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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Access to COVID-19 treatment is key to helping Americans combat the disease, as well as containing its spread. To their credit, on March 29, Humana and CIGNA—the fourth- and fifth-largest health insurers—under massive public pressure, waived "all COVID-19 costs" for all of their members. But, tens of millions of other Americans continue to face powerful financial barriers to care. Our corporate health care system is not designed to ensure everyone gets needed care, much less to protect the public health.

Over the last month, as the novel coronavirus laid siege on the US, the largest health insurers did nothing to reduce barriers to COVID-19 care. Instead, their web sites advised their members to practice good hygiene and suggested they visit the CDC online for more information. News reports revealed that Americans were loath to seek care for fear of the cost. And, that remains the case for most of the 87 million uninsured and underinsured in this country.

Today, United Healthcare, the largest health insurer in the country, waived all cost-sharing for its members. But, Anthem, the second-largest health insurer, does not appear to have waived costs for treatment. Aetna, the third-largest health insurer, has only waived some costs for some of its members.

Kaiser Permanente, a non-profit, considered to offer the best health plans in the US, is still not covering the full cost of treatment. Deep down on its coronavirus web page, it simply says: "If you're diagnosed with COVID-19, additional services, including hospital admission (if applicable), will be covered according to your plan details."

To ensure people receive COVID-19 treatment and to help stem the spread of the virus all COVID-19 care needs to be free. In a recent eHealth survey, more than six in ten people (64 percent) under 65 said that they would not be able to afford their full deductible. Deductibles averaged $1,655 in 2019. Seventy percent of Americans don't have $1,000 in cash for emergencies.

Paying health care costs is generally a heavier lift for older adults and people with disabilities, who need more care and live on small fixed incomes. Yet, most health insurers offering Medicare Advantage plans—corporate health plans that provide Medicare benefits to 24 million older and disabled Americans—are not providing their members who are most at risk of becoming gravely ill or dying from COVID-19, easy access to COVID-19 treatment. Curiously, Aetna waived cost sharing for its members under 65 and kept cost-sharing in place for their Medicare Advantage members.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers the Medicare program, has failed to mandate that Medicare Advantage plans waive all costs for COVID-19 care. It has simply given them permission to do so. What's worse is that CMS' authority over these corporate health plans appears limited at best.

For example, CMS has required that they cover all COVID-19 care at out-of-network facilities at the same cost as at in-network facilities, without a referral. But, the biggest health insurers' web sites don't even inform their Medicare Advantage members of this emergency benefit. As a result, they deter older people from seeking treatment in order to avoid liability for thousands of dollars in copays. Inexplicably, CMS has failed to inform people of this emergency benefit on its coronavirus web page.

Furthermore, CMS did not take a lead among health insurers and provide emergency coverage for the full cost of COVID-19 treatment for people in traditional Medicare. Fortunately, the vast majority of people in traditional Medicare have supplemental coverage which picks up all or virtually all of their out-of-pocket costs. But, the six million people in traditional Medicare without supplemental coverage must pay deductibles and coinsurance costs, with no out-of-pocket cap. This unlimited cost-sharing presents a daunting obstacle to care for them.

In short, Humana, Cigna and UnitedHealthcare members are better off thanks to their insurers' decision to cover all COVID-19 costs. But, they alone cannot protect us from the ongoing threat the novel coronavirus presents to the public health. For that, everyone else in this country also needs full COVID-19 coverage. Neither other corporate health insurers nor the federal government has stepped up on that front.

It should go without saying that our nation's failure to provide health care for all has cost us far more than it ever would have cost to provide everyone coverage. "Skin in the game," the ill-conceived concept that people with health insurance should pay a piece of their health care costs, is a health insurance design feature that is killing our citizenry and belongs in the graveyard. If our lawmakers want to ensure the health and financial well-being of our nation, they will need to guarantee health care for everyone in America.

Diane Archer is a senior adviser to Social Security Works and founder and president of Just Care USA, an independent digital hub covering health and financial issues facing boomers and their families and promoting policy solutions. She is the past board chair of Consumer Reports and serves on the Brown University School of Public Health Advisory Board. Ms. Archer began her career in health advocacy in 1989 as founder and president of the Medicare Rights Center, a national organization dedicated to ensuring that older and disabled Americans get the health care they need. She served as director, Health Care for All Project, Institute for America's Future, between 2005 and 2010.

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.