There were warnings about the American health care system for years before coronavirus. Right-wing media didn't want to hear it.
Right-wing media have lied for years about the American health care system, downplaying the fact that millions of people are either uninsured or lack access to affordable health care.
With a possible pandemic on the horizon, that’s a real problem.
A perfect example of this problem is evident in the Miami Herald’s reporting about Osmel Martinez Azcue. After visiting China, he felt sick. Taking the advice of experts, he went to the hospital, where it turned out that he did not have the novel coronavirus strain known as COVID-19, but rather the common flu. He was then billed $3,270, but he may only have to pay $1,400 for the tests he was given if he can prove to his insurance company that the flu he contracted was not related to a preexisting condition. The Herald noted that so-called “junk plans” that don’t actually cover common medical expenses contribute to this problem, writing that “often the plans aren’t very different from going without insurance altogether.”
This is completely absurd. As the Los Angeles Times’ Matt Pearce noted, people in other countries don’t pay anything near this amount for a coronavirus test.
Right-wing media have defended this ridiculous system for years, fearmongering about proposals that would improve health care quality. People on Fox News are totally fine with rising rates of the uninsured in the U.S. They demand that undocumented immigrants be denied access to health care. Right-wing pundits embrace junk plans and argue loudly that such plans should be allowed to be sold across state lines.
In short: Right-wing media assume that there will never be a health crisis that requires the public to actually get treatment. But this system has always been vulnerable to an actual crisis.
Authoritarian countries like Iran and China are having problems for similar reasons, as Zeynep Tufekci wrote, because of “authoritarian blindness.” By privileging lies, authoritarian leaders are often blind to developing problems.
Right-wing media have long privileged lies about the American health care system, and now we have a president who believes those lies.
Look at Dr. Nancy Messonnier. Trump is reportedly furious at the CDC official for telling the truth about coronavirus eventually impacting the United States.
Or look at Rush Limbaugh. Not only did he downplay the virus and claim it was being weaponized by the media in an effort to bring down Trump, but he’s also now saying that Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Party pose “a much greater threat to this country than the coronavirus does.”
Guaranteeing that everyone in the country has reliable access to health care is not some fringe or radical notion. Limbaugh and his ilk can scream about Venezuela all they want, but from Canada to the U.K. to elsewhere in the world, developed countries have found ways to ensure their residents have basic access to health care, which comes in handy when there is a potential pandemic.
Sanders (and Elizabeth Warren) have built their campaigns around the idea of ensuring that every American has high-quality health care. And instead of showing empathy or understanding why Medicare for All is so popular with the public, we have pundits scratching their heads and appearing wildly confused.
The Trump administration can’t even promise that a coronavirus vaccine would be affordable for everyone:
Maybe things would be different if network news had properly covered the health care crisis in America before coronavirus became a potential pandemic. (Instead, we’ve seen health care mainly be covered as a political football.)
But now it’s just another episode of the neverending right-wing morality play in which rich people deserve everything they have, including amazing health care, while the rest of us can get by with junk plans (if we’re lucky) that leave us medical bills that most can’t afford.