COVID-19 revives urgent call for universal health care (video)

Why We Wrote This

The coronavirus pandemic is putting new pressures on the U.S. health care system – and bringing fresh urgency to the debate over universal coverage. In this video we look at America’s long history with health care reform, and at what we can learn from the role that crises play in fueling change. This is the second installment in a video series about how the past can help us understand, and face, the issues of the present. View the first in the series here

The social-distancing policies of the COVID-19 era have led to millions of people losing their jobs – and their employer-based health insurance – at a time when access to health care is more essential than ever.

The crisis has reinvigorated the debate around universal health coverage. Supporters of former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders see the situation as proof positive of the validity of his signature policy, “Medicare For All.” They note that while universal coverage hasn’t slowed the spread of the disease in countries that offer the policy, it has helped make sure their citizens aren’t also slapped with huge medical bills after testing and treatment for coronavirus.

This isn’t the first time crisis has triggered calls for major health care reform in the United States. In the late 1940s, President Harry Truman – in keeping with the message of his predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt – tried to establish a national health insurance policy following World War II. His proposal failed, but it did pave the way for one of the nation’s most significant, and still wildly popular, social reforms: Medicare.

“A crisis usually emboldens everybody to argue harder for whatever they were arguing for before,” says Theda Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology at Harvard University, “but the hopeful side is that people will see that they have a stake in each other’s well being.”

In this episode, we look at the long road to health care reform in America, and what that history tells us about the way forward as we confront the coronavirus pandemic.

You can watch the previous installment of Precedented, on disease and discrimination, here.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

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