The outbreaks of coronavirus in our country are laying bare the inequities and dangers inherent in our systems of health care and employment. At present more than 28 million Americans have no health insurance and tens of millions more are seriously underinsured. Likewise, more than 30 million workers in America have no paid sick leave. And those without insurance and those without sick leave are very often the same low-wage workers.
When we think about people in these situations, we may feel sympathy for them or gratitude at our own good fortune; we rarely feel threatened by their plight. Think again. Many, if not most, people who are uninsured (as well as many underinsured) will not seek testing or treatment for coronavirus infection simply because they can’t afford it. And for the same reason they won’t be able to stay home from work if they are ill. All of this greatly increases the likelihood that the virus will spread further. To make matters worse, many of these workers are employed in service industries where they regularly interact with the public — the food services industry, child care, nursing homes and other services for the elderly, who are at greatest risk for serious complications from coronavirus infection.
For far too long our leaders and legislators have done far too little to address these fundamental inequities. Our government must ensure that every American has paid sick leave on the job and access to high-quality, affordable health care. As the coronavirus makes clear, it’s not just the right thing to do; it’s in all of our self-interest.