The novel coronavirus should serve as a wake-up call for America.
While Oregon is doing far better than the rest of country because of the Oregon Health Plan, there are still around 84 million people in America that are either uninsured or underinsured. Which is to say that the cost of going to seek testing or treatment is more than the family budget can bear. Those are the same folks whose jobs pay so little, that they can't afford not to go to work. They are far more likely to "tough it out" and go to work, even if they have a mild fever. That factor is likely to exacerbate the spread of the virus.
Congress took a weak stab at trying solve this by passing a bill that requires some employers provide paid sick leave to more people. The problem is that the bill failed to cover about 80% of workers, particularly in some of the biggest companies with the lowest-paid employees. The very people I referenced above. Many of those people are in contact with the public as they go about their work. It should be noted that the bill that was originally proposed by the House Democrats covered many, many more people.
The faster the coronavirus spreads, the less likely we will have time to create a vaccine and the more overwhelmed our hospitals will be.
Another issue is that as a country we farm out manufacturing of so many things that we no longer control the supply of critical articles like: masks, gloves, ventilators and components of drugs. So, we are at the mercy of other countries who are also experiencing the epidemic.
It is long past time to revamp our health care system to make sure that every single person living here receives the health care they need. Health care should not be a profit center; it should be a human right. Just like police and fire protection, health care should simply be part of the services that people pay taxes for, and receive, when they need it. That would include putting clinics and hospitals back into rural areas that no longer have access because "it wasn't profitable."
If we had Medicare for All, no one would be afraid of going broke just because they went to the doctor.
It is also long past time for the federal government to raise the minimum wage to a living wage and then tie it to the actual cost of living — including housing — so it can never stagnate again. If people were not living on the bitter edge of eviction all the time, they would be more likely to stay home when sick. There would also be far fewer houseless people with already weakened immune systems.
I would like to thank Gov. Kate Brown for issuing a moratorium on evictions for nonpayment during this pandemic. I also plead with business owners to provide assurance of extended sick leave for your lowest-paid workers so that it is far less likely they will come to work sick. Lastly, I call on the federal government to provide free testing and treatment for COVID-19 for anyone that is uninsured or underinsured.
We will make it through this, but we must make sure that we learn all the lessons offered and pass Medicare for All, pass a living minimum wage and bring critical manufacturing back under our control here in America.
Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba is a candidate for Oregon's Fifth Congressional District.
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