Open Letter to NJ D2 Congressional Candidates: Address Healthcare Disparities

By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media

I know, they are saying that you cannot draw sweeping conclusions from such random statistics over the course of this coronavirus pandemic – but for me the results are sad and shouldn’t be a surprise.

In Michigan, African-Americans make up 14 percent of the population, but have been one-third of the positive COVID-19 cases and 40 percent of the deaths. Blacks make up 32 percent of the population in Chicago, but blacks are more than half of the coronavirus cases and 72 percent of the deaths. Yes, 72 percent of the deaths, according to the New York Times.

In Louisiana, where blacks make up one-third of the population, make African-Americans make up 70 percent of the deaths. Blacks are disproportionately have been affected by the coronavirus in Milwaukee, Las Vegas and in states like Connecticut.

Statistics, though, are limited by race and ethnicity because, simply, most states simply aren’t breaking down stats racially or ethnically.

My question is “How is this even possible?”

African-Americans don’t make up the built of international travelers in this country. How are black and brown people now carrying the brunt of those being affected and dying by a pandemic that started in China?

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Because healthcare disparities are real. Because the disparities of who are often in harm’s way of such diseases in society happen to also be the ones with the less ability to have insurance. They are the ones who have the least ability to social distance and are the ones who are most exposed. They are the ones who don’t have jobs with sick leave and can least afford to take time off for illnesses.

If you want more involved reading about how the coronavirus is taking advantage of our diversity healthcare disparities, read these from Harvard and the University of Chicago.

It has taken a pandemic to drive these racial healthcare disparities back into the limelight. This time, they must not be swept under the rug and forgotten about them.

When Dr. Anthony Fauci said this month that we need to look hard at health disparities and root them out last week, he said something that black doctors and healthcare professionals have said for ages. My good friend Dr. Rahn Kennedy Bailey, former president of the National Medical Association, used to throw health disparity statistics at me during projects we worked on and how within the medical community, they were well-known and potentially devastating in such a scenario like we have before.

But, like much everything else, do we have the political will to do it? The Affordable Care Act helped families afford insurance, but it mainly made sure the insurance companies got paid and did not address healthcare cost in a meaningful way. And the Republicans, well, there’s no plan at all – or even talk – on this subject of healthcare disparities. Both parties need to be held accountable to tell us what they plan on doing.

This Means You, NJ District 2 Congressional Candidates!

We have a really hot Congressional race this year in New Jersey District 2. If this column is in ear shot of the candidates – namely incumbent Jeff Van Drew and main Democratic challengers Will Cunningham, John Francis, Brigid Harrison and Amy Kennedy – give us what you would do. My friend and FRNJ guest columnist Wilfredo Rojas is calling for a forum on diversity issues for District 2.

For right now, I want to know how the candidates will call for addressing health care disparities in Congress. This is my official invitation. In fact, I am offering a post to write what you would do (roughly 1,000 words, please). Healthcare disparities have always been important issues and the coronavirus has exposed just how these disparities can affect all of us.

Now black and brown people like me are dying right now because we have repeatedly failed to take action to address these disparities. We must demand that this ends today.

A Little Help

I’ll even lend a helping hand in your response. It should acknowledge that racial healthcare disparities exist and it has been harming minorities for generations because of past racism. It should include ways to directly address these communities in wiping out these long-term disparities. Finally your plan should not be afraid of terms like “race-based” and others foes of such remedies like to use to undermine them. You should be able to figure out the rest from there.

So, I hope to hear from all of you. As an African-American male, I feel the time to remain silent on healthcare disparities have long passed. We need answers AND action – or at the very least making a decent attempt at them.

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