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Nevada can honor heroes, protect families’ health and safety with a Nevada Public Option (opinion)


Submitted by Karen McDermott, M.D.

Dr. Karen McDermott
Dr. Karen McDermott

Throughout the pandemic, many of us participated in events that honored our essential workers. These are the people who show up for work every day, without the luxury of working remotely. They drive trucks and buses so people and goods can get from one point to another. They stock grocery shelves so the rest of us can feed our families. Often, they are low-paid and uninsured. 

To truly honor and give back to these frontline heroes who interact every day with the public and expose themselves and their families to potential COVID-19 infection, we must begin by ensuring they have health care. We can begin this important work by implementing the Nevada Public Option.

As a physician, I routinely urge my patients to care for all their health issues, not just emergencies. This often means managing conditions that could lead to diabetes, heart diseases, and other illnesses. What we now know is that COVID-19 is deadlier and more severe when it infects people with underlying medical conditions.

During this pandemic, ensuring people can see a doctor and be healthier is more important than ever, and can be the difference between life and death. We also know that people who don’t have health care are less likely to know they have underlying medical conditions, let alone manage them. 

By requiring premiums to go down year-over-year, the Nevada Public Option can help more people and small businesses afford healthcare coverage. Access to healthcare can also go up because the Nevada Public Option ensures all Nevadans have at least one affordable healthcare option.

Currently, Nevadans who live outside Clark and Washoe counties often have only one plan on the health exchange or none at all. Additionally, rural Nevadans pay significantly more for health care compared with Clark County residents.

The Nevada Public Option also increases access to maternal and pregnancy care by closing gaps in Medicaid coverage, protecting the health and safety of moms-to-be and their child.

Nevadans no longer accept business-as-usual where their healthcare is concerned. 

Because of high healthcare costs, Nevada has the nation’s sixth-highest rate of people without health insurance. Nevada lags most states in critical health metrics and spends only $50 per person for public health–the lowest in the nation. One out of every seven Nevadan women of childbearing age are uninsured, which puts the health of the woman and her child at risk. Black, Latino, Hispanic, Indigenous, and other under-represented communities face significant disparities in birth and infant outcomes when compared to their white counterparts. 

And too many of the same people who are most likely to get left behind, lack healthcare, and suffer poorer health and greater risks of sickness and death, especially during the pandemic, are also our essential workers–the same people we once lauded as heroes.

The Nevada Public Option can begin the hard work of reversing these shameful trends, improving health, and saving lives in the process.

The time has come for Nevada policymakers to extend the protection and security of healthcare to all residents by making it more affordable and more accessible.

Karen McDermott, MD has practiced primary care medicine along with hospice medicine in the Reno area since 1991.

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