In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Americans forever were forced to change the manner in which we traveled. The strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon made clear that the screening system we had in place at airports at that time was inadequate for meeting the threat posed by a determined international terrorist organization.
Long security lines at every airport in this country, as well as around the world, soon became the norm, as new protocols were put into place for our protection against future attacks. Americans didn’t — and still don’t — like them, but all of us understand that the inconvenience and expense of the enhanced security measures are essential for our safety.
Similar to the issue of inadequate airport security before 9/11, the onset of the world-wide, COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the gross shortcomings of the American health care system’s ability to confront a major health emergency of the magnitude we are facing today.
The U.S. is far less capable of dealing with an influx of patients afflicted with coronavirus than every other industrialized nation in the world (as well as many poorer nations). Relative to our population, we have far fewer doctors, nurses, hospital beds, and acute care capabilities than countries all across the globe that already are struggling with the onslaught of COVID-19.
With our emergency rooms already at 75-90 percent of capacity at any given time, it will not take much to overwhelm every hospital in every city in every state if this pandemic comes even close to a worst-case scenario.
In addition, a huge percentage of our population has no direct access to quality health care that could identify early exposure to the virus. For example, federal emergency officials have urged every citizen to call their doctor first, rather than just reflexively coming into the doctor’s office, if they suspect they are becoming ill. However, about 25 percent of our fellow Americans — about 75 million of us — do not have a primary care physician either because they do not have health insurance or are underinsured. So what are those people supposed to do — other than flood into emergency rooms?
The bottom line is this: America’s healthcare system is under stress even in the best of circumstances. It is neither designed nor capable of ensuring the optimum health outcomes for most of our citizenry and excludes a large percentage of our population altogether even in ordinary circumstances. And ironically, we spend more on our healthcare by far — and get less for it — than any other nation on earth. Hopefully, the current crisis will serve as the equivalent of a 9/11 wake-up call so that we can make significant changes to our healthcare system in order to ensure that every American has access to quality healthcare for the protection of our people, both individually and collectively.