White Supremacists Need Health Care, Too

11/15/2009 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated Nov 17, 2011

In the 15 years I have been working as a doctor, I have probably not treated too many white supremacists. I have worked in community health centers in Boston and in the Chicago area, and most of my patients, who are mostly uninsured, are either African American or Latino/a. But if a white guy who harbored a lot of racist sentiments came to my clinic with chest pain, I'd evaluate him and give him urgent care, without asking his political beliefs.

So why are white racists so opposed to health care reform?

In the tea parties that started last spring, the town halls of the summer, and Representative Joe Wilson's now famous "You lie!" outburst during President Obama's speech before Congress last week, it became clear to me that all the protestors I see online and on TV are white. I suspect they are straight and religiously conservative, as well. But they still need health care, and may even lack health insurance.

In the current system, virtually any American under age 65--white, black, Latina, straight, gay, married, single--could loose his or her health insurance with a job layoff. Anyone could be denied coverage for a preexisting condition, could have their coverage rescinded in the midst of needing care for a major illness for an obscure reason, could have to decline a newer, better job because they could not transfer their essential health insurance coverage, or could max out their current policy if a serious illness strikes someone in their family, and face a medical bankruptcy.

As a doctor I know that since we are all human, we all get sick and need health care at times. So why do thousands, perhaps millions of Americans who would benefit from health care reform legislation that would provide care without the unjust restrictions currently in place protest so loudly against 'Obamacare?'

Sadly, the book "What's the Matter with Kansas," provides the answer: some Americans harbor such deeply racist sentiments that they will vote against their own self-interest. The conservative radio, TV and Internet commentators, Sarah Palin and her 'death panels', the birthers, and the tea party organizers have so convinced a segment of Americans that Obama is trying to foist a socialist, un-American health care plan upon our country and have stirred up so much fear in the process, that the white folks who fear a non-white president have completely overlooked a critical fact: our current health care system is broken, and Obama's trying to make it better. I'll bet that many of the folks showing up for the tea parties and town halls are on the brink of financial collapse, lest they develop a serious illness. I'm sure many could loose their health insurance if the factory where they work closes, or could be denied coverage for an obscure reason if they change jobs.

And if this happens, some of them may even come to my clinic, where most of my patients have no health insurance. I will provide them with care, and I won't ask about their political beliefs. Even if they repeatedly vote against their own self-interests.