COVID-19 spotlights unpreparedness of health systems in US and Canada, forces Indian students and workers to choose cost over care

One of the fissures COVID-19 has highlighted across nations is the unpreparedness of the healthcare systems to handle pandemics, despite past outbreaks. In USA, lack of universal healthcare is dissuading people from getting themselves tested.

Preeti Nangal April 23, 2020 10:32:13 IST
COVID-19 spotlights unpreparedness of health systems in US and Canada, forces Indian students and workers to choose cost over care

Editor's Note: Thousands of Indians are stranded in foreign lands across the world, some by choice, others due to geopolitical, financial and academic constraints. In this multi-part seriesFirstpost takes a look at how they are managing through the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic

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One of the fissures COVID-19 has highlighted across nations is the unpreparedness of the healthcare systems to handle pandemics, despite past outbreaks. In USA, lack of universal healthcare is dissuading people from getting themselves tested.

COVID19 spotlights unpreparedness of health systems in US and Canada forces Indian students and workers to choose cost over care

Representational image. Image by Orna Wachman from Pixabay.

Testing is the need of the hour, along with quarantine, in order to curb the outbreak. However, the cost of testing  and other associated expenses such as an ambulance and a ventilator can inflate the expenses to anywhere from $7000 to $30,000.

The US healthcare system is a mixture of public and private programmes. Even if one has insurance, the cost  can be exorbitant due to copays, deductibles and co-insurance. Indian students in the US are in the same boat.

Kovind*, 31, a PhD student in Chicago, said fundamental check-ups and generic services are covered by the university.

However, the costs of consulting a specialist or admitting oneself in an Emergency Room would accrue a hefty sum, payable by the student depending on their insurance cover.

“Given the uncertainty, if one falls victim to COVID-19 and would have to access isolation wards and perhaps a ventilator, one can only imagine how much that would cost a student,” Kovind said.

In sharp contrast, Canada paints a different picture. With a universal, public-funded healthcare system, all citizens are guaranteed a financial cover for their illness. However, even though US may have expensive healthcare, Canada faces the challenge of long waiting hours for patients. Moreover, the financial certainty in Canada seems to make its locals regard COVID-19 with nonchalance.

Anupriya Sah told us: “The locals aren’t taking the outbreak seriously. They hardly wear any masks or gloves and I still see a lot of people on the roads. Maybe they aren’t taking the outbreak seriously because healthcare is free in Canada.”

Sah, 24, is a customer relationship specialist. She lives in Niagara FallsOntario, a tourist city. She mentioned that since her city witnesses peak business during the summer, several ventures work with a reduced force and take on more staff as summer approaches. However, much of the workforce may not be reinstated this time due to the pandemic.

We are in a transition period right now. The business is mostly tourist-driven and there are fewer footfalls now than in summer. Restaurants are working with three to four out of 10 staff members. Business picks up as the tourist season catches up in April. People from Canada and USA go to the beach in summer. That is when the panic will set in since most businesses depend on tourists from USA, Mexico, Italy and China.” Sah added.

With limited flights and strict travel restrictions, tourism and leisure is the worst-hit industry. The resulting financial crisis and unemployment will add to the woe of a contagious disease that is without a vaccine.

For Srikrishna Tharuvai, 30, however, affording healthcare is not a matter of concern: “I have no doubts that should I need it, healthcare will be available to me. I am insured so I do not worry too much about the cost of healthcare either as that can all be handled later if there are expenses not covered by my insurer.”

Tharuvai, an IT employee in Barclays Investment Bank, New Jersey, USA, is doing what he can to maintain social distancing and is in self-quarantine: “When my workplace was formulating plans based on the CDC guidelines to divide us up into two groups,  so one could work-from-home and the other from the office, I found myself in the team that was supposed to come in [the office]. Regardless, I told my bosses that I'd rather not and that was alright by them. So, I've basically been working from home since late February.”

Prevention is better than cure and it is best to practice physical distancing, especially till a vaccine is developed. However, with topics of discussion like ‘wealth tax’ doing the rounds, we must also use this moment to make a crucial point to our political leaders: a universal healthcare system with adequate resources is a human right and all nations must make it mandatory.

Updated Date:

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