Denying anti-vaxxers health insurance will screw us all over in the long-run

A New York State Democrat’s proposed bill is wildly misguided.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 20: Protesters rally against vaccine mandates on November 20, 2021 in New Yo...
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One of the more bizarre byproducts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been the proliferation of unabashed schadenfreude among those who participate in various coronavirus mitigation methods — masking, social distancing, getting vaccinated — toward those who deliberately eschew those same practices ,only to catch the virus themselves. In these instances, the macabre inclination to cheer on the reaping of what someone sows for themselves only feeds into a broader sense of smug superiority, fueled by snuff film voyeurism and “told you so” gloating. It’s understandable — particularly given the communal stakes of a pandemic – but the end result is almost always a pivot away from empathy and toward the slippery slope of libertarian “fuck you, I’ve got mine” individualism.

Take, for instance, New York State Assemblyman Pat Burke, who this week proposed a deeply punitive measure that capitalizes on the frustrations of the COVID-wary against the COVID-indulgent: allowing health insurance companies to legally deny coverage for people who have purposefully not been vaccinated.

“We need to do everything we can to incentivize people to get vaccinated," the Buffalo Democrat told WKBW on Tuesday evening. "If folks are demanding their freedom, they have the freedom to not get vaccinated, to increase the likelihood of spreading a very dangerous disease, then I don't know if the insurance pool and the rest of us should be covering for their very, very bad decisions that are already hurting us in a different way.”

I get it. I do. I completely understand the anger at those who risk not only their own health but also the health of their entire communities — and the rest of us at large — because of their bullshit objections to science, or their conservative posturing, or podcast-inspired alternative medicines, or whatever other reason they may have for refusing to be vaccinated. The hunger for some form of cause-and-effect consequence is an all too familiar one. But wielding healthcare as a political cudgel to be applied selectively isn’t justice — it’s a form of retribution that runs counter to Burke’s own party’s platform. It’s a contradiction Burke himself inelegantly attempted to reconcile, explaining that, “Everyone has a right to be cared for when they're sick, but the idea that the community, at large, would have to pay for that — your insurance pools or through other healthcare options — seems a bit much under these circumstances.”

Equally troubling, however, is the prospect of giving health insurance companies in this country — hardly altruistic institutions by any measure — the means to deny even more coverage to even more people. No matter how relatable the frustration behind the proposed bill might be, establishing a precedent by which companies that exist first and foremost to generate profit can exploit a legal loophole to maximize their own bottom line, will only be to the broader detriment of everyone in the end. It’s not hard to imagine a health insurance provider applying Burke’s reasoning to deny coverage for other unrelated behaviors — something they, as private entities, already have remarkable latitude to do as it stands today.

It makes sense that people are mad at their neighbors and community members for willingly endangering everyone with their refusals to do the main thing scientifically proven to help seriously mitigate COVID-19. It’s a perfectly understandable emotional reaction — especially this far into the pandemic. But when doing so comes at the cost of empathy and the sense of communal responsibility you yourself claim to champion, then something is clearly very wrong with your plan.