Consequences In One Long and Two Short Parts

Reading time – 5:36  .  .  .

Part 1. Healthcare Wake-Up

The Kaiser Family Foundation just reported that, “.  .  .  nearly 27 million people will lose health insurance as a result of being laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Some will go on the ACA exchanges; the majority will wind up on Medicaid; and 6 million poor Americans will have no insurance at all to cover the enormous expense of battling COVID-19 or any other malady and will have to figure out the impossible. Said another way, these folks are already struggling to stay financially afloat and a COVID-19 anvil may be dumped hard onto their little boat.

I know a fellow who commented on a different catastrophe, offering a Machiavellian (or Ayn Randian) comment that sounded like this: “It’s sad, but they made their choices and now they have to live with the consequences.” Is that our official attitude toward poor people?

We’re now being told to get out there, go back to work and go shopping, where we will encounter lots of nice people, some of whom will be disease carriers and may send us to the hospital. I worry what will happen in 2 – 3 weeks to those who are packing bars now and are not wearing face masks. Indeed, the CDC tells us that the likelihood of infection is growing greater in many parts of the country.

Wait, greater? And we’re supposed to go back to work and drive the numbers still higher?

Yes, because we’re warriors, wartime President Nero tells us. So, get out there and fight. Drive up herd immunity, which to the best of my understanding, means that those who manage to survive this deadly virus will probably have immunity. Or not. The experts really don’t know how that will work. And you have to get sick first to get that immunity but you might die from the infection long before you would have become immune. Further, well over 6 million Americans won’t be able to pay for their healthcare if they survive the disease.

Can we agree that we need to figure out the best way for all of us to be able to get healthcare when we need it? Actually, we don’t all agree about that, but the overwhelming majority of us do. If that’s the goal, then how do we get there?

What I see is that we’re about to pay for the healthcare, one way or another, for an additional 27 million Americans who got laid off due to the pandemic and who have little or no insurance. What if we just put on our big boy and big girl pants and face up to the facts that the bumper stickers are right, that shit happens, and that we think everyone should be able to get healthcare irrespective of their wealth? We’re paying for much of it anyway, so what if we were intentional and created a really good solution?

I can hear Libertarians wailing and can see Ayn Rand true believers bent over with cramps. I only have two problems with that rugged individualist philosophy. First, it only works for people who are young, healthy and strong. If you can’t check all three boxes, you’re screwed. Second, Ayn Rand wrote novels – fantasies – all of it was not-real, didn’t happen stuff. Doing so brought her fame, fortune and popularity with idealistic (mostly) young men during their formative years. Most of us grew out of believing in the made-up story not long after finding out that there is no Tooth Fairy. Sen. Rand Paul and members of the House Freedom Caucus, however, didn’t get the message and are still looking under their pillows every morning. Okay, that was snark.

We’re living in the real world where not everyone is young, healthy and strong – or wealthy. Not everyone had open to them the path to true free market enlightenment and success. Some are being cast adrift due to layoffs. Doing nothing while watching that little boat of theirs sink after the anvil crashes into it is a cruel consequence of our own design.

There is a Jewish imperative – Tikkun Olam – which means “repair the world.” The Boy Scout version of that is to always leave your campsite better than you found it. Pretty good ideas. No, actually they are imperatives. What repairs are we doing to leave things better than we found them? It is our obligation to our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and they are counting on us to do the right things right now.

Which brings us to,

Part 2. Napoleon

There is no shortage of commentary about both what Joe Biden should be doing now, as well as speculation about his relative lack of visibility. I’m reminded of a quotation from Napoleon used by Theodore White in his book The Making of the President 1964. White wrote,

“Never were Republicans denounced [by President Johnson] as such; the opposition was involved in its own civil war, and the president obeyed Napoleon’s maxim: Never interfere with the enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself.”

That proved to be a big help in sending Johnson’s opponent, Sen. Barry Goldwater, back to Arizona and I’m wondering if that is the advice Joe Biden is following today.

In that light, you must read Frank Bruni’s piece from April 26, “Trump Self-Destructs.” He ends his essay this way:

“Americans who take any comfort from [Trump’s nightly coronavirus briefings] were Trump-drunk long ago. The unbesotted see and hear the president for what he is: a tone-deaf showman who regards everything, even a mountain of corpses, as a stage.”

Which brings us to,

Part 3. The Math Update

Our first reported death from coronavirus was on February 6; the next two deaths were on February 26. Things ramped up slowly at first and then, as you well know, the death count ramped up very quickly.

It has been 100 days since that first case and we now have a minimum of 89,000 of our fellow citizens dead from coronavirus. We’re losing about 2,000 of our friends, neighbors and family every day, which translates to a Pearl Harbor every 1.2 days and a 9/11 every 1.5 days. The White House tells us that things could get worse and predicts that 100,000 – 240,000 Americans will die from this disease.

Well, things are worse right now. We better be really careful how we “open up” our economy, including doing COVID-19 testing in numbers a couple of orders of magnitude greater than we’re doing now or we may find out that the White House finally got something right – the counting of our dead. And that is a disastrous consequence of our federal ineptitude.


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6 Responses to Consequences In One Long and Two Short Parts
  1. Jim Nathan Reply

    Thanks, Jack, for high lighting important perspectives.

    After Hurricane Katrina, I naively believed that terrible tragedy with its massive loss of lives, massive rebuild costs and massive human and economic negative toll for generations to come would be THE sea change … both literally and figuratively … that would open the eyes of America. We live on the “pay-me-now” or “pay-me-MUCH-more-later” for many generations “plan”. Inter-agency finger pointing, political wishful thinking, and cultural “hopes” that America is immune to major tragedies (like ‘willing’ a pandemic to go away) resulted in limited preparation and investments in the levees and dams around New Orleans; meanwhile most knew for decades they could not withstand a major storm. America relives this experience with regularity, which shows up in every catastrophe.

    The current global pandemic is clearly a mirror that reinforces lack of preparation, hope that such challenges will never come (or can be wished away), and the residual costs that always far exceed the prevention investments we shy away from. Not only is the US the only major developed nation that does not have some type of health coverage for all but it also massively under invests in social determinants of health, community health, prevention, and more. The “Ayn Rands” would argue that we DO have universal coverage because all licensed emergency rooms have legal (EMTALA) responsibility to care for (or at least stabilize) all dire emergencies. What a way to go: under-invest in societal needs and then pay much more later for complex health issues!

    Churchill is often quoted that “Americans will get it right … after they try everything else!”

    • Jack Altschuler Reply

      It’s so sad that Churchill was correct. There are two things about that which I don’t understand: 1. The pattern is as plain as can be, so how is it that we continue to repeat it? and, 2. How are we continuing to get away with our self-defeating behavior?

      What is frightening is that the piper always shows up to collect and I’m afraid – no, certain – that we won’t be able to pay the bill when it comes due.

      Thanks for your comment.


    I am not sure I agree with your statement that an overwhelming majority of us want to figure out the best way for all of us to be able to get healthcare when we need it. For the sake of the argument let’s say it is true. But then the question is how do we get there. It should be a relatively simple problem to solve when in the midst of a crisis a majority of citizens of a representative democracy want to fix a social problem exacerbated by the crisis.

    Recently I learned of a Yale economist who did a study that showed that the U. S. was the only industrialized country that did not have a national healthcare system that covered all of its citizens. I know that is not a news flash. I bring it up because the study by the Yale economist was done in 1918 during the Spanish flu. Over a hundred years later in the midst of the worst health crisis since the Spanish flu nothing has changed. The richest country in the history of the world still does not have a national healthcare system that covers all of its citizens. Obviously, healthcare is not a simple problem to solve.

    Your comment about Sen. Rand Paul brings into sharp relief that the real reason all of us are not able to get healthcare when we need it is that to solve a social problem we need a political system that works for the best interest of the entire country. We need a political system that has not been totally corrupted by money, a political system that elevates leaders who have integrity and the courage to what is right not what is politically convenient. And a political system that constantly works to expand the democratic process and engages with its citizenry in an honest and transparent manner to determine what is the best way to move the country forward. Unfortunately, our political system as currently constructed does none of the above.

    • Jack Altschuler Reply

      The last figure I saw was that 80% of us want some version of universal healthcare.

  3. Daniel F. Giallombardo Reply

    I’ve never been an ardent support of Bernie Sanders. While I found his ideas stimulating and idealistic, my cynical old heart knew deep inside that they’d never work. Then came Covid 19. What better time to re-open the subject of universal health care? The GOP led Senate says we can’t afford it, but apparently we CAN and DO afford gargantuan tax cuts for corporations whose profits are already an embarrassment of riches.With a universal health care act, even one limited as the ACA (AKA as Obamacare) would stand the nation in far better stead than the piece meal, catch as catch can, why NO, you’re NOT covered under your insurance, we have now.It’s time to act.—


  4. Joni Lindgren Reply

    The number of all people in the U.S. who want healthcare for everyone is at 80% of all Americans. What good will it be for some of us to have healthcare and those who can’t afford it have NONE?? Germs don’t care if you’re a Republican or Democrat….if it’s out there, everyone is at risk.

    Here’s a big slap in the face of all workers. There are 36M people out of jobs and with that 36M goes their healthcare!! Some states in our country have opened special enrollment periods for their residents to sign up for health insurance through the ACA. Last week, Trump decided that he will NOT allow a federal special enrollment period through the ACA….leaving millions upon millions without being able to even help themselves!!

    Then I was sent an email of an article where Trump has beefed up his police in this country with ammunition, protective gear, specialty gloves and more. Now……..just what do you think that will be about????? You can read the piece for yourself at