The COVID-19 pandemic has caused millions of Americans to lose their employer-based health insurance. Taxpayers have already paid billions of dollars for research for a vaccine, but for-profit pharma companies refuse to guarantee any vaccine will be affordable to those same taxpayers.
Could anything good possibly come of this?
Maybe. “I hate to say we needed a crisis like this because it has caused so much devastation, but certainly the crisis has highlighted the human toll of our broken health-care system,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), sponsor of the House Medicare for All bill, recently told The Washington Post.
And there is some evidence that Americans are paying attention. In two particular areas—Medicare for All and nationalizing the pharmaceutical industry—momentum for change is building.
Representative Pramila Jayapal
Medicare for All
While Medicare for All has gained majority support in polls for some time now, those numbers have increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.
Among those changing their mind is Dr. Li Tso, a primary care physician at Mass General Hospital and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. In a column in The Hill newspaper, “How I Changed My Mind on Medicare for All,” Dr. Tso writes:
“I know most of the arguments against "Medicare for All." I’ve been making them for most of my professional life as a physician . . . I now know I was wrong.
Medicare for All will cost a lot, and it will cause huge disruptions. But disruption is part of free enterprise and innovation. Why should health care companies be exempt? It makes little sense and is almost un-American . . .
COVID has made clear that we need to reframe the way we think about universal health coverage . . .The disruption and cost of permanent universal coverage is indeed high but the cost of not pursuing this policy will likely be much higher.”
Nationalize the Pharma Industry
Our editor co-authored with journalist Natalie Shure an article in Jacobin calling for the nationalization of the pharmaceutical industry. (The article was originally published in the U.K. magazine The Tribune, so multiple U.K. examples are cited.) “The private pharmaceutical industry’s handsome profits are all the more galling when you consider the degree to which they’re publicly subsidized,” the article says in part. “The most expensive and riskiest stage of the research process — the basic science on the back end — is usually funded by governments, not private companies.”
This was not the first time our editor has made the case for nationalizing pharma. He did so in a humorous sound bite on the Full Frontal with Samantha Bee show and in an available-online academic article soon to be published in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform.
But it is worth noting that this call for nationalization is being heard far more often these days: consider this article in the New Republic (“Even if you are of the opinion that drug companies are unduly burdened with the cost of research, there is a very simple solution: Nationalize them. “) And look at this opinion piece for NBC News (“We should nationalize what remains of the American vaccine industry now, thereby assuring that any coronavirus vaccines produced can be made as widely available and as inexpensive soon as possible.”) There are others, too.
The COVID-19 pandemic has cast a very dark cloud over the United States. But it is not unreasonable to hope there may be a healthcare silver lining lurking within.