A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

46 Million and Then Some:
By Aba Taylor

I arrived in DC the day that the US Senate denied the public option for a government run health insurance plan. The timing is uncanny, as I came to the city of chocolate to attend a national health conference and explore where African-American stand on Health Care Reform.

So is this current debate on health care reform the new racism? A notable deal of pundits and naysayers would quickly snipe “yes”. While President Obama insists that the country’s topical dispute on national health care reform has nothing to do with race, it is safe to say that indeed the health care issue in and of itself has a significant effect on Black communities. Writer Cash Micheals cites how it was the same Obama, then Senator, who during a 2008 conference acknowledged that "Healthcare is universally important, and we've got to do something about it ... But it is especially important in the African-American community." And yet how exactly?

A Black online daily magazine, The Root outlines “10 reasons black people should be mad as hell about the health care status quo”. In it, the article pushed for “black rage” to top “white paranoia” as a call for action. Provocations to March on Washington are prompted under the fact that too many Black folks are uninsured and suffer from premature deaths along with cancer, diabetes, heart disease and STDs.

Similarly, with the understanding that “Black women are more likely to be uninsured, receive poor and suboptimal health care and die of preventable and treatable causes”, The Black Women's Health Imperative  held a town hall in mid-September to address the belief that “for Black women, health reform cannot come too soon”. Felicia Davis of the Georgia Coalition of Black Women captured this concern when she stated “Access to affordable, quality health care is .. the single most important issue for African American women.” 

Essence.com  asked some of its every day readers what they thought of Obama’s push for health care reform. The responses of these “real people” were generally supportive of the notion for reform, but many were pessimistic that any change would actually occur. Like some other Black media websites mentioned ahead, Essence.com also makes an attempt to dispel some of the rampant, often hyperbolic myths about reform, and educate its audience.
Black Enterprise online has several articles that address the health care issue in an attempt to inform its readership. BET.comnews has a multilayered section of its website where visitors can learn the “Health Care ABCs” and read more about issue from a variety of angles. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has also issued an Action Alert to detail some of the myths and facts behind health care reform, as the Hip Hop Caucus has posted a blurb on its website highlighting “How Health Insurance Reform Will Help Children”. Many other members of the Black Leadership Forum (BLF) have issued individual statements, all in support of a move for reform.
To commemorate September’s historical joint meeting and press conference between Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the BLF, the National Urban League issued a press release that highlighted a few reasons to support health care reform as well as a few untrue myths around the issue and also asserting that because “rising health care costs that are crushing families and small businesses, an overhaul is imminent.”
White House Domestic Policy Advisor Melody Barnes admits to diverse opinions within the CBC about the reform - particularly regarding the public option contingent. Nevertheless the CBC and NAACP are rolling out aggressive campaign agendas that mandate a  option. It is this kind of support that some feel are lacking for President Obama, to be used as an effective means of change. The Daily Voice cites that what Obama needs is added “pressure” and support from the grassroots level - enough to “counter the heavy lobbying financed by the [privatized] health care industry”. Like the Alliance for Health in the African Diaspora (AHADI), Fredette West, Director of the African American Health Alliance (AAHA) and Chair ofthe Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities Coalition (REHDC) has also urged communities of color to get involved in health care reform both on the grassroots level and in Washington, DC.
While the wholly complex issue of health care reform becomes watered down to a grossly oversimplified for-or-against quarrel over an option for federal health insurance, other significant and related matters including health care disparities are often overlooked. Even if a “mere” 46 million Americans are uninsured, few people are talking about large number of under-insured Americans - approximately half being people of color - who still lack adequate services and opportunities to address their health issues even with the coverage they do claim to receive. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS): Advisory Committee on Minority Health (ACMH) and the Minority Nurse website further push for health reform to “focus not just on insurance coverage but on closing the gap of unequal health outcomes between Americans of color and their white counterparts”.
The Black bourgeois blog “Jack and Jill Politics” reprinted an article by Blacks4Barack National Director Greg Jones, detailing the personal account of his sister who passed because she was unable to afford life-saving medicine, even though she was insured. The article cites how Remote Area Medical (RAM), a volunteer and relief corps whose mission is to bring free medical aid to poor countries in the Amazon, has brought it services to the self-proclaimed “leading nation of the world”. RAM in the U.S.? Damn!
On the other end of the spectrum, there are those behind the African American Conservatives blogsite, that insist the U.S.’s “health care system is not broken” and that “most of us are insured and relatively happy with our insurance. Furthermore, we know our health care is the best, or among the best, in the world.” Many other “aacons” and “black and right” identified individuals seems to share Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele distaste of anything Obama, race-related or what some may perceive as a natural born human right. Perhaps one of the greatest demonstrations of such schools of thought is the interview where Bishop E. W. Jackson, Sr. told FOXNews show host Neil Cavuto"I think that if the racial period is not over, it’s because… a lot of black people on the left won't let it be over. This is not a racist country, most Americans don't care about race anymore, but there are some people who just won't let it rest, and every time they bring it up, I think all they do is serve to discredit themselves."
My two cents? If African-American public figures such as Jackson are claiming “this is not a racist country” and that “most Americans don’t care about race anymore” then the issues of health reform is even more urgent that we thought. Clearly this man is not well, and needs immediate medical attention.