Race, Ethnicity and Class Underlie Health Care Reform Tempest

October 14, 2009
Written by Janice S. Ellis... in
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Faced with solving one of the most important challenges confronting contemporary society, our great democracy finds itself mired in an out-of-control diatribe rather than a meaningful debate. Since when did a poster of President Obama as Hitler, or as the Joker, and the brandishing of guns and swastikas become legitimate props and displays at community forums about healthcare reform? What a debauchery of democracy.

Such tactics defame the democratic process we hold dear. And any true-blooded American should not only be ashamed but deeply concerned about how demagoguery is supplanting a democratic dialogue.

Why is this debasement occurring? Is it fear of who stands to benefit?

One conclusion is unavoidable: In an effort to provide health care options for the majority of Americans, the deep-seated, age-old divisive issues around race and class have once again reared their ugly heads.

Will America ever overcome?

When you get right down to it, healthcare reform is about the “Haves” and the “Have-Nots.” And when you look at who makes up those groups, matters of race, ethnicity and class pulsate.

Of the more than 47 million uninsured Americans, over 24% makes less that $25,000 per year. African-American and Latino (legal immigrants) make up over 53% of those uninsured. Native Americans and children from indigent families and the working poor make up a significant portion of the uninsured as many states continue to cut their State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and Medicaid programs.

Most of the uninsured do not have a voice. They certainly do not have strong lobbyists fighting for their interests and well-being on Capital Hill.

Yet for those who have one or both a voice and lobbyists, rather than get to the crux of how healthcare delivery can be improved in this country, many have resorted to crucifying any option put forth by spreading misinformation, exaggeration, and in some instances downright falsehoods for fear any change will be at their expense. We have all become familiar with the fear phrases like: “Death Panels,” “Healthcare rationing,” “Tax-paying citizens will pay for healthcare services for illegal immigrants,” and others.

Such wild assertions have drowned out sensible discussions about viable options that can be available along with current private insurance plans. Yes that includes a government-run option.

We do not hear two of the country’s largest voting constituencies—seniors and veterans—decrying their government-run healthcare plans. They may not be perfect but Medicare and Veterans Health Care Services work for millions of Americans—many afflicted with the greatest healthcare needs. Yes, and the government is running those programs.

There are options that need not take anything from Peter to provide for Paul. There are public options in addition to one run by the government. What about group cooperatives? Many citizen groups have their own health insurance Programs. There are great lessons to be learned from healthcare cooperatives working in Washington, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

It would be good to know whether there are measures that can be taken to make current healthcare delivery more effective and cost efficient—allowing resources currently wasted to be re-distributed to increase access and improve quality outcomes.

What role can healthcare providers, payers and consumers play in making healthcare better?

How can the 47 million uninsured gain access to healthcare coverage and services in a cost-effective way?

These questions beg for a thorough vetting if we really expect meaningful change in our health care delivery system in America.

But a healthy voice of reason and civility can hardly be heard amid the cancerous fear mongering born of race, ethnicity and class discrimination that still hold many Americans within its grip.

Figuring out how to best provide quality healthcare services for the greatest number of citizens is the American thing to do.

About author: Janice S. Ellis is the Publisher & Executive Editor of USARiseUp.