Groups Declare Universal Healthcare ’A Racial Justice Necessity’
“Communities of color need a healthcare system that rectifies these long-standing structural biases and challenges. Medicare for All is that system.”
A coalition of 10 national organizations sent a letter to Congress in July imploring federal lawmakers to support the Medicare for All Act of 2019 and arguing that universal healthcare is “a racial justice necessity because communities of color, in particular, suffer from a lack of access to affordable health insurance.”
The legislation—introduced earlier this year by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—would establish a national health insurance program administered by the Department of Health and Human Services that would cover the medically necessary services of all U.S. residents.
As the letter to lawmakers put it, “Medicare for All, the only truly single-payer, universal healthcare system, guarantees that healthcare is a right and enables every person living in the United States to receive the healthcare they need to survive and thrive.”
The groups behind the letter—A. Philip Randolph Institute, Action Center on Race and the Economy, Black Women’s Health Imperative, the Center for Popular Democracy, Color of Change, League of United Latin American Citizens, the NAACP, People’s Action, Policy Link, and United We Dream—collectively describe themselves as “organizations that represent people of color.”
Noting, as one example, that the country’s rising maternal mortality rate is even higher for black and Indigenous women, the letter charges that “racial bias mars the entirety of American healthcare.”
The letter details some of the ways the country’s current for-profit healthcare system impacts the communities that the groups represent:
People of color make up 42 percent of the nonelderly U.S. population, yet account for over half of the total nonelderly uninsured population. Latinx and black people have significantly higher uninsured rates (19 percent and 11 percent, respectively) compared to white people.
Medical debt remains a glaring issue for black Americans. Nearly one in three black Americans aged 18 to 64 has past-due medical bills. Black uninsured populations face burdensome out-of-pocket medical expenses when seeking care, which often means they are forced to delay preventative care and get treated as a last resort—the most expensive form of treatment.
Latinx patients are the most uninsured population in the United States today. Latinx individuals already comprise much of the workforce that is unable to get health coverage through their job. Lawmakers have curtailed the Affordable Care Act’s health enrollment program, which has severely challenged the ability of outreach workers to reach Latinx patients for new coverage.
Undocumented Latinx patients suffer further as they are ineligible for government-funded insurance and subsidized private health plans. Despite the fact that undocumented adults pay taxes, they are ineligible to receive Medicaid health benefits and financial subsidies to buy health plans from the federal-state health insurance marketplaces.
“Communities of color need a healthcare system that rectifies these long-standing structural biases and challenges. Medicare for All is that system,” the letter declares. “Just as the passage of Medicare over 50 years ago helped spur hospital integration and improved health access, it can today usher in true universal healthcare.”
The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen is not a signatory to the letter, but shared a link to it and highlighted some of its main messages in a pair of tweets Wednesday:
Jennifer Epps-Addison, co-executive director and network president of the Center for Popular Democracy, stated that, “Our current healthcare system is marred by racism, sexism, and classism. The immense health and healthcare disparities among poor folks and in black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities are a direct consequence of long-standing structural biases created by the profit-driven private insurance industry.”
“We need a system where everyone is in, and nobody is out. And a single-payer Medicare-for-All system is the only way that we can do that,” Epps-Addison said. “It’s the only way we will realize healthcare as a human right, and stop big pharmaceutical and insurance companies from profiting off the pain of our families.”
Deyanira Aldana shared how the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has been essential for her to access life-saving healthcare:
“When I was 11-years-old I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. Because of my mom’s private health insurance, I was able to afford treatment. But at 16-years-old, the factory my mom worked at shut down and she was laid off. The only thing my diabetic counselor could offer me was help with getting charity care.
“In 2017, I was shocked to find out my health had declined and that I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. My life changed forever as I became insulin dependent and required to wear a pump. The only thing that’s keeping me alive is DACA, which has allowed me to obtain my own insurance so that I can prioritize my health.
“You hear on the news the tragic stories of people who plead to stay or else they’ll be deported to their deaths—for the undocumented and uninsured, death doesn’t wait on the cruelty of deportation. Every single person has a human right to life and dignity. That’s why I, and countless immigrant youth and families, believe in healthcare for all and support the Medicare for All Act of 2019.”
Jayapal, the bill’s lead sponsor in the House, called the letter “an incredibly powerful reminder that any conversation on American healthcare is incomplete without a discussion of racial injustice.”
“There are long-standing structural biases and challenges within our current healthcare systems that create barriers for people of color and prevent them from receiving the care they need,” the congresswoman added, “but Medicare for All can change all of that.”