Will COVID-19 decide the US election?

by James Kennedy

Will COVID-19 decide the US election?

COVID-19 has shown up some glaring weaknesses in the US healthcare system. The US pays almost twice as much as other western countries for the same treatments and upwards of 40,000 Americans are estimated to die every year as a result of healthcare costs. This has put Medicare and Medicaid, the two primary US healthcare schemes in the spotlight.

Medicare is essentially an insurance scheme for those over 65 and Medicaid serves low income people of any age. Both programmes are extremely popular with Americans polled over the last 10 years overwhelmingly supporting them and in the last months as COVID-19 has surged in the US, a staggering 55% of Americans are in favour of Medicare for all.

For a country that reacts poorly to any mention of any service being “socialised”, that Medicare for all has survived the onslaught of accusations of it being “just one small step towards communism” shows how resilient the policy idea is.

Republicans have been waging a campaign against the affordable care act AKA “Obamacare”, attempting to defund it in red states and at a federal level, having repealed key aspects without passing any alternative. This is now a problem in an election year.

Donald Trump’s own attempts to create a legacy of improving healthcare have been poor. Having no record of delivering any form of policy on healthcare (even one he can exaggerate the results of) he has resorted to claiming success for policies that were enacted by his predecessor such as enhanced support for veterans.

Biden’s plan by the standards of most Europeans is pretty tame and would re-introduce the public option (so similar to what all Europeans have today) and expand coverage of Medicare to low income families. The latter may actually be the most successful. In US healthcare circles there is often talk of the “doughnut hole” where someone is too poor to be able to afford proper health insurance, but “too rich” to be covered by Medicare.

Given that the number one reason for personal bankruptcy in the US is healthcare costs and in the absence of literally any plan at all by Donald Trump, the fight would appear one sided at least on the healthcare debate.

That said, Donald Trump ran a successful campaign in 2016 on tearing down systems that at the end of the day were not delivering for Americans. That he didn’t really have a replacement was not a problem at the time. But now he has been 4 years in office and can’t make that argument twice. Will this determine the election? Probably not and most of vote will be dependent on Biden’s ability to galvanise voters and by contrast, Trump’s ability to depress them.  But if COVID-19 continues to spiral out of control and voting is consistent with the negative polling for Trump in the worst hit COVID-19 areas, healthcare may swing that extra few percent that matters.


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