With the pandemic raging across the United States, voters have prioritized two issues when casting their ballot: COVID-19 and healthcare.
“COVID has made us all healthcare voters,” David Mitchell, founder of the advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs, said in an interview with The Guardian. Over 220,000 individuals have died from COVID-19. Almost 2,000 of these deaths are in the state of Arkansas, according to Johns Hopkins University of Medicine.
As the U.S. healthcare system battles a pandemic while providing care for chronic illnesses, emergencies and other medical needs, costs deter patients from receiving help. Medical expenses have pushed “millions of Americans below the federal poverty line, including 7 million people who make more than 150% of the poverty level,” according to a March 2019 study from the American Journal of Public Health. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation examining the numbers of uninsured non-elderly populations revealed 58.8% of white, 13.4% of Black and 26.6% of Hispanic Arkansans do not have health insurance.
Through a class assignment, Kristin McCloud, assistant professor of nursing at John Brown University, revealed the impact of inequitable healthcare to her students. McCloud had students research how much a visit from the doctor and a week-long prescription of Amoxicillin would cost them under their insurance plan. “The price range was in the thousands of dollars to completely free. They were blown away,” McCloud said.
McCloud, quoting student responses, said, “I had to call the pharmacy manager. I had to call the insurance people. I had to call my aunt to translate because my family didn’t speak enough English to do this. One person said, ‘This took me 12 hours to gather this information’ … They were shocked to say the least.”
Many students are voting for the first time, yet McCloud shared that the majority of students she has interacted with are unfamiliar with the healthcare system. “They understand health and healthcare, but they’re generally health and young … They legitimately have no idea how much insurance costs per month,” McCloud said. “The fact is it’s so complicated and so difficult to manage, and I want them to think about what if you don’t speak the language or what if you have an emergency?”
Students can have an impact on a variety of issues with their vote, including on the Affordable Care Act, whether pre-existing conditions will be covered, health insurance for noncitizens, mental health support and opioid abuse. “All of those laws are going to cost money to implement … Who you vote for is going to determine what you’re going to pay for and what will be covered,” McCloud said.
One aspect of healthcare repeatedly brought up by presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden is pre-existing conditions. In the final presidential debate on Oct. 22, Trump stated, “What I would like to do is a much better healthcare [that] will always protect people with pre-existing conditions.” Biden said, “10 million people have lost their private insurance, and [Trump] wants to take away 22 million people who have it under Obamacare and over 110 million people with pre-existing conditions. All of the people from COVID are going to have pre-existing conditions. What are they going to do?”
For those unfamiliar with the term pre-existing conditions, Janet Gardner, department chair of nursing education, defined it as “something that has already been diagnosed … The controversy is can an insurance company deny you for a pre-existing condition because they know that it’s going to be expensive to have you on their treatment plan or on their insurance?” Gardner said.
Along with aspects of healthcare like pre-existing conditions, voters are examining the different platforms of candidates. McCloud recommends researching candidates before voting. “Some things are going to be much more obvious than others,” McCloud said. “It can be really difficult to find out what your candidates stand for and how do they feel on, for example, abortion because they may talk about it or not really talk about it … or say both things depending on where they are campaigning unfortunately.”
In her “Overview of Professional Nursing” course, Gardner walked sophomore students, many of whom were first time voters, through a ballot on www.vote411.org to see each candidate’s position on healthcare for the 2020 elections. “That’s what is going to affect us not only as citizens but as nurses,” Gardner said.
She also had students look up contact information for federal and state legislators. “Staying in contact with them is how we can get things done … as you become an adult and a professional, you can’t really complain about things that have happened if you haven’t been involved in the process of letting you voice be heard,” Gardner said.
The relationship between the government and healthcare professionals has shifted due to the impact of COVID-19. “We’ve seen legislators and politicians speak as if they’re doctors, and they’re not,” Gardner said. “We need to respect the scientists and understand their role in … doing the research and understanding that what we knew in March is not what we know now, which is why things have changed.”
McCloud emphasizes that, regardless of political affiliation, voters must take the impact of politics on healthcare seriously. “It’s way more complicated than people think. It’s not just getting a new candidate or starting a new law or talking about the money,” McCloud said. “It’s the availability of access to care as well the care as well as the policy.”
Photo courtesy of First Person Advisors