by Jonathan King and Rosemary Kean
The coronavirus outbreak and the nation’s lack of preparedness require a major change in national policy, shifting investment of our tax dollars into public health, and away from prosecuting endless wars abroad. The large Emergency Stimulus Package Congress voted March 27 to cope with the crisis was a step in the right direction in cushioning the economic blows of the coronavirus outbreak. The direct response to containing the outbreak certainly requires expanding existing healthcare facilities and building new ones; increasing healthcare staffing; ensuring health care providers have an abundant supply of masks, gloves, and gowns to safeguard their health; raising the wages of frontline healthcare workers; and ramping up testing at no cost to those tested. Whether the Congressional appropriation will be adequate is unclear
For example, virus test improvement, vaccine and therapy developments are not funded by Medicare, Medicaid, other health insurance or hospitals. They depend on the efforts funded through the budgets of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), Biological Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA) and related basic and biomedical science agencies. The $1 billion directed to the NIH, $4.5 billion to the Centers for Disease Control and $27 billion to BARDA appear as generous sums given the previous almost austerity budgets for these agencies. But these investments pale when compared with this year’s $738 billion currently being spent on foreign wars, 800 military bases around the world, and a dangerous new nuclear arms race. The federal budget has been a business plan for the military/industrial complex, not a plan to protect the health and welfare of the citizenry. Now is the time to switch budget priorities.
A Reverse Manhattan Project
Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey and Peter L. Slavin, president of Massachusetts General Hospital, have called for a Manhattan Project level response to the coronavirus pandemic. We commend them for their leadership. We would make one change in that formulation: We need a Reverse Manhattan Project. During World War II, as the US engagement in fighting fascism in Europe and the Pacific deepened, hundreds of billions of dollars were diverted from civilian projects to concentrate on building the first atom bombs. Today, we need to divert hundreds of billions from our war budget, into the healthcare and biomedical research needs noted above, and even more into the economic cushions needed to protect our people.
Protect the Most Vulnerable
The Poor Peoples Campaign, Move ON, Our Revolution, National Nurses United, and other organizations have emphasized the need to protect all those at risk, but first and foremost are the 140,000,000 already below or near the poverty line. Among their calls are:
- Guaranteed paid sick leave for all;
- No foreclosures or evictions;
- Debt forgiveness not only for student but for medical debts;
- National moratorium on water and utility shutoff
- Prevent profiteering.
Establish Universal Health Care
If ever there was a time when the desperate need for universal health care in this country became apparent, that time is now. We need for every person to be covered, including the most vulnerable among us – those who are elderly or homeless or incarcerated or low-income or suffering from chronic illnesses and underlying conditions. We are all in this together. We need hospitals that are properly staffed and equipped, not reeling from years of austerity. We need enough doctors and nurses to actually take care of the ill in our society. We need simplified regulations and a single payer system, so doctors do not become exhausted and cynical and unable to spend enough time with their patients because they are forced to spend endless hours filling out complex paperwork and arguing with insurance companies who care only about their profits. We need Medicare for All. Initial funding should come from cutting the bloated and dangerous military budget. Congressional adoption of Senator Markey’s Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditure (SANE) Act would make available $75 billon.
Among the most tragic and inhumane aspects of current US foreign policy are the sanctions which cripple the ability of vulnerable countries to save patients’ lives. These sanctions threaten all of us by contributing to the global spread of the coronavirus. Congress needs to act immediately to end sanctions against Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, and Cuba so that all countries can import the medicines, equipment, and food they need to prevent unnecessary loss of lives.
–Jonathan King and Rosemary Kean are Co-Chairs of Massachusetts Peace Action. Jonathan is professor of molecular biology at MIT. Rosemary is a retired RN, and Public Health Nurse