The United States has been accused of being slow to react appropriately to the virus, and many experts believe that the implementation of widespread testing has been dangerously inefficient.
But in this country most things are for sale if the price is right, and it turns out that this applies to the coronavirus too. Reports out of Los Angeles indicate that while the federal government has been slow to test because of a shortage of test kits, unscrupulous doctors have been offering tests to the rich and famous – along with their children and domestic employees – at exorbitant prices.
Experts across the globe have warned repeatedly that the data around the COVID-19 pandemic is changing constantly and that we should not be too hasty to draw conclusions about how the disease will behave. One thing they all seem to agree on, however, is that early and extensive testing is the key determiner of how many people in any given country will live or die.
For example, in Germany, over 47,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19, but only 285 people have died (as at 27 march). The German authorities insist that this is because they tested early and widely and were able to quickly trace and isolate all contacts of infected persons. Along with having a young, healthy population, and an excellent healthcare system, this early testing has saved countless lives.
South Korea is another example of how early testing, contact tracing and isolation can make all the difference to how the coronavirus crisis develops in a country. Despite large early outbreaks of the disease after hundreds of members of a church group became infected, the government in that country was very quick to implement widespread testing, even rolling out drive-thru testing centers within days. The result? Infections have been contained to just over 9,000, and only 139 people have succumbed to the disease.
Unfortunately, not only has the lack of early testing left the United States exposed and vulnerable to this disease, but it has also provided opportunities for unscrupulous physicians to make money off the rich and famous, while the poor are left behind.
The Los Angeles Times recently reported that private healthcare providers are offering tests to patients willing to pay the heft price tag:
As people across the country were unable to get tested for COVID-19, a Santa Monica pediatrician emailed the parents of his patients with a pricey but tempting offer.
For $250, they could buy a cheek-swab test for the virus to be administered at home, Dr. Jay Gordon wrote. The tests could be purchased by his patients’ parents even if they showed no symptoms or had no other reason to fear they were infected. Insurance most likely wouldn’t cover the cost, he wrote.
Because he was getting only 100 kits, he asked that testing be limited to family members and “household staff.”
Gordon said he sold out almost immediately and has ordered hundreds more.
And Dr. Gordon is by no means the only healthcare professional to offer this “service.” There have been reports of several other doctors offering the hard-to-come-by tests to their wealthier patients.
The Times reported further:
It’s hard to know how widespread the practice is, but it has sparked outrage as celebrities and professional athletes without symptoms have gotten tested while others of lesser means wait.
Gordon acknowledges that his offer underscores inequities in the healthcare system.
“There’s no way in hell it should be so,” Gordon said. “This represents a massive failure of the federal government, of the healthcare system.”
He’s right, it certainly does. The coronavirus continues to shine a light on deplorable inefficiency at the highest levels of governments across the globe, while highlighting the growing chasm between the privileged and the poor.
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