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During the last Democratic Party presidential candidate debate the two remaining candidates were asked by CNN their thoughts on the U.S.’s current health care system and the idea of a Medicare for All option. Joe Biden responded by suggesting that the struggles that Italy has had combating the coronavirus epidemic exposes the shortcomings of a single-payer health care system. “You have a single-payer system in Italy,” Mr. Biden stated. “It doesn’t work there. It has nothing to do with Medicare for All. That will not solve the problem at all.”

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Recently, Italy’s death toll due to COVID-19 virus outbreak surpassed 9,000 of its citizens and continues to climb by 700 to 800 per day. Particularly hard hit has been the Italian medical field which has more than 6,000 nurses, doctors, technicians, and others infected by the virus and nearly 50 doctors who have died. Even if correct in his assertion that Italy’s health care system is somehow unfit to respond to this deadly pandemic, it is extremely insensitive and callous for Biden to criticize a system that is doing its best to respond to a horrific situation.

In downplaying the value of Medicare for All, Joe Biden threw the Italians under the bus by disparaging both their healthcare system and response to the pandemic.

So is Italy’s health care system, one that provides coverage for all of its citizens, to blame for the extraordinarily deadly scenario that the country finds itself in today? Actually, researchers have identified several key contributing factors to the rapid rise in cases and the higher than average fatality rate. However, none of them are related to the type of health care system that is being employed there. In fact, several of them are being replicated in the U.S. today and could lead to our country facing an even greater crisis than Italy because we have nearly 30 million Americans who don’t have any health coverage and another 30 - 40 million who are underinsured.

What have been some of the most significant contributing factors to Italy’s explosive COVID-19 outbreak? And how is the U.S. doing following those mistakes?

  • Downplaying the Problem: Even as 10 towns outside of Milan were being placed under quarantine on February 22, the mayor pushed forward his campaign of “Milan Doesn’t Stop/Milan Non Si Ferma” to assure people that life should continue as normal. Meanwhile, in the U.S., Mardi Gras in New Orleans continued as planned, Florida welcomed Spring Break vacationers and the President suggested that he wanted churches filled again on Easter Sunday (since retracted over the weekend).
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  • Not Reacting Quickly and Decisively: This past week Chinese Red Cross representatives visited Milan and were surprised at how lax the lockdown policy is there compared to their own country. Public transportation is still functioning, many workers are still going to their jobs and people are still moving around. While many states have implemented ‘stay at home’ orders, 23 states in the U.S. still have not instituted them, including Texas and Florida. And many states have few regulations in effect for social distancing, quarantines or other preventive measures. Both China and South Korea have moved past the peak of their caseloads, in part through strict limitations of the movement of people.
  • Lack of Preparation:A pandemic of this magnitude has shown extraordinary destructive force, so even cities and agencies that thought they were prepared are being overwhelmed. Nevertheless, in the past 15 years globally there have been warnings from the World Health Organization - WHO, Centers for Disease Control - CDC, numerous doctors and even Bill Gates, that a global pandemic was on the verge of occurring. With the enormous spike in demand for personal protective equipment (PPE), intensive care unit (ICU) beds, respirators, ventilators, testing kits, and all of the other medical infrastructure needed, both Italy and the U.S. (for different reasons) were far from being prepared.
  • Aging Population: Italy has one of the oldest populations in the world with over 23% of its residents being 65 years or older. With high vulnerability and mortality rates for COVID-19, this gives Italy the extremely difficult task of determining who to save with its limited resources. While U.S. population demographics are slightly different, there are 3 million older adults in the U.S. who live in nursing or convalescent homes and are at extremely high risk for contamination and illness.
  • Testing, Testing, Testing:Italy and the U.S. are currently only testing people who display the symptoms of COVD-19. One of the reasons is the lack of testing kits needed to conduct widespread analysis. Another is the ability of either of the systems to be able handle both the testing itself on a broad scale and then the processing of those tests. Nevertheless, China and South Korea’s effective strategies suggest that random testing is needed to better understand what percentage of the population is infected and then quarantine those cases in order to halt the spread of the virus.

In downplaying the value of Medical for All, Joe Biden threw the Italians under the bus by disparaging both their healthcare system and response to the pandemic. Certainly not the leadership qualities needed in this crisis. Biden has had to apologize numerous times in the past year for other insensitive remarks (segregationists, Anita Hill, unwanted touching, etc.).

Would he consider adding another apology to that list to a group of people who are suffering enormously right now? Or would he just ask them to fight?

brian biery 2020

Brian Biery

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