The Trump administration’s latest move to end the Affordable Care Act threatens to deprive millions of Americans of health coverage in the midst of a pandemic. Especially troubling is that dismantling the law would disproportionately harm Black people — advancing racism precisely as we grapple with its shameful legacy.
We emphatically endorse the need to develop policies to dismantle the racist structure of policing as one means of saving Black lives. However, unless we create and put in place strategies to ensure their health, well-being and access to medical care, many Black people will continue to fall sick and die from preventable illnesses.
Over 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed out that “of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.” Today there is ample data showing that African Americans are at higher risk than other for both developing illness and dying from it.
How to improve Black health
One of us, Roslyn Young-Daniels, founded Black Health Matters so people could learn from and speak to researchers, medical practitioners and representatives of pharmaceutical companies about diseases that particularly affect the Black community. This information raises awareness and empowers people to advocate for their own health and well-being.
However, it was a federal policy that made the work of Black Health Matters possible. Without the Affordable Care Act, which expanded the availability of health insurance and took many other steps that improved health care for under-served communities, no amount of information or advocacy would have helped people who could not get medical care.
As beneficial as the ACA has been, we know that much more work needs to be done, and that governmental policy is a powerful means to effect it. The Brookings Institution recently recommended that the 2021 White House invest in “Black and Brown neighborhoods and in well-being — thus eliminating deserts in health care.” Policy advisers for both campaigns need to make Black health a priority in the next administration.
Shockingly, rather than developing a policy to aid the Black community when its need is so painfully evident to most, the Trump administration has pressed forward with its drive to eliminate the ACA during the COVID-19 pandemic — though it is disproportionately killing Black, Brown and poor people and has caused many to lose the jobs that provided their health insurance.
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In contrast, former Vice President Joe Biden has already taken the initiative on Black health by proposing investments geared to ending racial health disparities. He would strengthen and reform the ACA, provide support for community health centers, create mental health parity, address poverty, pollution and other adverse social determinants of health, and invest in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions to build a diverse pipeline of health care professionals.
Studies, laws and maybe reparations
We would also recommend more study of diseases that particularly affect Black people, such as lupus, sickle cell anemia, diabetes and hypertension. In addition, we would like to see hospitals in Black neighborhoods that don’t focus primarily on trauma, but provide a wide range of services including preventative medicine. Another policy initiative would ensure that discussions and legislation on reparations include remedies for Black health disparities resulting from the history of slavery.
In addition to the next president’s vision, Congress must pass laws that realize these aspirations. Americans of all colors increasingly understand that racism functions as a larger pandemic threatening the lives of Black people. This growing consensus should inspire our elected officials to transform the institutions that perpetuate systemic racism that devalues the lives and health of Black people and results in their death on a daily basis.
Trump and health care: Imagine a world with a COVID-19 pandemic and without the Affordable Care Act. Trump does.
While this is not an easy task, neither is it impossible.
Policy is defined by the investments a society chooses to make, as Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, argued in Anna Deavere Smith's "Notes from the Field," a 2018 HBO special. Ifill added that “it takes moments, kind of almost epic moments, to move us” to change those choices. This is one of those moments. Let’s take advantage of it to create an America that not only protects the lives of Black people, but helps them thrive. Because #BlackHealthMatters.
Roslyn Young-Daniels is president of Black Health Matters. M. Lindsay Kaplan is a professor of English at Georgetown University.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Black health: COVID-19 has shown it matters more than ever