An illustration of the United States that has stitches and band-aids sits on a background of wavy stripes

Opinion columnist Elijah Southwick argues that supporting free health care only for COVID-19 and not for all health issues is short-sighted and political opportunism. 

Opinion

Thanks to two U.S. federal bills, COVID-19 testing is free for all Americans. Widespread testing is crucial to containing the spread of the virus, and there seems to be a general consensus from our politicians that testing should be free. Calling for reduced-cost or free testing and treatment for the coronavirus while ignoring staggering health care costs for other conditions is, however, political opportunism.

The Democratic primary is just about over, with only former Vice President Joe Biden still campaigning, and voters are now faced with the consequences of those elections. Health care was repeatedly chosen as the most important issue for Democratic primary voters across the country mere weeks before the full force of the coronavirus was felt by the United States. Heated on-stage debates saw many conversations about health care due to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ successful centering of Medicare for All across the political landscape.

Opponents and critics repeatedly asked Sanders, “How are you going to pay for that?” The question was posed so frequently that Sanders was often visibly frustrated with the question near the campaign’s end. This line of questioning has proved to be disingenuous by some of Sanders’ former opponents. Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee who took many opportunities to pile on to that “tough” question, wasted no time in supporting free testing and “the elimination of all cost barriers to preventative care and treatment for COVID-19.”

Why now, and why don’t other medically serious and financially threatening conditions deserve the same treatment? Well, right now it is fashionable to act compassionate towards those affected by the coronavirus. You can’t watch primetime television or browse the internet without being bombarded by corona-era advertising campaigns. Must we accept that the time to act for change is only when it is politically convenient to do so?

Staggering health care costs and the concept of being “uninsured” has been so normalized in our society that many have given up on politicians ever helping them. Americans seem to be far more likely to start a GoFundMe after a life-changing diagnosis than write a letter to their representative in Congress. Hopefully, the coronavirus pandemic serves as a wakeup call for the nation.

College students will soon be graduating into a post-coronavirus world, with many coming off of their parents’ health insurance plans for the first time. What will it be? Employment-based insurance that goes away if you lose your job? Unaffordable private plans? The public option available through the Affordable Care Act at least attempts to solve the health care cost crisis, but it is a Band-Aid solution to a very large problem.

Consider a politician’s history and record before commending their efforts to curb COVID-19. When this storm passes, recognize and appreciate those who stay in the fight.

Elijah Southwick is a senior from Overland Park studying English and journalism.

—Edited by Amanda Hansen