Does Medicare for All Await Us at the End of This Viral Massacre?

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Dr. Margaret Flowers Illustration credit: Mr. Fish.

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed a number of fatal flaws in the ways the United States operates that all link back to capitalism. Perhaps the most egregious, however, is the country’s inhumane health care system. Given the global spread of Covid-19, it has been possible to witness in real time how other countries have fared against the deadly virus, and for anyone paying attention to health care systems, it has been clear from the onset that the American system, which boasts the highest costs in the world, was going to lead to mass death on a scale unseen in other nations. The combination of obscene health insurance costs, as well as deductibles and copays, and the fact that it is often tied to employment--a problem exacerbated by the rapid rise in unemployment linked to lockdowns across the U.S.--has left many Americans without recourse amid a pandemic in which the overall health of the nation has been determined by those who can’t access health care. 

Dr. Margaret Flowers, a physician, activist and the co-founder of the progressive site Popular Resistance who recently wrote about the coronavirus crisis,  joins “Scheer Intelligence” host Robert Scheer on the latest episode to discuss why the U.S. system was destined to fail Americans. 

Scheer cites the following passage from Flowers’ recent piece

"Although the USA comprises five percent of the global population, 32 percent of Covid-19 cases and 25 percent of deaths worldwide are there. By contrast, China, where the novel coronavirus originated, has one-tenth of the number of cases and deaths, despite having a population that is four times larger.”

“We spend more money than anybody in the world, certainly, on health care per capita. We claim we have the best system,” says Scheer, ultimately asking the doctor, “How is it possible that we have a much poorer record, not only than China, than most of the world?” 

“If we look at the countries around the world that have responded well to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Flowers responds, “we find that what they have in common is that they have universal health care systems, with central planning, that are designed to actually address the health needs of the population. And that's exactly the opposite of what we have in the United States.” 

The health care advocate, who has advised members of Congress on health care policy, goes on to explain the stark differences between the U.S. and Chinese approaches to the crisis. While indicating that President Donald Trump’s delayed response increased the gravity of the situation, Flowers declares that the issues the pandemic has revealed long predate the reality TV star’s presidency. 

“This whole problem really started before President Trump,” she tells Scheer. “As people who advocate for a universal health care system, we've been warning for a long time that the United States was not prepared for any type of serious epidemic or pandemic because of the fundamental way that our health care system is designed, and that's really to make profit.” 

The moral implications of a system set up to feed off people at their most vulnerable are coming into high relief now that the pandemic is sweeping the nation. Perhaps, however, the coronavirus will succeed in putting to rest a fundamental lie at the core of the American health care system, as Flowers indicates, that somehow individuals lacking personal responsibility are the real reason American health care is so costly. 

“I hear so many times that people would be healthier if they just took personal responsibility,” the pediatrician says, “And that drives me crazy. When you understand that when you live in a society where the air is polluted, the water is polluted, you don't have access to healthy food, you're working three jobs to keep your family fed. Those are external factors that have huge impacts on health that people just don't have control over.” 

Despite the dismal state of affairs, and the daily death tolls in the thousands that are endlessly heartbreaking, there may be reason to hope that beyond the pandemic, a radical change is lurking. And it won’t be a minute too soon, since, as Scheer hypothesizes, pandemics may become the “new normal” of human existence in a globally connected world. Citing the frustrations she experienced during her time as an adviser to Congress Democrats such as Dennis Kucinich, Flowers explains how the most excruciating thing she witnessed was the government’s lopsided use of taxpayer money. 

“It was just amazing to me how, if it's for the Pentagon, if it's for our so-called, you know, defense, then there's an unlimited checkbook there,” the Popular Resistance co-founder relates. “But even knowing that a national, improved Medicare-for-all, single-payer health care system would cost less than what we're spending right now, we still have not been able to win it, although I think that we're very close. 

“I think that this pandemic has so exposed the failures of our health care system,” she concludes, “that we have a unique opportunity right now. We've been building for it for a long time, but I think we have an opportunity to really push and win that.” 

Listen to the full discussion between Flowers and Scheer as they talk about the global response to coronavirus, the economic and political implications of it, and the rise in surveillance linked to fighting Covid-19. 



Joshua Scheer