Friday, May 24, 2024

What We Can Do About Health Reform Now…

November 19, 2009 by  
Filed under Health, News, Weekly Columns

( Here’s what black folks can and should do about health care reform, no matter what Congress or the Obama administration do.

1. Go old school and revive the Black Panther Party free health clinic concept.

Anyone who went through the turbulent 1960s – when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called the Black Panther Party the greatest threat to America’s internal security – might also remember the Panthers’ free breakfast programs and health clinics. (In Oakland, they also ran their own school and had free clothing programs as well.)

Now, some might conclude that because the Marxist-oriented Panthers advocated free health care, it only proves that universal health care is a socialist idea. My response – and I say this as a staunch conservative – is a hearty, “So what?”

The 40-hour work week is a socialist idea; paid vacation and sick leave are socialist ideas. What, you thought working folks got those things because kind capitalists decided one day to just hand them over?

Labor unions are a socialist idea, as is the minimum wage. Somewhere among readers, there might be a brother or sister old enough to remember the time when the very notion of racial equality was considered a socialist or communist idea.

And yes, the notion that a society should provide free health care for its sick people – as opposed to having them pay insurance companies or providers through the nose for it – is a socialist idea. Again, so what? Or as my doctor noted about that notoriously socialist public health care option provided for veterans: “They fought against communism to get benefits from a communist health care system.”

Touché, doc.

Some cities already have free health clinics. In those cities that don’t have one, black folks need to get some started. In those cities that do, we need to:

2. Volunteer our time serving in one of those free health clinics. Those of us who have any free time should help out doing whatever we can to cut down on the costs of operating such clinics. In those states that require high school students to perform some kind of public service as a graduation requirement – Maryland is one – we should urge our youngsters to volunteer at a free health clinic.

3. Those who don’t have the time to volunteer at a free health clinic should consider donating money or supplies. Wouldn’t it be lovely to hear some of our youngsters telling their parents one holiday season, “Mom, Dad, instead of spending money on Christmas or Kwanzaa presents for me this year, I’d like you to donate that money to a free health clinic”?

Hey, a brother can dream, can’t he?

4. Free health clinics are only one piece of the health care puzzle. It’s not just visits to doctors’ offices or prescriptions that cost the uninsured; it’s those important lab tests doctors require that often catch ailments early enough to be successfully treated. So everything I wrote about free health clinics above can pertain to free or low-cost lab facilities. Ditto for physical therapy facilities.

5. Urge President Obama to normalize relations with Cuba. What does that have to do with health care in America? Scroll down to number six on this list.

6. Black Americans should support our students enrolled in the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana, Cuba.

American students – they’re from all races, but many are African-American – go to that medical school FOR FREE. All the Cuban government asks is that when graduates get their medical degrees and return to America, that they use what they’ve learned to treat the nation’s poor and uninsured.

I’ve met several of the bright, enthusiastic, black, white and Latino American students when I’ve visited Cuba. All seemed eager to complete their degrees and return home to practice medicine. We need to support these students by sending them some much needed dinero and, more importantly, just keeping in touch with them and telling them how much we appreciate what they’re doing. And what they will do.

7. In addition to free or low-cost health clinics and labs, black Americans are still short in the number of doctors we need. (More physical therapists, lab techs, radiology techs, nurses and nursing assistants wouldn’t hurt either.) All these health-related fields require strong academic preparation, especially in science and the dreaded “m” word.

Yes, I’m saying black folks need to urge our students to get their math on. Study it, learn it, master it. And no excuses accepted.

At Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, a predominantly black high school here in Bodymore, every student has to take a year of calculus as a graduation requirement. When I interviewed three of the school’s African-American alumni who attended Howard University Medical School, they couldn’t praise that requirement enough. Taking calculus at BPI, they told me, got them over a hurdle many of their fellow college freshmen didn’t clear.

Let’s get to work on these things now, while we wait to see what Congress does.

Written By Gregory P. Kane

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