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Government-run Health Care Not the Answer for Nursing Homes

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Far-left media, politicians, and health-care “experts” all agree: Government-controlled health care is the way to beat COVID-19. They hope that the coronavirus pandemic will inspire Medicare for All and other radical changes to our nation’s health care system.

Their claims are in direct contradiction to an inconvenient truth called “facts.” The available evidence shows that long term care facilities in nations with government-run health care have just as high fatality rates, and sometimes even higher, in nursing homes as America. Long term care facilities all around the world have been hit hardest by the virus, regardless of what health care system they have.

That’s right. Government-controlled health care do not have lower numbers of cases in nursing homes. Recent data shows that long term care facilities in Canada account of 81 percent of coronavirus virus deaths in the country. In Sweden, care home residents account for nearly half of deaths linked to COVID-19. In Ireland, around 62 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the country are associated with care homes. And in the United Kingdom, nearly one in three deaths linked to the virus have occurred in nursing and residential homes. All of these countries have high cases of COVID, despite having government-controlled health care.

It would be foolish to use this pandemic as the source of the argument to demand universal health care, especially when we could be focused on more meaningful changes that would actually combat this pandemic and prepare for future ones to come.

Despite America’s high rates of cases in the long term care industry, America’s long term care caregivers have stepped up during these challenging times. Mortality rates among nursing home and assisted living residents are 12 percent lower than the global average because caregivers were able to maintain normal standards of care and infection control.

While there is clearly much to learn and improve upon, by enhancing policies such as tele-medicine, the facts show America’s health care system rose to the unprecedented challenge of a once-in-a-century pandemic. We are testing more people than ever, hospitals have not been overrun by patients, and we are well on the way to developing a vaccine. The challenges presented by COVID-19 are greater than any one industry could have managed singlehandedly and notwithstanding the fact that seniors are especially vulnerable to the virus, the majority of those infected survive and recover.

This in no way diminishes the difficulties that have faced America’s elderly and their caregivers since the pandemic began. A recent New York Times report shows that over 50,000 of the more than 125,000 U.S. coronavirus victims died at long term care facilities. More than 10,000 nursing home and assisted living residents died in New York and New Jersey after the governors there ordered sick patients to be sent to nursing homes, often without contagion testing.

What the pandemic shows is that the best responses happen when government acts in its proper sphere. For example, federal agencies should ensure that long term care facilities have enough testing, personal protective equipment, and staffing to protect heroic caregivers, residents, and their families. States should provide facilities with liability protection so that the trial lawyer lobby can’t sue nursing homes for deaths that were outside their control.

America’s resilient and responsive health care system should not become owned and operated by the government. Medicare and Medicaid help millions of Americans, but they have billions of dollars in lost and fraudulent payments. Medicaid also only pays 75 percent of the cost of care at long term and other health care facilities – meaning adequate reforms and funding affecting America’s most vulnerable citizens are in order as opposed to needlessly expanding government’s role.

As evidenced by the data, death rates due to COVID-19 among long term care residents in nations, such as Canada and in Europe, demonstrate that government-run health care is not the better solution for America’s aging population. It is past time to have a serious conversation about meaningful changes in health care that don’t include radical agendas which will hurt the very people they are intended to help.

Lynn Westmoreland served in the U.S. House of Representatives for six terms, representing Georgia's third congressional district.   

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