Frances G. Padilla, President, Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut
My husband recently needed an IV, but his veins run very deep. The tech used a “vein finder” that employs infrared technology to highlight the vein structure. It was amazing to see his veins light up, just like that. I am reminded of this today as I stay inside, working and leading from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. So many people here in Connecticut and across the country live deep beneath the affluent surface. This virus, like the infrared technology, has highlighted the fault lines in our fragmented health care system through which many of them are falling.
The organization I lead, Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, has been working on filling these cracks for 20 years. We and our partners have been able to achieve important public policy wins, but the fissures run deep. Too often, our elected leaders listen to the voices of a powerful few over the needs of the broader electorate; residents who deserve universal access to quality, equitable, and affordable health care.
COVID-19 is highlighting what we have long believed:
Health insurance should not be tied to employment. High deductible health plans have become the default for employers looking to control costs. But where has that left us? Saddled with high deductibles, or worse, laid off with no coverage at all during a pandemic.
Government should use its negotiating power to lower prices and get better value for the health care dollar. True to our name, the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut believes that we should consider a health plan offered by the federal government alongside private insurance plans.
Any vaccine or drug developed to treat COVID-19 should be a public good, affordable and available to everyone in this country, and distributed equitably throughout the world. No pharmaceutical company should be allowed to exclusively market a potential therapeutic drug for COVID-19.
We need to increase investments in public health. With all the investment in our military, we still can’t defend ourselves against the most immediate threat facing our country at this very moment. Prevention would have been better than remediation, and despite all the money we have, we are failing at both.
As we look to the future, there is a great deal of work to be done. Everyone wants the economy to “get back to work,” but people cannot work if the infection rate skyrockets again. Only with healthy people will the economy work again.
State governments can lead the way to making significant impact on access, affordability, quality and equity. Every state is a major purchaser of health care—for their employees, their Medicaid program, and various state departments. What if each state were to exercise its negotiating leverage to right-size premiums and out of pocket costs; to create access to affordable coverage for employees of small businesses; to direct their own employees to health providers that demonstrate quality and fair prices; to make essential drugs available to protect public health, and to create regional coalitions that allow them to negotiate with drug and equipment manufacturers?
The groundswell of demand for those changes in health care starts with voting and ensuring that health and health care are a central theme of all elections for years to come.
Philanthropy should invest now to help stem voter suppression. Gerrymandering, voter ID laws, voter roll purges, and lack of access to mail-in voting suggests that the foundation of our democracy is at stake. We must support nonpartisan outreach, education, registration, turnout, and mobilization of voters throughout this country.
Health care providers and all those who we now acknowledge as essential workers will be new activists in the fight, fueled by their experience of the COVID-19 crisis. Philanthropy should be prepared to work with local, state and national nonprofit advocacy organizations, labor unions, small businesses, health care providers, and the faith community to support strong coalitions for change.
Philanthropy needs to lead, too. It is time to bolster the demand for government to act on behalf of people. Grants to fill the gaps caused by our fragmented system are important, but philanthropic investments will never be enough. More of us can do grantmaking in support of advocacy and organizing. And all of us must act smartly, and with a consistent sense of urgency to put our considerable reputational assets to work. It is our reputation that is needed—our voice advocating on behalf of the people—to ensure that if the least of us benefit and can realize our potential to thrive, we all will. That is the true test of our democracy and our humanity. Justice.