Thursday, August 13, 2009

The US Commission on Civil Rights calls the Health care reform bill Discriminatory

At issue are legislative efforts to address Health Disparities...


As early as 2007, I began writing about the US Commission on Civil Rights and their tragic decline from a once powerful fact-finding and investigative agency into an ironic caricature of its former self. ( See HERE and see HERE) Through a series of Bush-era politically motivated appointments, the 8-member Commission is now composed of 6 conservatives who are ideologically opposed to the goals and precepts of the American Civil Rights movement.

The Agency that once challenged the Federal Government and Law Enforcement to constructively deal with issues of Voter disenfranchisement, Domestic Violence, and the excesses and abuses of the Criminal Justice System, has been turned on its head. It has spent most of the last few years investigating the effectiveness of HBCU's, developing guidance for school districts to achieve 'Unitary Status' and end their deseg programs, attacking affirmative action, and most recently formally opposing the employee free choice act.

In 2007, the conservative majority on the Commission released a Briefing Report on school segregation which essentially stated that the DOJ should continue in their efforts to assist districts in achieving 'unitary status' wherein they'd be free from the strictures of Brown vs Board or previous court orders brought about through civil rights or discrimination lawsuits. The two dissenting Commissioners, Yaki and Melendez, released a statement in which they wrote, "The quality of the agency’s reports has declined because it has tried to do too much with too little. Hour-and-a-half long monthly (or sometimes bimonthly) briefings with a few guest speakers can at best do nothing more than recycle commonly known truths about civil rights problems. At worst, such briefings serve as thinly-veiled political cover for the Commission majority to issue ideological policy statements to influence pending legislation, administrative decisions or reviews, and judicial cases. It is shameful to trade on the Commission’s past reputation for quality work in this way."

Well, now it seems they're at it again. This time, the US Commission on Civil Rights is releasing a new Briefing report in which they attack the proposed Health Care Reform efforts as 'racially discriminatory' because several of the draft bills being floated around Congress have provisions to specifically address Health Disparities. The conservative majority on the US Commission on Civil Rights views any effort to address issues within a specific racial or ethnic group as a "race-based" remedy and therefore deems said efforts as preferential to those they seek to address.

African Americans have the shortest life expectancy of any racial or ethnic group in America. African Americans have statistically higher rates of hypertension, stroke, diabetes, HIV, perinatal diseases, pancreatic cancer, stomach cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, SIDS, low birth weight babies, etc... YET health care Access as a Civil Right has never come up on the Commission's radar. But the fact that draft versions of a Health Care reform bill would seek to address these issues by promoting and encouraging 'cultural competency' among health care providers has managed to summon the Commission into action.

The provision that has raised their ire reads in part:
The secretary, "shall design and implement the payment mechanisms and policies under this section in a manner that — (1) seeks to reduce health disparities (including racial, ethnic and other disparities)." (House Bill Section 224)
The notion that targeted spending is inherently discriminatory is simply false. The GI bill is not 'discriminatory' against non-veterans. Social Security is not 'discriminatory' against the young. Breast Cancer research is not 'discriminatory' against men. Prostate Cancer research is not 'discriminatory' against women... We as a nation have often tended to issues that have some disparate impact on one or more segments of our society. And in a matter as sensitive as health care and health dispaities; one where the disparities are literally matters of life and death; we should expect no less...

Wade Henderson, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Leadership Council on Civil Rights described this recent effort by saying, "The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is overstepping its bounds yet again with another slanted and incorrect interpretation of logical and constitutional standards,". The group is "injecting themselves in the health care debate without any expertise and understanding of how the training in the House bill will work."

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