Well-Being Prevention & Cures

Universal health care could have saved more than a hundred thousand American lives from COVID-19: study

“Inadequate health insurance coverage has exacerbated the COVID-19 pandemic on both individual and population levels,” wrote researchers from the Yale School of Public Health in a new study.
A visitor sits on a bench to look artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg’s “In America: Remember,” a temporary art installation made up of white flags to commemorate Americans who have died of COVID-19, on the National Mall, in Washington, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. Jose Luis Magana/ AP

Story at a glance

  • Researchers from Yale University studied mortality rates and insurance enrollment data from before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • They found that lack of consistent health insurance exacerbated the pandemic and caused more Americans to lose their lives to COVID-19.

  • In 2020 alone, researchers calculated 131,438 deaths could have been saved if the U.S. had a universal health care system.

More than 1 million people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S., but over 200,000 lives could have been saved if the country had a single-payer universal healthcare system in 2020, according to a new study.  

Researchers from the Yale School of Public Health analyzed national mortality data from before and after the COVID-19 pandemic and their results indicated a fragmented healthcare system led to preventable deaths and unnecessary costs.  

As of Thursday, the U.S. has experienced 1,007,374 deaths to COVID-19 and over 85 million positive cases. At the same time, the U.S. has spent more on healthcare than any other country, both overall and on a per capita basis, according to researchers.  

Because the U.S. lacks universal healthcare, millions of Americans lean on private marketplace plans and employer-sponosored coverage. However, the pandemic caused over 9 million Americans to fall into unemployment—with many losing critical health insurance during a global pandemic.  

“Inadequate health insurance coverage has exacerbated the COVID-19 pandemic on both individual and population levels,” wrote researchers. 

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Researchers linked mortality statistics to national insurance enrollment to quantify how lack of consistent health insurance caused elevated fatality rates. 

They found that insurance enrollment from December 2019 to April 2020 experienced a 14.5 million drop in employer-sponsored insurance plans. Around the same time Medicaid enrollments rose from 71.6 million in March 2020 to 80.2 million in December 2020, as unemployed Americans can become eligible for Medicaid based on income and household size. 

Researchers noted that the increase in Medicaid enrollment could have multiple explanations, including as a response to unemployment, the result of ongoing Medicaid expansion efforts or due to the perceived risk of COVID-19. 

Tying those statistics to mortality data, researchers calculated that 26.4 percent of the lives that were reported to be lost due to COVID-19 would likely have been saved if the U.S. had universal healthcare throughout the pandemic.  

That means in 2020 alone, 131,438 American lives could have been saved from COVID-19 and more than 200,000 additional deaths from the virus could have been avoided since then. 

“Universal healthcare coverage decoupled from unemployment and disconnected from profit motivations would have stood the country in better stead against a pandemic,” wrote researchers.  

Moving to universal healthcare could also have saved the federal government some serious cash, with researchers calculating that $459 billion could have been saved in 2020 alone.  

That’s conceivable, as researchers found government-sponsored Medicare charges are 22 percent lower than those charged by private insurance for the same services. When it came to COVID-19, private insurers paid more than double the Medicaid rate for a COVID-19 hospitalization case. 

Universal healthcare is an idea that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) campaigned on when running for president, introducing a Medicare for All plan that would have established a single-payer national health insurance program.  

The senator tried to introduce that same plan in May, joined by a handful of Democratic colleagues, that would be implemented over a four-year period. It would establish a federally administered national health insurance program and include dental care, vision coverage and hearing aids with no out of pocket expenses, insurance premiums, deductibles or co-payments.  

The House has yet to take up the legislation.