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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 3/13/20

Free Tests, Free Vaccines: Remove the Wealth Barriers to Fighting COVID-19

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From The Nation

We can't address a pandemic without eliminating economic hurdles to public health.

Coronavirus Response Act includes paid sick leave, free testing
Coronavirus Response Act includes paid sick leave, free testing
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Former Vice President Hubert Humphrey reminded us long ago that "the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.

It is also the practical test -- especially during a pandemic such as the one that the United States is now experiencing.

If we commit to provide the very best care and support for those who are most vulnerable, those who are most threatened physically and economically by the coronavirus outbreak, threads of human decency and common sense intersect to the benefit of the whole of society. That means that our responses to the coronavirus must be universal in every sense. If care is too costly, if workers feel pressured to show up for jobs when they feel ill, then this country is not responding realistically or responsibly to the crisis.

That's why Representative Ayanna Pressley argues, "Coronavirus testing must be made free to the public if we are going to understand the scope of this crisis. Anything less will undermine America's effort to protect our communities and save lives."

And that's why Representative Pramila Jayapal has written to Vice President Mike Pence to argue, "Coronavirus impacts all of us. Stopping immigrants from seeing the doctor is harmful and downright dangerous during a public health emergency. Putting up barriers to care for some is a public health risk for all. The Trump Administration must immediately suspend its wealth test."

That's a reference to the Trump administration's scheming to block immigrants who might at some point make use of federal safety-net benefits to get by. But the fact is that there are millions of people in the US who cannot afford needed health care and millions more who cannot take a day off work without risking their livelihoods.

The unfolding coronavirus outbreak threatens the stability of the US economy. It threatens to upend the 2020 election campaign, as rallies are canceled and debates are moved. Election turnout could be severely diminished in states that have not fully developed vote-by-mail systems. Yet, the most serious threat is to the health and safety of those millions of Americans who lack access to health care, who lack the resources that are required to pay for that care, and who lack the freedom to take time off when they or family members are ailing.

If society fails to meet everyone's needs, no matter what their immigration status, and no matter what their ability to pay, then there will be a class divide in our response to the pandemic. And that divide will render the response dangerously inadequate.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has been making this point for weeks, delivering "now is the time for solidarity" speeches and statements that go far beyond, merely pointing out that we would all be better off with a single-payer "Medicare for All" health care system.

"We have to make sure that everybody, right now, feels free when you're sick to go to a doctor, regardless of your income. And you know what? The government will pay that bill," the Democratic presidential contender said on the Tonight Show Wednesday. "Number two, we are the only major country on Earth not to guarantee paid medical leave. If you can believe it, there are people who are sick today, who may actually believe they have symptoms of the coronavirus, who are going to work because they have no income (if they do not). They're making $12, $13 an hour, they've got to feed their family, they go to work. We have got to do what every other country on Earth does and guarantee paid family and medical leave and do it right now on an emergency basis."

Paid sick leave can't be treated as an option anymore. "It's not just inhumane to force people to work while sick. It's also a massive threat to public health," says Wisconsin union activist Randy Bryce. Representative Val Demmings says, "Paid sick leave is required to control coronavirus."


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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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