Thursday, July 30, 2009

Health Care Reform in America and the Fierce Urgency of Now...

Guest Posted by Roslyn Brock; NAACP Vice-Chair and Director of Advocacy and Public Policy for Bon Secours Health Systems...

Over the past several days, I’ve had the most unsettling discussions around health care reform in my entire health policy career. Last Sunday, I spent the afternoon visiting with my uncle who was recovering from knee replacement. My aunt shared with me her dismay with the health care delivery system when upon admittance to the hospital, the attendant immediately asked for $2,400 to pay her portion of the hospital bill. Keep in mind, payment was requested before any services were rendered. Over the weekend, two young boys and their little sister all under 12 years of age from my neighborhood rushed up to me and hastily began a conversation: “We need some money, my dad had to go to the emergency room yesterday and we need money right away to pay for his hospital bill. Can you help us?” They opened a little red and white canister filled with juice packs on ice and asked for a dollar. I was flabbergasted and thought could this be the future of health care in America where children have to beg for money to pay for the rising cost of health care?

Today, during lunch a small business owner lamented how the rising costs of health care for him and his pregnant wife would ultimately cause him to close his business. These distinct encounters are a microcosm of how health care is lived in America.

Reforming the nation’s health care system by expanding access to consistent, high quality and affordable healthcare coverage is a critical issue for all Americans and in particular for African Americans when you consider the fact that over 7 million of the more than 46 million uninsured people in the U.S. are African- American, according to the Census Bureau. The poor economy further exacerbates this problem by putting more people out of work and out of insurance. The recession has driven the rate of unemployment among African Americans to 15 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As Congress considers fundamental health care reform, now is the time to ensure the delivery of quality, cost-effective care for minorities and other under-served populations, and to implement measures that improve cultural competency, eliminate barriers to health care, and build a more diverse health care workforce.

A comprehensive health care reform bill must cover all Americans. The White House proposes a public option plan that provides a range of insurance choices for the uninsured. The creation of this plan will not impact those who are currently insured. The biggest fear being promulgated by those in power is that expanded insurance coverage for the poor, vulnerable, immigrants, minorities and small businesses will in some way reduce current options provided to those currently insured. This is simply not true. In the current environment with more than 46 million uninsured, we’ve seen the result of inaction as evidenced by lost benefits, increased premiums and reduced wages. Basic and expanded preventive health care costs over time will stabilize and ultimately decrease because of improved health status and better decision making for accessing care by those who need it most.

President Obama cannot carry the health care reform message alone. Concerned citizens from all walks of life must be moved to action and visit, call and write congressional leaders today urging them to work decisively to achieve comprehensive health care reform without delay. We must speak now and act now with a unified voice for the common good. We need health care reform and we need it now.

Roslyn M. Brock is vice chairwoman of the NAACP National Board of Directors and Director of Advocacy and Public Policy for Bon Secours Health System in Marriottsville, Md.

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