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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The coronavirus may soon become a high-stakes reminder of the flaws in the U.S. health care system.

Why it matters: Our expensive, inaccessible health care system could easily make it harder to control the virus' spread, failing individual patients and putting more people at risk in the process.

"You could see uninsured or underinsured patients, just like they do for other conditions, skipping necessary treatment because they believe they can't afford it," Avalere's Chris Sloan said.

Between the lines: A public health issue like the coronavirus isn't just another health care problem to add to the list of health care problems. Rather, all of those other issues directly complicate the response to the virus.

  • If we end up with a widespread outbreak, these big issues will "not even bubble up — they would really explode out into much more plain view," said Jen Kates of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The uninsured: Nearly 28 million Americans remain uninsured, despite the insurance gains made under the Affordable Care Act.

  • Uninsured people are more likely to rely on the emergency room. During a pandemic, that can overburden ERs and increase the risk of exposure for uninfected patients waiting to receive care, Kates said.

Costs: Even for patients who have insurance, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs have been steadily rising.

  • "If you're in the hospital for this or needing treatment, you're likely going to rack up a lot of medical bills, particularly if you're uninsured or simply underinsured with high deductibles," Sloan said.

Surprise bills: A hospital stay often comes with the risk of a big bill no matter what, and emergency rooms are also some of the biggest sources of surprise bills — often for thousands of dollars.

  • This has already happened to at least one family, who got a bill for nearly $4,000 following a mandatory quarantine.

What's next: The Trump administration appears to be taking these concerns seriously. It's considering using a national disaster program to pay providers for the care of uninsured people who have the coronavirus, the WSJ reported yesterday.

  • Although a treatment or vaccine for the coronavirus is still a long ways off, concerns have already been raised about whether they'll be affordable (and thus accessible).

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - World

U.S. airstrike kills senior al-Qaeda leader in Syria, DOD says

A displacement camp near the village of Qah in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. Photo: Ahmad Al-Atrash/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. airstrike in northwest Syria on Friday killed senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Why it matters: Syria serves as a "safe haven" for the extremist group to plan external operations, according to U.S. Army Maj. John Rigsbee.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Giuliani associate Lev Parnas convicted of campaign finance crimes

Lev Parnas, a former associate of then-President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Florida businessman Lev Parnas was convicted Friday on charges of conspiracy to make foreign contributions to political campaigns, according to multiple outlets.

Why it matters: Prosecutors said Parnas, then an associate of former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, funneled over $150,000 from a Russian businessman into U.S. campaigns as part of an effort to land licenses in the U.S.'s legal cannabis industry.

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to Texas abortion law

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging Texas' abortion law, which bans the procedure as soon as six weeks into pregnancy, but left the law in place in the meantime.

Why it matters: The court is moving extraordinarily fast on the Texas cases, compressing into just a few days a process that normally takes months. And that schedule means the court will take up Texas' ban a month before it hears another major abortion case — a challenge to Mississippi's own 2018 ban on abortions after 15 weeks.