Winston Churchill once said, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they have tried everything else.” This saying has become especially true in the healthcare sector, which has provided a disproportionate level of care based on race, ethnicity, income, and more – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. While Americans are finally waking up to this lack of healthcare equity for marginalized communities, the question is: are we merely aware of this injustice, or are we taking action to fix it?
The debates about healthcare disparities and the need for reforms in the socio-economic sector of the United States have existed for centuries. Certainly, some of these debates, when turned into a complete socio-political movement, have produced overwhelming results. Notably, the Civil Rights Movement, which has now narrowed down to the Black Rights Movement, has played a vital role in eradicating the deep-rooted racism in American society. However, these movements have been a limited success, as they have attained only a few fundamental objectives, making it obvious that racism is still a grave concern in America.
Correspondingly, various socio-economic disparities have prevailed in America. Health sector inequalities have not been an exception to this rule. The deadliest pandemic of the century, COVID-19, has exposed a destructive scenario for healthcare facilities in the U.S.A. More than 220,000 Americans have died from COVID-19; more than six million have been infected. No part of the U.S. has been fully spared, but the burdens are unequally distributed. At every point, from initial infection to intensive care, COVID-19 exposed disparities by race/ethnicity, immigration status, and wealth.
These revelations have showcased the vulnerabilities of the republican government setting in the United States of America by highlighting the emergency to take dire actions to resolve nationwide concerns. It wouldn’t be unfair to call this development “An Awakening of the United States,” a country that has long been asleep in certain socio-political regards.
On one side, this progress has disclosed flaws in the role played by government officials and policymakers in devising value-oriented healthcare policies, while on the other side, it has exposed striking realities about the healthcare infrastructure. The concept of “health security in the United States” dates to 1996, when President Bill Clinton mandated a national policy stating that HIV/AIDS, E.V.D., and drug-resistant tuberculosis posed “one of the most significant health and security challenges facing the global community.” Following the release of this presidential directive, the Department of State re-established the Emerging Infectious Diseases and HIV/AIDS Program, which was responsible for developing and implementing U.S. policy on infectious disease preparedness and response.
However, the 9/11 attacks completely altered the context of health security. Subsequently, biosecurity, resilience against weapons of mass destruction, and devastation caused by these weapons became the main priority of health sector reformers. Hence, the need to devise public-friendly healthcare policies became imminent when COVID-19 struck and highlighted the importance of security against infectious diseases.
Undeniably, a value-oriented policy can only be structured by high public participation, which has remained a hoax in the entire history of the United States. Voter participation has remained quite low despite the republican nature of government. In 2016, more than 90 million Americans, nearly 40% of our voting-eligible population, did not vote. Significant gaps in voter participation occurred along racial, educational, and income-level divides, which may largely be attributable to voting restrictions and a sense of alienation from the government.
When a comparative analysis was done comparing the statistics of the United States with other wealthy countries, the projected data disclosed that the U.S. is an outlier in not having universal health coverage, despite the 2010 Affordable Care Act. This demonstrated why disenfranchised communities had suffered significantly during the pandemic.
In 2020, these revelations amplified the racial and ethnic tensions in the already divisive society of the United States, especially in the midst of the presidential election year. Public fear arose, and anxiety skyrocketed. People chanted slogans for justice and raised their voices for their political and democratic rights, as manifested in the Black Lives Matter protests and the rising debates on telemedicine and reforms in healthcare service delivery. Earlier in the ongoing year, this uproar led the incumbent government to revise the fiscal budget and allocate a decent monetary share to the socio-economic sector in general and the health sector. As of May 2021, the Biden-Harris administration allocated $4.4T to the American Rescue Plan to allow states and localities to expand their overstretched public health departments.
Certainly, this breakthrough revealed that the nation of the United States has awakened, but whether it is “wokeness” or a temporary awareness remains a persistent question. In the long run, “wokeness” determines the political consciousness of a nation and the rational measures its people take to ensure their well-being. Historically, the people of the United States have fought to eradicate particular areas of discrimination, but the fight will last for years to come. The U.S. has remained a well-aware nation, but it has not succeeded in abandoning racial discrimination.
The major reason behind it is the inequitable and unfavorable representation of marginalized communities on the ballot and the denial of voting rights of disenfranchised people. Barriers to the ballot have put the most fundamental democratic process of the United States at stake. Ballot barriers have evolved from the original constitutional disenfranchisement of people of color and women to more contemporary voter suppression techniques such as voter I.D. laws and voter registry purges. Still, the outcomes of biased elections and the perpetuation of inequity remain.
In the aftermath of the important run-off election in Georgia between Senator Warnock and Herschel Walker, this continues to be an important testing time for the people of the United States to showcase their power at the ballot because some electoral candidates are rethinking the idea of provisions in the healthcare sector. The Republican Study Committee, the House’s conservative caucus that comprises nearly 75 percent of the House GOP, released a 122-page manifesto that pledged to cut Medicare and Social Security benefits by raising the eligibility age and pushing beneficiaries to enroll in private Medicare and retirement plans.
Hence, it is now high time to prove that the American people are not only “awake” but also “woke.” They have become a politically conscious nation and would defend their rights and restore the sanctity of the American nation.