The COVID-19 pandemic is straining health systems worldwide and dramatically impacting the day-to-day lives of billions of people in unprecedented ways. The swiftly increasing demand on health facilities and health care workers threatens to leave health systems overstretched and unable to function adequately.
Previous outbreaks have shown that when health systems are overwhelmed, mortality from preventable, chronic, and other treatable conditions also increases dramatically.
Prepared and well-organized systems can continue to provide equitable access to essential care services throughout a crisis, curbing direct mortality and avoiding increased indirect mortality. However, the United States’ health care system has a long history of inequity in both access to care and quality of care. These failings are only exacerbated by the current crisis. Coupled with skyrocketing unemployment, millions of individuals and families could lose access to essential health care services as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads to communities throughout the country.
As advocates for low-income and other vulnerable communities, the staff of the National Health Law Program is acutely aware that the effects of the coronavirus pandemic will disproportionately impact the individuals and families we fight for every day. NHeLP remains committed to defending access to the range of critical services that people — especially those in historically vulnerable populations — need to live their lives. Yes, even in a pandemic. Especially in an epidemic.
This blog series is intended to highlight six areas of essential care that must remain accessible to all people during the course of this pandemic: maternal care, substance use disorder treatment, mental health services, abortion, HIV/AIDs care, and Home- and Community-based care.
The threats to essential care are diverse. Some, like maternal health, are driven by the need to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Many pregnant people are now uneasy about giving birth in a hospital setting, particularly as hospitals are limiting the number of accompanying visitors or support persons, including Doulas. Meanwhile, other essential health care, like abortion, are simply being targeted by politicians who hope to score political points amid fear and chaos.
These blogs dive into each of these areas and explore the threats to care and ways that advocates can protect access to essential care services.