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COVID-19 Spotlights America’s Healthcare Disparities

Amidst the chaos of a global pandemic, questions have been raised about who exactly has access to good health. The New York Times reported that after old age and the presence of a pre-existing condition, the third highest risk factor of death from COVID-19 is ‘low socioeconomic status’. Viruses don’t discriminate, but the US economy does.

Wealthy Americans have job security that allows them to stay home and work, having access to expensive private healthcare, and acquiring multiple tests to ensure their security. In the United States, 90 percent of people in the top 25 percent in income benefit from paid sick leave, while only 47 percent of people in the bottom 25 percent do. Meanwhile, testing has become largely inaccessible for healthcare workers, the elderly, immunocompromised, and those with preexisting conditions, who are at the highest risk.

Politicians in the United States love to boast that we have the best health-care system in the world, the highest-trained doctors with the newest medicines in world class facilities … but the high price makes them inaccessible to a majority of Americans. Most people who are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms are even being told to keep out of the emergency rooms unless they can’t breathe, and even those who are symptomatic often don’t have access to testing.

A pandemic is not only particularly dangerous for those of low socioeconomic status, but it also exacerbates pre-existing socioeconomic vulnerabilities to further marginalize the underprivileged. With election season fast approaching, the gravity of this crisis only goes to show how vulnerable marginalized populations are by our current healthcare system. It also shows how much they -- and everyone -- can benefit from policies like universal basic income, loan suspension and forgiveness, nationwide paid time off, free and accessible healthcare services.

Health crises like this set off a pattern of declining socioeconomic status leading to rising rates of illness, creating a cycle of mutual reinforcement. What is right now a health crisis will persist as an economic crisis for years to come, but perhaps it can shine a closer light on the intricate disaster that is American healthcare.


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