Every day in the United States, the coronavirus continues to spread. Even for the strongest of health systems, this health crisis would present a multitude of challenges. But in the US, where healthcare is primarily delivered by profit hungry conglomerates and there is a lack of investment in preventive and preparedness measures, this current outbreak has revealed the absolute failure of private health care delivery in the United States and the country’s inability to provide social protection to everyone, especially to the most vulnerable among us. 

The People’s Health Movement – USA demands an immediate, bold, and just response that prioritizes people’s lives and protects the people’s health and livelihoods during this crisis, a response that paves the way for a radical reshaping of not only how health is delivered, but protects the right to health, healthcare, and social protection.  

Even before this current crisis, millions of people in the US struggled to meet basic needs. With legitimate fears of the coronavirus spread, states have taken strong measures that nonetheless potentially have negative impacts on people and families. Schools close, but childcare, including with serious protective measures, is not available in most places or is unaffordable. As businesses shut their doors, workers face uncertainty about covering their expenses. Undocumented people face deportation if they seek help. 

Meanwhile, the need for health services increases daily, and our profit-driven healthcare delivery system is not prepared to respond to such increasing need. Private interests that dominate the US health system continue to put profits over people. The cost of diagnosis and treatment for COVID-19 remains exorbitant, and patients will face exorbitantly high  hospital bills or even bankruptcy on top of the toll of the disease itself. 

As people across the US demand action from Congress to increase financial allocations for health and social protection measures, lobbyists work behind the scenes to secure huge subsidies for corporations. These companies continue to profit from people’s suffering, while also wanting a significant direct share of the money collected from taxpayers.

“Now is not the time to allow large corporations to take advantage of this horrific crisis by ripping off U.S. taxpayers and profiteering off of the pandemic.” -Bernie Sanders

A just response to the current crisis…

People’s health and well-being must be placed over the interests of the rich and powerful. This moment of crisis has been exacerbated by an inadequate and unprepared healthcare delivery system, weak social protections, and poor and irrational leadership from the Trump administration. We must immediately take action to protect people’s health and livelihoods.

Our public health systems have been weakened by millions of dollars of budget cuts, an opposition to regulation of both pollution and greed, and the refusal to build or maintain common infrastructure. If we are going to survive coronavirus with a minimum of deaths, we need to replace our health-for-profit system with one that recognizes that health is a human right. -Hesperian

This pandemic calls for swift action to mitigate the sickness and death it will bring. The People’s Health Movement – USA calls for:

  • Protections for frontline health and service workers, including sufficient protective and medical supplies

  • Free access to testing, treatment and auxiliary care for those affected by the virus

  • Guaranteed income while businesses and other services close to protect public health

  • Cancellation of student loan debt

  • A moratorium on rent and mortgages payments and utility shutoffs

  • Health services and protections for people experiencing homelessness

  • Health protections or release for incarcerated people, especially the release of those being detained by ICE

Envisioning the possible…

This crisis has ripped the veil from the constructs of our society that prioritize big business and monied interests over the health and lives of people, especially those who actually make up the bedrock of our society–workers, families, local communities. Constructs that insist on capitalism, consumerism and perpetual growth rather than people’s physical and mental health as well as the environment. We must recognize the underlying, root causes that put so many of us at risk everyday and perpetuate the ever-growing inequality in our country. As our government responds to this immediate threat the people must organize to demand systemic and structural changes to create a just society in which everyone can realize the right to health.

But this is not the whole story. In the United States, we have also seen organizing at the city and state levels win important victories to suspend evictions during the pandemic. Ireland has announced six weeks of emergency unemployment payments for all workers who suddenly find themselves out of work, including self-employed workers. And despite U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden’s claims during the recent debate that the pandemic has nothing to do with Medicare for All, many Americans are suddenly realizing that the absence of a functioning safety net exacerbates vulnerabilities to the virus on many fronts. –Naomi Klein

Meaningful response to the current climate emergency

Climate change and environmental degradation is one of the biggest threats facing our world.  The response to climate change also demands a fundamental change in the global economy’s thirst for increased consumerism and infinite growth. It demands putting an end to fossil fuel use and extraction, including fracking. The worst health and economic effects of the practices of the fossil fuel industry and climate change have been borne by indigenous communities as well as low-income communities that are usually majority people of color. Sovereignty of traditional lands should be returned to indigineous peoples, and communities that have been ravaged by environmental injustices should be made whole through investments that revitalize them, prioritizing racial, economic, and health justice. 

A strong public health system that guarantees access to health care 

A health system driven by profit cannot achieve its intended goals. What we need is not only free, accessible health insurance for everyone but also a strong public health system that can meet the needs of people where they are when their need arises. All clinics and hospitals should provide the necessary level of care to all people at no charge, and medicines should be provided at no cost. People who live in urban and rural areas should have equal access to health services, from primary to critical care. Local, state, and federal public health authorities should continually have the human and financial resources they need to coordinate to protect population health, not only in times of crisis.   

Social protection for all

This pandemic has illuminated the equity gap that exists in the US. In a country as wealthy as the US, poverty should not exist. People should not go hungry, remain without a place to live, struggle to make ends meet or suffer psychological stress related to any of those things. Indeed, it is these very populations that are most at risk for COVID-19 and the least likely to have access to prevention or care services. Workers should earn a living wage based on their cost of living and receive paid time off by right. Education should be free at all levels, and student debt should not exist. Everyone should have access to free or affordable housing. Social security and pensions should be well-funded so people can retire at a comfortable age. People with disabilities should receive all of the protections they need for home and work. And all social protections should extend to everyone in the US, not only citizens.  

A just society based on solidarity that strives for equity…

As we move forward, beyond this moment, we must challenge the current structure of our society that has led to unprecedented wealth and income inequality, political and class division, racism, and xenophobia. A society based on arbitrary rules that impose hardship and punishment of the most vulnerable of us in order to sustain the wealth of a very few is an unjust society.  If we are to achieve our vision of “health for all”, our path must be one of solidarity rather than one of rugged individualism. 

We must demand that our institutions and policies pursue equity and prioritize the health and well-being of all people. We must urgently implore lawmakers to pass and implement policies that invest in local communities to support each other not only during hard times and times of crisis, but at all times to promote social cohesion and mental and physical well-being. And we must confront historical and structural injustices, which have denied human rights and dignity to so many people, in order to truly stand in solidarity with and fight for each other. 

The path we are currently on is not sustainable, and the COVID-19 outbreak has shone a bright light on not only the faults in our current system, but also what a more just world can look like. The time is now to organize and demand the society we envision.

Health is a social, economic and political issue and above all a fundamental human right. Inequality, poverty, exploitation, violence and injustice are at the root of ill‐health and the deaths of poor and marginalised people. Health for all means that  powerful interests have to be challenged, that globalisation has to be opposed, and that political and economic priorities have to be drastically changed. –People’s Charter for Health