Anyone surprised that the coronavirus pandemic has hit the United States harder than anywhere else has not been paying attention. Regardless of your political bent, there is no doubt that our healthcare system is in shambles. Americans pay four times more for medical care than any other country, yet we have a lower life expectancy that has been decreasing rather than increasing. Dealing with insurance is like navigating a minefield, and many people die before they seek treatment which is out of their price range.
COVID-19 has only exposed these problems further and exacerbated them. Before the crisis hit, over 137 million Americans had medical debt. Since the virus made its way to our shores, low earners and the increasing number of unemployed have struggled to get tested before showing severe symptoms. Sick people have continued working to avoid being laid off.
But through all of this, there has been plenty of good news as well. There are signs that profit-driven companies are taking on greater responsibility for the general public. And businesses like CooperCompanies (which operates through CooperVision and CooperSurgical) are showing that the system might actually be on the right track.
The exciting initiative launched by Cooper is the closing of a $2.4 billion credit facility for seniors. Proceeds will be refinanced to retire over $2 billion of debt.
This news is particularly welcome as it is not driven by COVID-19. On the contrary, the initiative began before the pandemic hit, and banks financing Cooper have gone above and beyond to ensure the initiative can still play out.
All of this is an indication that major financial commitments, including vision care financing and surgery, will no longer necessarily land vulnerable people in considerable debt. This is exactly what we need to hear at a time when people are losing their jobs and being faced with potential personal health crises.
This may border on naive optimism, but it is possible that the COVID-19 pandemic may have a silver lining in its impact on our healthcare system. Once the crisis is over, it will be difficult to return to the status quo. Fewer people than ever will be able to afford health care. Millions of people will be stuck in financial straits that they could never have prepared for. Insurance companies and private health institutions and practitioners will be under a microscope in the aftermath. Those that try to take advantage of the crisis for profit will not go unnoticed.
Does this mean we will transition into a socialist society with Medicare for all? Almost certainly not. That idea (whether born of hope or fear, depending on your fiscal views) is not realistic in our current political ecosystem. Both sides of the aisle are currently resistant to that.
However, the current broken system may find a new way forward under revised capitalist principles that ensure both profitability and affordability in a free-market system.
It is way too early to make solid predictions about what will happen after the COVID-19 crisis is over. However, CooperCompanies’ initiative shows a step in the right direction from a major corporation. Hopefully, this indicates that changes are coming that may prove positive for consumers and corporations.