September 6, 2007 - Issue 243
A Call to Action for Healthcare Equality!
Single-Payer Healthcare - Part 27
By Onleilove Alston,

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“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.”  – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

From its inception, the field of healthcare in America has treated African-Americans unjustly. Instances such as the Tuskegee experiment point to the inequality of the American healthcare system.  Our country has a long and pervasive history of under serving and mistreating African-Americans and other marginalized groups. We are seeing this history come to a head in cases such as the February 25th death of the twelve year-old African-American child; Deamonte Driver of Prince George’s County. Driver died because his mother could not find a Medicaid dentist who would see him for his infected tooth. The death of Driver has outraged many in the African-American community but in order to deal with this issue, we need to examine the historic racial disparities in the American healthcare system in light of the current fight for single payer healthcare for all citizens.

“Maybe if my husband was a White man….”

Within the first hour of Michael Moore’s movie, SiCKO, we see the connection between the fight for Guaranteed Healthcare and the fight against racial disparities in healthcare. In SiCKO, we see the story of a white woman whose African-American husband has died because a hospital where she is employed refused to do a bone marrow transplant for him, even though a donor had been found. In response to this, she states to the hospital’s board of directors: “maybe this wouldn’t have happened if my husband was a White man”. This is a question that many African-Americans have to ask themselves on a daily basis. Environmental racism has led to a great amount of inner-city African-American youth being plagued with asthma. African-Americans have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood-pressure and new research is showing that the high levels of these diseases in the African-American community may be due to the stress of living in a racist society. Across the board, we see that African-Americans have suffered greatly under the American healthcare system and with 47 million Americans uninsured, many of them minorities and children, the African-American community has to mobilize around the issue of healthcare reform.

Such [free] persons of color as may not be able to pay for Medical advice . . . [should call at the hospital]. . . . The object of the Faculty is to collect as many interesting cases, as possible, for the benefit and instruction of their pupils. - Medical College of South Carolina advertisement in the Charleston Courier, November 16, 1837

In our struggle for equality, African-Americans have to fight for one of the most basic of all human rights and that is the right to be healthy. Our quality of life is affected by a healthcare system that was not created for us, but has used us to benefit others. Ever since we were seen as three-fifths of a human being during slavery, our bodies were used in gruesome experiments by doctors who wanted to perfect their craft, at our expense, so that they could better serve white society. Harriet A. Washington shines a light on how harmful the American field of healthcare has been to African-Americans in her landmark book,  Medical Apartheid The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present.  African-Americans who were enslaved, or free but poor, were at the mercy of a healthcare system that gave them sub par or even harmful “treatment” (Washington, pg. 1). Today this inequality in healthcare, though not as blatant, still exists. African-Americans who cannot afford the high cost of private healthcare are given sub par treatment at clinics that are overcrowded and understaffed, if they can even obtain healthcare at all.

“It seems to me that racial disparities come to light as far as access to different clinics. People of color have clinics that are not as close and accessible. It is apparent that there are disparities in healthcare towards people of color and some immigrant groups.” - Dee Burton, School of Health Sciences Hunter College and member of Work Group on Health and Racial Discrimination in New York City CERD Shadow Report.

The African-American community has to stand up and say - enough! In the same way that we mobilized for the right to vote, we have to mobilize for the right to be healthy. A healthy people are a strong people and a strong people can fight for equality.

The life expectancy for African-Americans is much lower than that of whites. Healthcare is an issue that can no longer be ignored in our community. A Guaranteed National Health Insurance system for all, such as that proposed by H.R. 676, can ensure that the healthcare system is no longer separate and unequal. Though all American citizens are harmed by our current healthcare system, African-Americans are harmed at alarming rates! With a universal, single-payer healthcare system, it can be assured that African-Americans, undocumented immigrants, the poor and everyone else in America will receive equal healthcare. Without a dramatic change in our current healthcare system, the Medical Apartheid that has categorized America’s healthcare system will continue and more people will die unnecessarily. As a community, we need to organize for the passage of H.R. 676 with the same fervor and urgency that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.  Our very lives are on the line!

“Under HR 676, a family of three making $40,000 per year would spend approximately $1,600 per year or about $133 per month for healthcare coverage. Everybody would pay something into the national healthcare fund - on a sliding scale - depending on their income.   But they would no longer receive healthcare bills.  They would no longer pay co-pays and deductibles; they would no longer be denied preventive care, a doctor of their choice, and care when they need it.”

How You Can Take Action:

  1. Go to and sign the petition to support H.R. 676
  2. Give an organizational endorsement of H.R. 676
  3. Organize a Truth Hearing (Details on how to do this can be found here)
  4. Invite your neighbors, friends, relatives, or co-workers to a meeting to talk about what can be done in your community about this issue. We will provide you with an Action Guide.
  5. Organize a Healthcare-Now coalition by calling Healthcare-Now at 1-800-453-1305
  6. Leaflet at places where SiCKO is playing (contact Healthcare-Now to order information booklets).

As a community let’s look to our legacy of civil rights activism as a catalyst to take-up the fight for an equal healthcare system through the passage of H.R. 676!

Onleilove Alston was a summer intern for Healthcare-Now and is currently studying for her dual Masters in Divinity and Social Work at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University School of Social Work. Click here to contact Ms. Alston and Healthcare-NOW.

Click here to read any of the articles in this special series on Single-Payer Healthcare.


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