The Trump administration should rank its patients and healthcare workers first
Azhar Azam

Editor's note: Azhar Azam works in a private organization as a market & business analyst and writes about geopolitical issues and regional conflicts. The article reflects the author's opinion and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

In the United States, there is no universal healthcare – the government doesn't provide health benefits even to its citizens. The very expensive healthcare, costing around 7,500 U.S. dollars to fix a fractured bone or hundreds of thousands of dollars for a comprehensive cancer treatment, drives most people to private hospitals or forces them to buy a health insurance that is mostly tied to the job.

As researchers estimate that 25-43 million Americans could lose their employer-sponsored medical insurance coverage due to COVID-19-related unemployment, at-least one-fourth of these workers and their dependents will become uninsured in expansion states and another 40 percent in the non-expansion states. Another study suggested that soaring unemployment could decipher into the loss of health insurance to almost 27 million people.

Enormous insurance losses and unaffordable healthcare poses serious risks to the lives of millions of COVID-19 patients as they won't able to get an expensive treatment, clouding U.S. efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus. Perceiving such a threat, the health insurance providers took several doctor and nurse associations, hospitals and business groups onboard and urged Congress to bolster its support for employers, enabling them to continue workers' insurance coverage.

Top executives in the U.S. insurance companies say that at the most basic level, people must have access to healthcare if the government is really interested in testing, treating and defeating the pandemic. Although the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have authorized private health insurance to cover the COVID-19 diagnostic testing "at no cost," but treatment isn't free and steals as high as 40,000 U.S. dollars from patients. Even the 100 billion U.S. dollars CARES Act does not provide universal coverage for COVID-19 treatment.

The U.S. federal government lacks the tenacity to protect its frontline medical professionals, doctors and nurses, too. While in adjacent Canada there weren't any nurse fatalities – there were more than 100 in America. The yawning gap in deaths was traced after nursing leaders from both countries came down to a unanimous conclusion that unlike Canada's nationalized healthcare system, which places patients and practitioners before profits, American authorities moved the other way to make the most of outbreak.

The prioritization of commercial interest, combined with the hospital industry's failure to provide sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) to the nurses nationwide and Trump's agenda to save the economy rather than saving people's lives, roiled the doctors, nurses and patients into a horrific and vulnerable situation.

A National Nurses United (NNU) survey echoed same sentiments from nurses across the U.S., and showed that the employers didn't ensure the safety of their medical professionals fighting on the battlefront during the ongoing pandemic. It further found that apart from employers' chilling and haphazard response, government officials had floundered too.

Residents line up for free face masks distributed by New York City Department of Parks & Recreation staff at Mauro playground, May 5, 2020. /AP

Residents line up for free face masks distributed by New York City Department of Parks & Recreation staff at Mauro playground, May 5, 2020. /AP

When more than 23,000 nurses across all 50 states and Washington D.C. were asked about their working conditions, 87 percent of the respondents said that they were reusing a single-use disposable respirator or mask with a COVID-19 patient, 84 percent complained that they hadn't been tested for COVID-19 and 72 percent exposed their skins or clothes to the patients of highly contagious disease.

"The enmeshed nurses wailed over the government of world's richest country that calls them heroes without even bothering to invest in mass producing N95 respirators and other equipment to keep them alive. Nurses signed up to care for their patients. They did not sign up to die needlessly on the front lines of a pandemic. Our message to employers and the Trump administration is: Platitudes are empty without protections. For our sake, for the public's sake – give us PPE," said NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo.

Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) federal agency warns that N95 respirator "should not be shared or reused," the frequent use of protective gear by nurses, including 28 percent of those who had to reuse the so-called "decontaminated" masks with confirmed COVID-19 patients, could be fatal for the saviors of humanity.

Frank Gabrin, first U.S. emergency room doctor to die of coronavirus, told his friend that he was worried of PPE famine in the hospitals he was serving where he had to wash N95 mask to make it last several shifts. Eventually, the two-time cancer survivor caught the virus wearing the same mask four days in a row and succumbed to COVID-19.

The dearth of PPE as well as the shortage of medicine and ventilators in emergency departments forced American College of Emergency Physicians last month to seek support from the U.S. lawmakers directly to protect nation's patients and healthcare workers.

Dr. Rick Bright, a top government scientist, who alleged in his whistleblower complain that he was sacked in April from the directorship of Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) for voicing concerns over Trump's support of hydroxychloroquine, gave grim warnings in his written testimony on COVID-19 to the U.S. Subcommittee of Health, House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

The virologist, labeled "disgruntled employee" by the U.S. president, said that 2020 will be an ominous year for the country as the window of opportunity was closing and if the U.S. failed to develop a national coordinated response, the pandemic "will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illnesses and fatalities." Bright slammed the U.S. government for its lethargic response on disease and for not ramping up the production of masks, respirators and other critical supplies despite his premonitions in January, February and March.

As the specialist on addressing pandemic outbreaks heralded an "undeniable fact" about the resurgence of COVID-19 this fall that would be greatly compounded by the challenges of seasonal influenza – the Trump administration should rank patients, healthcare workers and the national healthcare system first before the U.S. enters into the "darkest winter in modern history."

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(Cover image: More than 100 people gather together to pray for the frontline health workers in San Francisco, the U.S., April 25, 2020 /CFP)