As the panic surrounding the Coronavirus spreads as quickly as the virus itself, governments around the world are scrambling to contain both the panic and virus. While there’s little point in speculating what is to come, a sampling of what has already unfolded suggests it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Events all around the world are being canceled, people are being quarantined in the thousands, and confusion and uncertainty reign supreme. Information and misinformation, as is now always the case, converge into one. Airlines have begun cutting back on available flights, and local authorities everywhere are telling people to limit travel and increase hygiene efforts.
Interestingly, the response to the Coronavirus has revealed what can be done to better the lives of humans, if only during a crisis or emergency. So many of the attempted remedies and containment strategies revolve around the power of the state, and demonstrate the serious shortcomings of societies built on capital and the profit imperative. One telling example came Tuesday evening, when U.S. Vice President Mike Pence gave a press briefing updating the world on American efforts to deal with the virus. He spoke glowingly of the efforts of the health insurance companies, whose leaders met with the executive earlier that day. He thanked them for agreeing to waive copayments and medical costs for anything related to the Coronavirus. He declared that no person should have to worry about the cost of care in the face of this virus. Just stop there. Consider what is being shown to us and what is being implied. What is being shown, is precisely that there are tools available to the state to provide free care to its citizens, but tragically can only be accessed in an emergency. Also, it implies that while people should not have to be concerned about paying for medical care in this particular case, generally speaking, people should be completely comfortable worrying about paying for medical care. Got the Coronavirus? It’s on the house. Got cancer? You’re out of luck, Jack. Then, the hypocrisy went a step further. Pence lauded the promise of the insurance company to abandon the practice of ‘surprise billing’ in cases related to Coronavirus. Yes, yes, even the Republican Vice President calls this dark side of health insurance ‘surprise billing’. Again, here is the evil of this practice laid bare. Right in the face of the entire citizenry, American health insurance companies feel brazen enough and comfortable enough in their utter control of the healthcare complex in America that it can receive goodwill points for not blindsiding people with an unforeseen cost, as long as that surprise turn of events would have happened on the heels of a Coronavirus diagnosis.
Everywhere, the sorts of programs that should be commonplace, are being used with the virus as a justification. Companies are beginning to offer employees paid sick leave. How kind! Many nations are planning to expand unemployment insurance, and many are considering payouts to people in order to help during a possible period of profound economic stagnation.
In Italy, where the situation is incredibly dire, the entire nation has gone into lockdown. And, in order to help soften the blow, as the entire country grinds to a halt, all mortgage bills will be frozen. Who knew such a thing could be possible? This is one of the effects of the Coronavirus. It has revealed that even in western democracies that have spent decades eroding the power and efficacy of the state, while claiming that private sectors are much more capable of providing services, when the going gets tough, those weakened states are resuscitated into action, and the full force of them are brought to bear, because at a moment of true crisis, even these deteriorated entities are far better equipped to help the general public. If anything good may emerge from this chaos, it is perhaps a rethinking of the role of the state. Maybe, after dealing with a crisis of this scale and scope, it will be much harder for the state to continue to wither away. To be sure, Coronavirus is an excellent argument in places like America for universal public healthcare, and in places like Canada or Britain, a good case for why such institutions must be maintained. Indeed, the crisis of the Coronavirus in America should only highlight that entire system of delivering healthcare to Americans is itself in a constant state of crisis. What moral grounds could there possibly be for something like ‘surprise billing’ in any case whatever, after it was shown that the insurance companies could so easily opt out of such a practice when the state tells it that it must? There’s every possibility that a crisis like this will have a bigger impact on the rise of state assistance and the recalibration of the state’s relationship to the people than any campaign or election possibly could. V