Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Within the space of a couple of days, two items grabbed headlines that again cast a public eye on a tormenting fact. Racism kills and kills a lot of poor African Americans. One item was the declaration by the Franklin County, Ohio Commissioners that racism should be branded a public health crisis.
The other was Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar in part laying the blame on American’s poor health for a significant number of COVID deaths. Azar did not infer that a disproportionate number of the unhealthy were minorities. However, some inferred that he did and charged this was stereotyping and blaming the victim for the ghastly high disproportionate COVID related death rate of Blacks. The Ohio commissioners didn’t blame Blacks for the higher than average death rate, let alone the overall poor health of many Blacks. Unlike Trump’s health honcho Azar, they laid the blame squarely where it belongs. That is on the long, brutal, and deadly history of neglect, indifference, blind-eye, and flat out unconcern to the health treatment and health needs of African Americans.
Long before COVID struck, Azar singled poor health for COVID deaths and the Ohio commissioners fingered racism as the cause and declared it a crisis, the dismal figures repeatedly tell why the health care crisis among Blacks is a national disgrace for America. Blacks still make up a wildly disproportionate number of the estimated 50 million Americans with absolutely no access to affordable or any health care. The majority of Black uninsured are far more likely than the one in four whites who are uninsured to experience problems getting treatment at a hospital or clinic. This has had devastating health and public policy consequences. Countless studies have confirmed that Blacks are far more likely than whites to suffer higher rates of catastrophic illness and disease, and are much less likely to obtain basic drugs, tests, preventive screenings, and surgeries. They are more likely to recover slower from illness, and they die much younger.
Studies have found that when blacks do receive treatment, the care they receive is more likely to be substandard to that of whites. Reports indicate that even when blacks are enrolled in high quality health plans, the racial gap in the care and quality of medical treatment still remains low. Meanwhile, private insurers have routinely cherry picked the healthiest and most financially secure patients to bloat profits and hold down costs. American medical providers spend twice as much per patient than providers in countries with universal health care, and they provide lower quality for the grossly inflated dollars. Patients pay more in higher insurance premiums, co-payments, fees, and other hidden health costs.
It’s been a perfect storm mix of politics, race, and ignorance and fear that has driven Trump and the GOP’s relentless mania to dump Obamacare, even years after Obama has left office. It’s included every slander, lie, and false flag, countless votes, and threats to defund the Act and a crude attempt at blackmail to shut down the whole government over it. Some claim that this is big government intrusiveness since it allegedly whipsawed Americans into buying insurance and that it was too costly, too overburdening on businesses, and supposedly too unpopular with most Americans.
The COVID crisis for the moment put a brake on Trump and the GOP’s merciless quest to wipe the Affordable Care Act off the books. However, it’s less clear whether the call by the Ohio commissioners to mount an all-out state and national campaign against racism as a public health killer will really get much traction. The Catch 22 here is that by correctly singling out racism as the cause of Blacks colossal health problems, the required remedies are simply too uncomfortable for Trump, the GOP, and much of the public to ever accept, let alone acct on.
The first reports that poured in about the COVID death rate found that Blacks were being hit harder than any other group by COVID. The CDC and other health organizations issued a rash of warnings and health cautionary suggestions to deal with the higher than average COVID related hospitalization and death rate. Yet, the warnings about the need for proactive action to stem the higher tide of illness and fatalities among Blacks quickly dropped from the news and public view. Congress and Trump have proposed no special bi-partisan emergency public health initiatives targeting Blacks. The proposals from the Franklin County, Ohio commissioners, though well intentioned, contain no hard measures for ramped up spending on treatment, testing, nutrition, and cost free or reduced accessible health care.
This type of crash assault on the chronic and long running health crisis that slams African Americans the hardest is urgently needed. The quip that when America catches a cold, Black Americans catch a fever, an often-fatal fever, was never more evident than on the dismal public health treatment of Blacks. COVID again drove that home.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Why It’s so Tough to Prosecute Cops (Amazon) He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network