Additional Healthcare Benefits
Learn why this physician author advocates for front-line healthcare workers (many of whom have been quietly drafting their wills) to be granted special benefits in the wake of COVID19.
As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, healthcare workers around the world make tremendous sacrifices to continue caring for their patients. They live apart from their family and quietly draft their wills. They are fearful not only for their own lives but also for the lives of their children and spouses. They continue to work fearlessly, day in and day out, taking care of patients with COVID-19. When efforts to treat fail, they are there to offer support and company during the last few moments of these patients as they die alone, away from family. Health care workers at the frontline are under tremendous strain physically and psychologically, as they take on additional roles of caregiving, beyond what they had reckoned just a few months back.
Not surprisingly, healthcare workers are getting sick and dying of COVID-19 at an alarming pace. At the time of this writing, statistics from the CDC indicate that more than 9200 medical professionals in the United States have been infected with COVID-19. Globally, more than 100 doctors and nurses have died from COVID-19. As the pandemic progresses and fractures our healthcare systems, these numbers are bound to increase. Due to the nature of their job, physicians and nurses spend a lot of time in close contact with patients. They are therefore at risk of catching COVID-19, despite using correct PPE. PPE or personal protective equipment provides protection but only if used consistently and correctly, with the right fit. On many occasions, their usage itself can act as a hindrance to the care being provided. Furthermore, as we learn more about COVID-19 presenting in an atypical manner, aside from the typical fever and flu like symptoms, there is a danger that diagnosis may be delayed and result in inadvertent exposure of our healthcare professionals.
Under these circumstances, it is crucial that healthcare workers and their dependents be provided special benefits. Grocery workers and other essential workers are currently being provided a temporary increase in wages as a way to ensure they continue working but also to recognize their work. This should apply to healthcare workers as well. Another alternative would be to provide them tax credits or lower their tax bracket for the year. In addition, dependents of healthcare workers who die from COVID-19 should be provided death benefits. In the military, a death gratuity is routinely given to survivors of those who die while on active duty. Dependents of firefighters and law enforcement officials who die in the line of duty are eligible for various programs that provide death and educational benefits. Congress must take action to extend such provisions to our frontline healthcare workers including resident physicians, fellows, nurses, paramedics, nurse practitioners and physicians. Many healthcare workers may be the sole breadwinners of the family and having this protection may provide them some comfort as they attend their calling and care for patients with COVID-19.
The other provision that should be provided to our young medical and nursing students is student loan forgiveness. The average medical student in the country graduates with a debt of about $200,000. Private student loans, unlike federal loans, do not get discharged after death. Furthermore, in the current scenario, medical students are graduating early and being deployed in the battlefield right away to fight COVID-19. Given the age bracket they are in, these medical and nursing staff may be getting married and/or having young children at the same time. If they do contract the disease or worse yet, die from it, the least we can do is to guarantee that their educational loans will be forgiven and their dependents provided for. Despite the current economic losses, this funding is justified given the risks our medical professionals are taking every day to protect the fabric of our society.
The current pandemic is being called a war. Appropriately remunerating our frontline workers for their work above and beyond their call of duty as well as honoring our fallen heroes through the provision of death benefits is of crucial importance.