People shocked to find that the rich and famous are getting virus testing faster

Sprinkled in among all of the coronavirus headlines recently have been some stories about celebrities, professional athletes and other wealthy, powerful individuals. Brooklyn Nets all-star Kevin Durant recently tested positive, along with other members of his team. A member of the Utah Jazz reported the same thing. Hollywood actor Idris Elba similarly announced that he’d tested positive. All of these people had a couple of things in common aside from their celebrity status. They are all young, healthy and they weren’t showing any symptoms.

Given the scarcity of test kits and the CDC guidelines everyone is supposed to be following, how did these people get tested so easily? Tests are supposed to be first given to people who are either displaying symptoms or who have underlying medical issues leaving them more prone to risk if they contract COVID-19. The answer is relatively obvious. If you are wealthy and influential, you have access to better medical care than the hoi polloi out in the streets. (Associated Press)

Celebrities, politicians and professional athletes faced a backlash this week as many revealed that they had been tested for the coronavirus, even when they didn’t have a fever or other tell-tale symptoms.

That’s fueling a perception that the wealthy and famous have been able to jump to the head of the line to get tested while others have been turned away or met with long delays.

The concerns over preferential treatment underscores a fundamental truth about inequalities baked into the American health care system — those with the financial means can often receive a different level of service.

This news has at least some of the “little people” seeing red. The Associated Press interviewed a 30-year-old New York woman named Robin Fraser who falls into that category. She has fibromyalgia and an autoimmune disorder that places her at exceptional risk if she contracts the virus. She’s also been exhibiting symptoms for a week, including a nagging cough and a fever. Her doctor told her to go to the emergency room and get tested, but when she did, she was told there weren’t enough test kits and she was unable to be tested.

Her question is, “Why are they getting in front of the line? People like me, average Joes, we get pushed to the back of the line. Why can Congress get it and we can’t?”

While Ms. Fraser’s frustration is totally understandable, the answer to her question is obvious. The rich and famous always get things sooner and more easily than the rest of us. We might as well ask why Jay Leno has a collection of classic cars worth tens of millions of dollars and I don’t. It’s because Jay Leno can afford them.

The reason is that most of the laboratories and hospitals that are doing the testing are privately owned and funded, not government facilities. If the test kits were all being paid for by taxpayer dollars and people were jumping to the head of the line contrary to CDC guidelines we would have every reason to be outraged. But as the linked report reveals, the members of the NBA teams who were tested all went to a private clinic. The same goes for Idris Elba.

Ali Fedotowsky-Manno of The Bachelorette fame also recently got a test when she didn’t have a fever. She went to an urgent care outlet called Mend, where they charge $195 for a home visit to collect swabs for COVID-19 testing. Not all insurance plans cover that sort of treatment and if you’re working with a limited budget, that may be out of your reach. Other examples abound.

While it may sound unsympathetic to say it, this is just the free market in action. We can be resentful if we wish, but those with the most resources will generally find a way to get what they need while those of more modest means wind up having to do without. And sadly, that applies to certain aspects of medical care as well.

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