"It's fitting during this week when we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to remember his passion in demanding that every man, woman and child have the right to live free of illness and to reach his or her potential." ~ Dr. L. Toni Lewis, SEIU Healthcare Chair
SEIU Healthcare Chair Dr. L. Toni Lewis made one thing very clear during the Families USA, Health Action 2012 conference when she said, "People are still shocked to hear about health care inequities, the gross disparities in access to healthcare and the deadly outcomes experienced by people of color, the elderly and children."
It was one of several important points made at the, "Health Equity Beyond the Insurance Card: Making Access Real in Underserved Communities" workshop where healthcare justice advocates explained how we can work together to expand equal access to quality and affordable healthcare.
Dr. Lewis told the audience, "The lack of diversity in the healthcare workforce is one of the root causes of health access and health disparities." Several studies show that people of color receive a lower quality of care than white patients, even when they are insured at the same level, have similar incomes and are presented with the same type of health problem.
As working families struggle with the economic crisis, especially African American and Latinos experiencing double digit unemployment rates (15.8 and 11.0 percent respectively), people probably aren't too concerned about disparities, or whether or not the healthcare law is repealed or the newest threats to cut Medicare and Medicaid.
This workshop, and others like it, make it clear why healthcare is still such an important part of our fight for social and economic justice:
ONE IN FOUR African Americans and one in four Latinos live in poverty today. With that poverty comes a lifelong sentence of poor health. Chronic disease + unemployment + poverty = shorter, sicker lives.
SAVING LIVES: As of 2014, the healthcare law will provide more affordable healthcare options to 32 million more Americans - both through competitive state market places and through an expansion of our Medicaid system.
CREATING JOBS: Many Americans may not know that healthcare sector continues to create jobs despite our struggling economy. The expansion of our healthcare system to cover more people will actually create jobs. Estimates are that more than 2 million new healthcare jobs will be created by 2018. If the law is repealed or defunded, none of this is possible.
SAVING MONEY: Medicaid matters to Americans and Medicare really matters. Seniors who fall into the prescription drug "donut hole" are now saving 40% on lifesaving prescription drugs.
SERVING COMMUNITIES: The Affordable Care Act provides more than $10 billion in funding to community health centers - critical centers of care and jobs in underserved, urban and rural minority communities.
ENDING DISCRIMINATION & ELIMINATING DISPARITIES: This fall Tri-Caucus members introduced the Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2011. It builds on the healthcare law and includes new tools and provisions to "ensure effective, prioritized action is taken to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities, which can help our nation save trillions of dollars in savings."
It is a political mistake to think that Americans will sit by while right wing politicians continue to attack working families and cut into the foundation of our healthcare system.