The United States has reached the grim milestone of 200,000 deaths from COVID-19. Nearly 1,300 Iowans have died. Governments and news organizations report updated death tolls daily.
The focus on mortality is understandable. Dying is, after all, the worst outcome of a disease.
But surviving COVID-19 doesn’t necessarily mean recovering. When it comes to this virus, what doesn’t kill you can make you sick, perhaps for a long time.
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Many so-called long-haulers report lingering problems, including difficulty breathing and racing hearts, months after their bodies have cleared the virus.
It takes time for doctors to follow patients and understand the long-term implications of the virus on the human body. But some research so far isn’t very promising — and it underscores the importance of access to health insurance for Americans.
A recent report published in the medical journal JAMA Cardiology looked at 100 patients who had recently “recovered” from COVID-19. Researchers found some form of heart abnormality in 78 of them and detected an inflammation of the heart muscle in 60. The problems were independent from relevant preexisting health conditions.
“These findings indicate the need for ongoing investigation of long-term cardiovascular consequences of COVID-19,” according to researchers.
Translation: We’ll have to wait to see how this turns out.
Another study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the coronavirus caused serious damage to cells that line the lungs.
Basically, “the virus causes the body to scar the lung’s air sacs,” explained Iowa physician Tom Benzoni. “This creates swelling and inflammation.”
While such studies generally examine relatively few cases, the implications are huge when you extrapolate the findings to even a fraction of the millions of Americans who have already or will contract the virus.
A modest increase in strokes, heart attacks and lung problems going forward could mean a subsequent plague of people with chronic health problems stemming from COVID-19.
And then there’s another looming long-term threat to Americans’ health: the extreme weather patterns fueled by climate change.
Storms can bring downed power lines, contaminated waterways, mental health stress and other problems that send people to the doctor.
Smoke from wildfires in the western United States can kill immune system cells that protect lungs from diseases. Down the road, exposure could prompt asthma in some children.
So if there was ever a time to vote for political candidates who support saving and improving Obamacare, it is now.
One of the goals of the 2010 Affordable Care Act was to provide health insurance to Americans. More than 20 million previously uninsured people gained coverage in the first six years.
Then Donald Trump was elected.
His administration scaled back outreach efforts to enroll people in health insurance. The individual mandate for coverage was eliminated. He supports a Republican-led court challenge that could overturn the law and strip coverage from millions of people.
In the late 2000s, well over 40 million Americans were uninsured. By 2016, those without health insurance reached a low of 26.7 million. Since then, the figure has inched back up.
So numbers were moving in the wrong direction even before millions of Americans lost jobs this year, which frequently means losing health insurance.
Obamacare provides access to private plans for those who don’t get coverage through a job. It has expanded Medicaid to more low-income people. It ensures hospitals, doctors and nursing homes are paid to provide care.
While the law is not perfect, it protects people with pre-existing health problems — something more of us may have going forward because of the coronavirus. Everyone in this country needs health insurance.
Iowans should support only those political candidates who support preserving and strengthening Obamacare.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Surviving COVID-19 doesn’t necessarily mean recovering. It’s another reason why we all need health insurance