Sebelius report cites health disparities

Nancy Sebelius, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, released a report today highlighting the health care disparities suffered by low-income and minority populations in the United States. As has been noted in multiple studies, these populations have higher rates of obesity, diabetes, some cancers, and HIV/AIDS. The Sebelius report notes the reduced access to health care that low-income and minority populations face, owing to low rates of insurance coverage, lack of primary-care providers for this population, and a lack of having a usual source of care. Minority populations and low-income workers receive significantly less routine or preventive care than do whites in this country.

The DHHS Secretary argues that these disparities underscore the need for health care reform. She is correct in claiming that “meaningful reform must invest in prevention and wellness and ensure that all Americans have access to high-quality, affordable care.” Truly universal health insurance would go a long way toward reducing racial, ethnic, and social-class disparities in health.

However, current proposals for health care reform fall well short of providing such universal coverage. The draft health care reform bill released by Senator Edward Kennedy yesterday, for example, will, if enacted, line the coffers of the U.S. insurance industry while doing little to improve the health of minorities and other working people

Kennedy, the Chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, proposes an “Affordable Health Benefits Gateway,” which would be a clearinghouse to connect individuals and employers with insurers. Under the Kennedy plan, all individuals would be mandated to purchase insurance. Since the plan mandates that employers (with some exemptions) provide insurance or pay employees to buy insurance elsewhere, insurance companies stand to gain billions in new revenue. To sweeten the pot for the insurance barons, the Kennedy bill would authorize credits to help eligible businesses buy insurance for their employees.

The HELP bill would create a government-sponsored insurance program that would compete alongside the private insurers in the “Gateway.” However, this half-stepping approach does not challenge — in fact, it supports — the right of the insurance companies and health care industry to make profits off the pain and suffering of working people.

Health care is a right, not a privilege. Hospitals and other providers of health care services should be driven not by making a profit, but by providing services known to improve the health of the populations we serve. We need a national health program run by the federal government — much like the Veterans’ Administration Health System but covering everyone in the United States.

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 at 22:21