Op-Ed: Pandemic Reveals We Need Health Security

By DAVENA NORRIS
Pharm.D., PhC, BCPS
Memorial Medical Center
Las Cruces

As a hospital pharmacist, I am seeing what the COVID-19 pandemic reveals: the unacceptable weaknesses in our health care system.

To address them, a good place to start is by evaluating the mindset and structural issues that have led us here.

Let’s start with mindset. Rugged individualism is an aspect of American culture that has been ingrained in our society. Having grown up on a ranch in Cliff, N.M. I learned the value of self-reliance, independent critical thinking, and perseverance at a young age.

However, is an individualist mentality appropriate when it comes to the health of our society? In some respects, the answer is yes. We do have responsibility for our own health. On the other hand, a mentality that values the collective health of our society is just as important.

As COVID-19 is showing us, my health impacts you. Your health impacts me. Our health impacts our neighbors, our communities, our country and economy.

A mindset that places greater value on our collective health would lead to a more robust public health system that is better prepared to prevent and fight pandemics. Such a mindset would also embody the opportunity for every person, regardless of status, to see a health professional when needed without experiencing financial hardship.

That leads me to the structure of our system, starting with the big picture. The U.S. spends about twice as much per person on health care as other developed countries. Yet we have the lowest life expectancy, highest suicide rates, and highest chronic disease burden. Despite the amount we spend, millions of Americans are uninsured or cannot afford care because of high deductibles, premiums, and copayments. The economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic is only worsening this.

Which leads us to a crucial question: should health coverage continue to be tied to employment? Because of the pandemic, millions of people are losing their jobs, and along with this, their health coverage. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in April found that the layoffs caused by the pandemic could result in 7.3 million American workers (along with several million family members) being uninsured by June 30.

This is a tragedy not experienced in most other countries. In addition to facing unimaginable financial insecurity, Americans are living in fear of not affording medical care if they get sick and not being able to continue with their medications and other treatments. Health care should be a human right, not an employee benefit.

So, how do we create a more effective and just health care system?

New Mexico has been working on its own homegrown solution for over 2 decades. The NM Health Security Plan would allow our state to set up its own non-profit health plan, run like a cooperative, to ensure health care coverage for all New Mexicans. It would include freedom of choice of health care providers, comprehensive benefits throughout our lives, and fair premiums. If you lose your job or change jobs, your health coverage stays with you. There would be no surprise bills, and people with preexisting conditions would be covered. Visit www.nmhealthsecurity.org to learn more.

COVID-19 is changing our lives. And it won’t be the last pandemic we face. I hope we as New Mexicans can have serious conversations about how we can change our mindset and improve the structure of our health care system. Let’s lead the nation in guaranteeing health security for all our residents.

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