Racism Is Still Part of the National Healthcare Debate
With an impending Senate vote to determine the future of a healthcare bill that will leave 23 million more Americans without health care in the coming decade, it’s perhaps more important than ever to examine the racist implications that occupy such a bill. While The American Health Care Act will receive relentless scrutiny from Senate democrats, it’s important that those who may not be directly affected by the bill understand the great harm that comes with each version proposed- this issue will not go away. Make no mistake, the G.O.P. backed healthcare initiative seeks to revoke health insurance for America’s most vulnerable, killing thousands if passed. Simply put, racism is still a heavy factor in our healthcare system, it is a strong player in this proposed legislation, and both white and minority residents must take action.
A lack of coverage will no doubt affect Americans of all color, yet likely only the impoverished. While this is extremely catastrophic, it is crucial to discuss why some Americans are sicker than others to begin with. African Americans have the worst health outcomes out of any group in the U.S., and they have far greater health needs than white citizens. In particular, low-income, black inner-city residents face twice the environmental hazards that suburban dwellers face. Polluted air and water, crime and drugs are constants in inner-city areas. As a result, inner city residents suffer from hypertension, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and cancer ata 50% higher rate.
And while they often require greater health care, they seldom get it. Minorities face multiple barriers to health treatment: no closely located physicians, relocation and closing of inner-city hospitals, and discrimination in actual medical treatment all play a role here. While doctors can no longer refuse to treat patients due to color, their is nothing forcing them to remain close by. Since 1980, office-based physicians located in inner-cities have declined 45%, and this often coordinates with white flight. This results in a relocation of medical care, typically to a neighborhood hospital. However, since 2014, the number of hospitals in 52 major cities has fallen nearly 46%, mostly in poor black neighborhoods. And when they do eventually receive treatment, they wait longer than whites, are redirected to other hospitals, and are often given far less pain medication than their white counterparts.
When the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) went into effect, the rate of uninsured minorities was cut nearly in half. For the first time, we saw black children equally as likely to be insured as White children. Finally, Americans saw a real step toward equality. Yet, the currently proposed healthcare bill threatens to repeal all progress that has been made. This will without a doubt kill the poor, meaning it will by large kill minorities. Substantial cuts will be made to Medicaid, likely stripping 13.9 million African Americans of their coverage.
It is easy to blame the poor for being poor, and easy to blame their poor health on personal choices; yet, we can not look past the fact that we, the White majority, have adversely caused these health conditions. Through years of institutional discrimination we have pushed black residents into poor, inner-city environments, and we have turned our backs to the health hazards and the poverty which they are rooted in. For example, it’s simple to blame individual decisions for obesity, but we must recognize that this too is caused by poverty. Junk food is cheap, nutritional markets are scarce, and White citizens and politicians alike fail to care until it threatens their pockets.
This substantial history of institutional racism has driven us into a healthcare system riddled with racial disparities and bias in practice. Obama made real, concrete steps to correct this, and Trump now threatens to take them away. The only way to achieve equally healthy groups in this country is to dismantle the racism and poverty which are deeply entrenched in our norms and social structure. While this is something I think we will eventually accomplish, it is unrealistic to expect this now.
The damage to the African American community as a result of the G.O.P. healthcare bill is happening now. And although this bill may not affect you, it most certainly affects someone you know and the people of your community. It will strip the coverage of someone close to you, and could quite possibly result in a loss of life. As a White citizen you do not have to feel guilty, but you must recognize you have a voice that is unfortunately often heard above others.
While we can’t end racism tomorrow, we can move toward equality by stopping this bill- and continuing to stop the bills that will follow, until a bill rooted in equality for all is proposed. Will you stand with those who are less strong? Will you help those within your community who need it most? If you would like to call to your representative, but are unsure who that is, you can simply enter your zip code. Or, better yet, sign this petition to block the bill. The time to act is now- a health system built to impoverish and discriminate against the few can not stand if we do.