In a USA Today op-ed, Joshua Sharfstein, Jennifer Nuzzo and Gerard Anderson, professors at The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, argue that the federal government should fund the cost of coronavirus testing and treatment because we cannot count on health insurers to remove barriers to care for their members. They suggest that Medicare is best suited to pay providers for this work with federal government funding.
In short, the different financial and procedural obstacles to care each health insurer imposes makes it impossible to ensure everyone is tested and treated. People will not be willing to pay deductibles and copays or jump through hoops to get tested and treated from in-network providers.
Congress has already passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that requires health insurers to cover the full cost of testing. But, it does not cover treatment. So, people who test positive might end up infecting many more people rather than getting treated.
If the federal government establishes a “public health crisis insurance program” relying on Medicare’s billing system to cover everyone’s testing and treatment costs without imposing barriers, people will get needed care. And health care providers will not worry about being paid.
A public health crisis insurance program will also provide critical data through a unified billing system, revealing in near real-time who is getting sick where and when. That’s in part how Taiwan and South Korea tracked the trajectory of the novel coronavirus in their countries and contained it. The billing system also allows you to know quickly the prevalence of the virus. From that, the government can provide people with better information about what’s going on in their communities.
Federal coverage of testing and treatment will help the health insurance industry considerably. [Editor’s note: Given how much health insurers have been profiting at a huge public cost over the last decade and longer and the myriad ways that they inappropriately delay and deny care, it’s not clear why helping them should be a goal.] It will also help the many large employers who currently bear the cost of their employees’ health care.
And, if the federal government pays for everyone, it has the leverage to negotiate a fair price for medicines and vaccines for the novel coronavirus.
Right now, our multi-payer health insurance system is keeping us from moving forward to address the coronavirus pandemic effectively. A targeted federal program that covers everyone not only ensures that everyone who needs treatment receives it, but helps us to stem the spread of the virus and distribute information and resources effectively.
Here’s more from Just Care:
- Policymakers should not allow pharmaceutical companies to win big on the new coronavirus
- Here are ways Congress can ensure the well-being of older adults during the coronavirus pandemic
- Will nursing homes and assisted living facilities be able to keep the coronavirus from spreading to their residents?
- Important resources for older adults