Study finds Medicare for All could have prevented more than 200,000 deaths during the pandemic

The US has had more deaths per capita than its economic peers – and according to one study, it’s no mystery why

Abe Asher
Thursday 16 June 2022 22:56 BST
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A new study published this month in the journal PNAS claims that the US could have saved at least 212,000 lives lost to Covid-19 in 2020 alone if it had a single-payer healthcare system.

The report lambastes the shortcomings in the US’ for-profit healthcare system, arguing that multiple factors in a single-payer system would have reduced fatalities in the first year of the pandemic. Since the onset of the pandemic, the US has had more deaths per capita than its economic peers. It also has had the most recorded total deaths and cases in the world.

The US’ healthcare system, which does not guarantee coverage and leaves millions of people without health insurance, has long been criticised. The US currently spends more money per capita on healthcare than its economic peers, but does not enjoy better health outcomes on average; life expectency in the US, which is declining, is the lowest among OECD countries.

Now, researchers are pinning the country’s struggle to contain the worst outcomes of Covid on the healthcare system as well.

The new study holds that under a single-payer healthcare plan like the one championed by Sen Bernie Sanders of Vermont and other progressives, no one in the US would have lost their health insurance when much of the economy shut down in March of 2020. Instead, millions of people lost their employer-based health insurance. 

The researchers also believe that rates of vaccination in the country would be higher if more Americans had an ongoing relationship with a primary care physician – which one in four Americans lack – and that those factors would have decreased the Covid-induced strain on US hospitals that also is believed to have cost lives during Covid surges.

A number of the other countries in the OECD that have fared better than the US with Covid fatalities do not have single-payer healthcare systems, but all guarantee healthcare coverage regardless of employment status.

There may have been other factors that harmed the US’ Covid response as well, including racism, President Donald Trump’s Covid denalism that has been echoed by influential members of the conservative and far-right movements throughout the country, and deep, pre-existing cultural divides.

The country’s handling of the pandemic has deeply dented the trust of both patients and physicians in the US healthcare system, with one in three Americans overall reporting that their trust in the country’s health system has declined since the onset of Covid.

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