A study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) explores what a single-payer universal healthcare system would look like in the COVID-19 climate.
In an alternate universe where a Medicare for All healthcare system was in place in the United States, 338,594 lives and $105.6 billion could have been saved during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study by PNAS.
The U.S., which does not provide universal healthcare as some other nations do, has particularly been hit hard by COVID-19 cases and deaths. PNAS attempted to quantify just how much the absence of a single-payer universal healthcare system has affected the country in past few years.
To determine the hypothetical, the peer reviewed journal calculated the elevated mortality attributable to the loss of employer-sponsored insurance and to background rates of uninsurance, combined with higher COVID-19 mortality due to low insurance coverage.
The findings were immense, with researchers estimating that universal healthcare would have saved about 212,000 lives and $459 billion in 2020 alone.
"The COVID-19 outbreak has underscored the societal vulnerabilities that arise from the fragmented healthcare system in the United States," the authors wrote. "Universal healthcare coverage decoupled from employment and disconnected from profit motivations would have stood the country in better stead against a pandemic.
"Emergence of virulent pathogens is becoming more frequent, driven by climate change and other global forces. Universal single-payer healthcare is fundamental to pandemic preparedness."
Even if, theoretically, another pandemic isn't on the way, universal healthcare has the potential to address inequality and alleviate spending.
Compared to the current system, single-payer universal healthcare could have saved $438 billion in 2019, according to the study.
When health insurance is tied to employment, the ramifications can be dire when individuals lose their jobs. As such, socioeconomic factors play a significant role in determining which segment of the population is the most vulnerable with the current healthcare system.
As the pandemic exposes the gaps in the system, it provides further evidence for prioritizing healthcare access going forward.
"To facilitate recovery from the ongoing crisis and bolster pandemic preparedness, as well as safeguard well-being and prosperity more broadly, now is the time to transition to a healthcare system that can better serve the American people," the researchers concluded.
Jay Asser is an associate editor for HealthLeaders.