THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Color of Health Care Reform

So far the only color that has mattered in the health care reform debate has been green, as in the color of money. The Capitol is awash in green. The health care lobbyists have been flooding key congressional members with millions of dollars. Just the three Democratic Senators who voted against Sen. Charles Schumer's amendment on including a public option to keep insurance companies honest have taken nearly $15 million dollars from the insurance and health industries. If you add in what the Republicans who voted 'no' have raked in over the years, well, you get the idea why the health care reform debate is tilted toward the perspectives of wealthy insurance CEOs.

To help counteract the effects of all this money, the country's largest African American and Latino organizations have joined forces with other major national civil rights and grassroots organizations to mobilize the nation's 100 million people of color for a final push in support of real health care reform. It's the first time these groups have coordinated efforts on the ground and over the airwaves in this fashion.

The NAACP National Voter Fund, the National Council of La Raza, The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Campaign for Community Change, the U.S. Student Association and PowerPAC have been extensively involved in the fight for health care reform for years. Now that the debate has reached a critical moment, these groups are coming together to ensure that voices of people of color are heard and heeded.

Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, Janet Murguía, NCLR's president and CEO and Wade Henderson, LCCR's president and CEO joined me Monday as we made the momentous announcement at the Press Club.

Unlike the insurance lobbies, who only look out for profits, these groups believe America is at its strongest, at its best, when we emphasize our values of shared sacrifice and shared responsibility. No one should be left behind as we move forward with health care reform. The voices of the extremists have been heard loud and clear. The voices of the insurance companies have been heard loud and clear. Now it's time to make sure the voices of people of color are heard loud and clear.

The latest U.S. Census results confirm that people of color represent 33 percent of America's population. In several key states, the percentage of people of color is even greater, approaching 40 percent in states such as Florida and Louisiana. These constituencies comprise the building blocks for a new majority that can reshape the policies and priorities of the country.

While every American will benefit from real health care reform, people of color have a particularly important stake in the outcome. Recent studies have shown that the impact of inequality in the health care system falls most heavily on communities of color.

  • Shorter life expectancy. African American men on average are 6.1 years younger than white men at the time of death. The life expectancy of black men is 69.6 years, compared to 75.7 years for white men.
  • Higher rates of uninsured. Disproportionately large percentages of people in communities of color and of immigrant communities are uninsured. About 21 percent of white Americans lacked health insurance at some point in 2002, compared with 28 percent of African Americans and 44 percent of Latinos.
  • Less access to standard tests, procedures and drugs regardless of income and insurance status. African American heart patients are less likely than white patients to receive diagnostic tests, coronary artery-opening procedures, and blood-clot dissolving drugs, even when they have similar incomes, insurance, and other characteristics. Black and Latino patients are less likely than whites to receive aspirin when leaving a hospital after a heart attack, to receive appropriate care for pneumonia, or to be given appropriate medications for pain.

Suffice it to say that if Congress fails to deliver the public option that a majority of Americans want, it's communities of color that have the most to lose. If we adopt affordability standards that stretch the pocket books of middle class and lower income Americans, it is people of color who will suffer most. And if we use the health care reform process to scapegoat immigrants, we will all be poorer for that outcome.

There is a disconnect in America. Certain voices are heard in this debate because they are more extremist or because they have more money. There are members of Congress that need to be reminded that while some of their constituents might be health care industry lobbyists and tea baggers, most are ordinary Americans suffering in a system that too often puts greed before quality of care.

Green shouldn't be the prevailing color in this debate.

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