by John M Repp
America is the only wealthy country in the world that does not insure, guarantee, and pay for most of the health care in the country. In addition, our total healthcare costs are about twice what most wealthy nations pay. As a result of these sad facts, hundreds of thousands of people have to declare bankruptcy every year here because of the medical care costs. It is a disgrace and a national scandal. The question is why is this so?
Thom Hartmann just completed a new book on American healthcare in his Hidden History series. I quote one of his findings: “in my research (I) found that literally every single effort to provide Americans with a national healthcare system, from the late 19th century right up to the passage of Medicare in 1965, was opposed by white southern conservatives who repeatedly and openly bragged they were against it because they didn’t want any such benefit to go to Black people.”
After the Civil War and the end of Reconstruction in 1877, the former slave states formed a powerful voting bloc in Congress which was segregationist and racist. This voting bloc was first a Democratic Party bloc. For example, they prevented the good national legislation of the New Deal from applying to most black people. More than half of the black work force was excluded from the original Social Security law, because the law denied coverage to farm workers and maids. With the civil rights movement achieving the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights laws in 1965, the bloc became Republican and have remained against a single-payer system ever since.
In 2010 Obamacare finally brought health insurance to 20 million black people, but even then, the former confederate States refused to participate in the Medicaid expansion, which is what the law allowed, again excluding many blacks. Trump, when running for President in 2016 promised healthcare for all, but it was broken promise.
The most recent public health scandal, the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States, continues to show the effect of racism on our country. I quote Thom Hartmann again: “So the answer to the question of why, at year’s end, the United States has about 20% of the world’s Covid-19 deaths, but only 4.5% of the world’s population, is pretty straightforward: (Trump and) the Republicans chose to be just fine with Black people dying, particularly when they could blame it on Democratic Blue-state governors.”
On April 7, 2020, the New York times and the Washington Post reported that black and Latinx population in the US were dying at a rate more than twice the White population. Adding to the malicious incompetence during the very beginning of the pandemic, after April 7, the White House took active steps to help the spread of the virus, thinking we were moving towards “herd immunity” . They were not as concerned about all the deaths and disability this policy caused for blacks and old people, who were Democratic voters. The plan to send face masks to all Americans was dropped. The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) was sidelined, and the states were put in charge of efforts to control the spread of Covid-19, despite the fact their borders (as part of the United States) remained open. The White House even went so far as to deny the sending of PPE (personal protective equipment) from Federal stocks to some states with Democratic governors. The resulting political polarization of basic public health measures made the pandemic far worse here than it should have been.
With this pandemic, the USA may lose much of its “soft power” in the world. One hundred and fifty-six years after slavery was abolished, racism’s deleterious effect on the politics of our nation continues. This case – the lack of a good universal healthcare and a working national public health system – shows that racism hurts us all, not just the groups discriminated against.