Obama taps Benjamin for Surgeon General: Highlights health care access

Yesterday, President Barack Obama announced his nomination of Regina Benjamin, M.D., as U.S. Surgeon General. Benjamin founded a rural health clinic in Bayou La Batre, AL, a Gulf coast town of 2,500 people where, according to the Washington Post, 40 percent of the population has no health insurance. “Stories abound,” report Post writers Alexi Mostrous and Michael D. Shear, “of Benjamin making house calls in a muddy Toyota pickup, and accepting buckets of shrimp from patients too poor to pay cash.”

Benjamin said “My father died with diabetes and hypertension. My older brother died at age 44 of HIV-related illness. My mother died of lung cancer because as a young girl she wanted to smoke, just like her twin brother could. My family’s not here with me today, at least not in person, because of preventable diseases. While I can’t change my family’s past, I can be a voice in the movement to improve our nation’s health care and our nation’s health for the future.”

The Surgeon General’s position is a bully pulpit for issuing crucial public health messages. Let’s hope that Dr. Benjamin uses the post to campaign for providing comprehensive health care for rural and minority populations, who lack access to decent health care today. Dr. Benjamin’s appointment, if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, could highlight the issue of health care inequities, which is sorely missing from the current debate on health care reform. What we need is an advocate for minorities and rural folk, not another defender of privatized health care — albeit one who has a moral center. My fear, however, is that President Obama plans are limited only to using her as an “anti-lobby” against those opposed to his so-called health care reforms.

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009 at 15:21