Parents Talk Back by Aisha Sultan

Virus Lays Bare the Obvious: We Need Universal Health Care

Kara Hopper is just one of the millions of Americans terrified about what’s going to happen next.

The coronavirus pandemic threatens millions of Americans’ lives and livelihoods. But her story sheds light on what we should have known all along: Our country’s lack of a safety net for most people had us headed toward disaster.

This pandemic should make us realize that complacency about other people’s welfare can be devastating to our economy.

Consider the Hopper family’s experience:

Hopper, 42, lives in Wentzville, Missouri, with her husband and four children. Both she and her husband worked, saved money and bought a home. They did all the things we tell responsible, hard-working adults to do.

A little more than two years ago, their son, Jasper, then 9, was diagnosed with leukemia.

The Hoppers were lucky to have good insurance coverage. Jasper needed intensive and frequent medical treatment, which meant Hopper had to quit her job to take him to hospitals and doctors.

In the first year, Hopper estimates their additional out-of-pocket expenses were around $20,000, on top of the lost income of $30,000 from having to quit her job. They held fundraisers and posted a plea on GoFundMe to help with escalating medical costs not covered by insurance. It’s not enough to make up the significant gap. They racked up credit card debt.

How many families can absorb a financial blow like that? When you are trying to save your child’s life, you should not also be worried about losing your home. How did we simply accept that this is the way things work in America for so long?

Hopper returned to work in August as a server in a fine-dining restaurant.

“It was enough to keep up from getting further behind but not enough to let us catch up,” she said.

Restaurants are shutting down in an attempt to control the spread of the coronavirus.

“I’m scared of falling further behind,” she said. “More than that, I’m scared of the risk to my immunocompromised child,” she said. And she also feels guilty. “I know a lot of families will be hurt way worse. I have friends with both parents working in hard-hit industries.”

At least Hopper’s husband is still working.

She says that maybe it’s easier for people to ignore and try to forget about those who are most vulnerable because it’s an easier way to deal with fear and anxiety.

”It makes it easier to just keep going on with your life if you can ignore reality and ignore the dark things. ... It’s a coping mechanism that's easier than dealing with what's actually happening,” she said.

Here’s the harsh reality that this pandemic has brought home: We need paid sick leave and health care for everyone in this country.

It seems so obvious now. When people are afraid to seek medical treatment because it could bankrupt them, it’s harder for everyone else to stay healthy when a virus like this hits. When people are forced to go to work when they are sick in order to feed their families, it’s a risk to everyone’s health. How did we allow political leaders to divide us on issues that are completely noncontroversial for any poor, working or middle-class person? Maybe it’s because we mistakenly believed other people’s bad luck or circumstances would never affect our lives.

The severity of this crisis has laid that mistaken belief to rest. Everyone’s economic and physical well-being is interconnected in a society.

“I think we need to get with the civilized world and take care of one another,” Hopper said.

We should have realized that many years ago.

We shouldn’t forget it now.