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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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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

Scoop: Trump-backed Perdue says he wouldn’t have certified Georgia 2020 results

Perdue at a December 2020 campaign event in Columbus, Ga. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Georgia gubernatorial candidate David Perdue wouldn’t have signed the certification of the state’s 2020 election results if he had been governor at the time, the former Senate Republican told Axios.

  • “Not with the information that was available at the time and not with the information that has come out now. They had plenty of time to investigate this. And I wouldn’t have signed it until those things had been investigated and that’s all we were asking for," he said.

Why it matters: There has been no evidence widespread fraud took place in Georgia's elections last year and the November results were counted three times, once by hand.

Beijing Olympics: These countries have announced diplomatic boycotts

Photo: Zhang Qiang/VCG via Getty Images

Several countries, including Canada and Australia, have announced they will join the U.S. in a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to protest human rights abuses committed by China's government.

Driving the news: Leaders have faced pressure from human rights groups and others to boycott the Games, pointing to the ongoing genocide of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China's Xinjiang region and other abuses.

Biden directs federal government to become carbon neutral by 2050

President Biden speaking to reporters outside of the White House on Dec. 8.

President Biden signed an executive order Wednesday that requires the federal government achieve multiple goals related to reducing its carbon emissions, including achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Why it matters: Meeting the objectives of the order would require a massive investment by the federal government to buy electric vehicles, upgrade buildings and change how it procures electricity.