Last weekend, like 7.5 million other Americans, Donald Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19. The country and the world watched as the president of the United States was taken by helicopter to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center “out of an abundance of caution” and treated with an unprecedented mixture of dexamethasone (a steroid), remdesivir (an antiviral) and Regeneron’s new experimental mixture of monoclonal antibodies. Three days later, he was discharged, leaving Americans with the bill. Trump’s health care is taxpayer-funded.
Despite the fact that the president’s trip to the hospital was a real-time infomercial for the wonders of government health care, he and his party are doing all they can to make sure other Americans are not afforded the same privilege. Indeed, if Republicans have their way, nearly 30 million Americans won’t have health care at all.
On November 10, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in California v. Texas, a case that could spell the end of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Indeed, despite three Republican senators, including two on the Senate Judiciary Committee, testing positive for COVID-19 in connection to the Trump outbreak, the GOP is rushing to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court so she can take her seat on the bench before arguments are heard and cast her vote as the potential death knell for the law. With that decision, the Supreme Court could kick nearly 30 million Americans off their health insurance—adding to the millions who have already lost their coverage to the economic fallout of the pandemic and nearly doubling the country’s uninsured.
Even worse, Trump announced that he was halting all talks over another round of COVID-19 relief legislation. As out-of-work Americans continue to churn through their savings, many will find themselves unable to afford COBRA insurance—adding even more people to the rate of the uninsured.
We were facing a health care crisis in America even before the pandemic. Beyond the absurd level of uninsurance for the richest and most powerful country in the world, there’s also the fact that out-of-pocket costs continue to skyrocket, leaving even insured Americans facing steep deductibles and copays. It’s why health care continues to be the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in America. Worse still, inequities in public health and health care leave Black babies and their mothers dying at two to three times the overall rate. And when COVID-19 came, it rocked Black and brown communities, taking two to three times as many lives in these communities—and devastating untold millions of livelihoods.
And yet Trump and his friends seem hellbent on destroying the ACA without an alternative. But the alternative is obvious: If we’re serious about fixing health care in America, we need more government health care, not less! And yet Republicans continue to decry government health care as “socialized medicine,” arguing that it would erode the quality of American health care, take away choice and bankrupt our country.
Let’s examine each of those claims in turn, based on Trump’s own health care experience.
Trump showed us how good government health care can be. A government helicopter whisked him to a leading military hospital, where he occupied a multiroom suite and was prescribed medication that is off-limits to most of us, and then brought him home to the White House, where he has a full medical facility and intensive care unit at his disposal. He didn’t have to worry about the cost—the American taxpayer was covering it. For someone who wasn’t president, it could have a six-figure price tag. Trump described the experience at Walter Reed, in a single tweet, as “great,” “incredible” and “AMAZING.”
We’re told constantly that government health care plans, like Medicare for All, would bankrupt the American economy. Yet again, Trump’s hospital stay reminds us what the real issue is: extreme tax avoidance and evasion by America’s wealthiest. In 2016 and 2017, Trump paid only $750 each year in federal income taxes. And in 10 of the previous 15 years, he paid nothing. But he’s happy to let the rest of us pay taxes to cover the cost of his health care.
The affordability of a government health care system, however, is not simply about the cost of care. It’s also about how much revenue our government loses because of wealthy people like Trump who have written the rules in their favor. Indeed, the president’s only major legislative victory was a tax overhaul that benefits rich people most of all.
More than 210,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. Countless more have been bankrupted by life-saving care. Yet when Donald Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19, he neither died nor went bankrupt—because he had government health care, despite paying little or no taxes for over a decade. It’s time the rest of us, who do pay our taxes, have the same safety and security.
Abdul El-Sayed, M.D., D.Phil., is an epidemiologist and former health director for the City of Detroit. He is the author of Healing Politics: A Doctor’s Journey into the Heart of Our Political Epidemic and host of the podcast America Dissected.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
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