspect of it that is healthcare, the dire need for healthcare reform is emphasized. The main reform direction the system needs to work towards is lowering the medical costs so that medical care will become much more approachable and individuals can attain the treatments that they need.

More “government regulation” of medical prices, as the New York Times put it, is necessary so that costs can become much more regular and more government action, not to change the medical treatments themselves but to change the country’s system, is needed as well — especially in times like now when healthcare is so important.