Free COVID-19 Treatments Could Lead to Universal Health Care | Commentary

Published in the Orlando Sentinel

By Oussama Mezoui, Guest Columnist

Universal health care is one of the issues that won’t go away in America, and President Donald Trump’s recent positive COVID-19 diagnosis could have shifted the dial on it.

As a Brit, I grew up with the ultimate in universal health care — the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), which guarantees comprehensive healthcare to all residents and, being funded by taxes, is free at the point of use. One of the big changes when I moved to the U.S. six years ago was factoring in health insurance as one of life’s essentials.

Every country has its own attitude to health care, and it’s no surprise that America — a nation built on a strong sense of personal liberty, responsibility and independence — has historically had a different approach than Europe. The NHS is a huge bureaucracy: it is the fifth-biggest employer in the world, while serving a population of just 70 million. Most Americans would have serious concerns about copying the British model and pasting it on the other side of the Atlantic.

But as with so many issues, it looks like the pandemic may have shifted things. President Trump has promised that Regeneron, the antibody treatment he received while suffering from coronavirus, will be free for all Americans.

Notably, this wasn’t opposed by those who are normally against universal access to health care.

Both those who see health care as a basic human right that must be provided by governments, and those who view it as a consumer product based on affordability and market forces like any other, seem to believe that COVID-19 treatments should be available to all.

The pandemic has been a leveler. Poverty and unemployment — long seen as something the middle class and professionals are immune to — is spreading through America. As redundancies pile up, many Americans will lose their health insurance and start to feel much more dependent on public services, including health care.

Anyone can catch the virus, and anyone can be hit by its economic fallout. That economic fallout may force many Americans to think deeply about their social values and what they hold dear.

This shift can cut across not only class divisions but party lines. There was no outcry or opposition from Republicans when President Trump promised universal access to Regeneron.

The Trump administration has shown it can craft policies that do not fit neatly into established Democrat-Republican fault lines, so why stop at Regeneron? And why stop at COVID-19 treatments?

Physical diseases other than COVID-19 are on the rise, linked to the economic disease of unemployment (the two are often linked by malnutrition and hunger which is at historic levels in the U.S.).

As a humanitarian heading up the charity Penny Appeal USA, I believe that health care is a human right and should be available, in one form or another, to all. But even if you disagree with me, there are other reasons why Americans of all political persuasions should support the idea — and some of them have nothing to do with health.

As a Brit, I have seen how the UK’s National Health Service is something that unites almost all Brits in support of it, and serves as a unifying institution for all. Particularly during the pandemic, it has been a focus of the kind of universal national pride that America could benefit from.

It is this kind of solidarity that a politically polarized and economically fragile America needs more of — whatever the result on Nov. 3.

Oussama Mezoui is President & CEO of Penny Appeal USA, an Alexandria, Va., charity established to fight poverty.