We Need Free Healthcare Now

In the middle of the pandemic, Ms. Tholke, an elementary school teacher, slipped on a floor mat and tore her hamstring. After a consultation with the doctor, she went into an emergency surgery. Even though this was the most painful experience of her life, she feels lucky because she could afford medical treatment. Like most Americans, Ms. Tholke has had numerous negative experiences with our for-profit healthcare system and has seen how it has ruined students’ lives. 

Ms. Tholke explains, “A family member of one of my students got COVID. As a result, my student, who was four at the time, had to go into quarantine. Her older brother, a high school student, was the one navigating the education system for the two younger kids because the two parents are working their buns off at nominal jobs. They couldn’t quarantine, because they were in an apartment and it was either eat and pay your rent or quarantine and get kicked out.” 

This is the story of millions of Americans. Our current healthcare system forces families to choose between seeking medical treatment and keeping a roof over their heads. Unfortunately, the Coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated our healthcare crisis. Since the beginning of the pandemic, over 16.2 million workers have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance. This means that 16.2 million Americans have gone from having the ability to pay for emergency medical treatment, like Ms. Tholke’s hamstring surgery, to choosing between their health and subsistence. In a time when millions of Americans are losing their employer-based health insurance, deaths of despair are increasing. According to the CDC, since the beginning of the pandemic, overdoses have doubled in ten western states, and “37 out of 38 jurisdictions across the country have rising overdose deaths.”

We are living in the middle of a pandemic that affects all Americans. With the damage that covid has done, people are noticing that our healthcare system needs improvements and are paying attention to free health care proposals. One proposal that workers are paying attention to is Bernie Sanders’ Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act (HEGA). HEGA will “guarantee that every person in the United States, regardless of employment, immigration, or insurance status, has the health care they need — including free testing, vaccines, and treatment — during the COVID-19 pandemic”. In addition to empowering Medicare to pay all medical bills, HEGA will “halt medical debt collections, prohibit private insurance companies from increasing cost-sharing, and require ongoing data collection and weekly reporting on COVID-19–related health disparities”. 

In terms of feasibility, HEGA has a huge advantage over most other bills: it can be passed through budget reconciliation. Budget reconciliation “allows for expedited consideration of certain tax, spending, and debt-limit legislation”. In layman’s terms, HEGA can be passed with a pure majority of 51 votes, and thus without any republicans. The barrier to passing HEGA is no longer Republicans, but rather corporate democrats. 

If the Biden Administration does not prioritize passing HEGA, 6-10 members of the House of Representatives can withhold their votes from – or slow down – all democratic legislation until HEGA gets a floor vote. If just one Senator withholds their vote from all democratic legislation, they can force Senate Majority leader, Chuck Schumer, to hold a floor vote on HEGA. These tactics are not new. For example, Josh Hawley and Bernie Sanders used the same strategy to add $600 stimulus checks to the most recent covid stimulus bill. 

Americans are hurting right now. Passing HEGA would mean that Ms. Tholke could go to the doctor without fear of going into debt. Her students would receive necessary medical treatment without risking a return to homelessness. Hard working parents will no longer have to decide between feeding themselves and taking their children to the doctor. Passing HEGA is possible; all we need is 6 members in the house of representatives and one senator to leverage their power. If you want to make HEGA a reality, call your local congressmen and demand that they force a vote on HEGA.