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Brooklyn Health Reform Panelists: Stand Up and Demand Better Health System or Indifferent Policymakers and Money Interests Will Stand For You

When Fannie Lou Hamer said she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired”, she could not have imagined then that 40 years hence there would be a Black president in the White House drafting prescriptions for the nation’s ailing systems.  Now there is.  And he is.  But is relief in sight?

“Dr.” Hamer and her famous statement came to mind last Sunday during remarks by Dr. Shadidi Beatrice Kinsey, Founder, P.E.A.C.E. Health Center, during the 10th Annual Health Activist Award Program sponsored by The Family and Friends of Dr. Mutulu Shakur at 966 Fulton Street in Brooklyn.  The award, given this year posthumously to Churne Lloyd, honored Dr. Mutulu Shakur (father of Tupac), whose primary work has been in the area of health. He is a doctor of acupuncture and was a co-founder and director of two major institutions devoted to improving health care in the Black community (See article in future issue.)

Dr. Kinsey’s rousing Asante Sana opened the event and an informative discussion “The Health Care Reform Bill: What Does It Mean to Us” moderated by Dr. James C. McIntosh, President, CEMOTAP,  ensued with panelists Councilman Charles Barron, 42nd CD, and Harlem attorney Ajamu Sankofa, co-founder, PHIMGC (Private Health Insurance Must Go! Coalition).

The health reform discussion touched on far-ranging aspects of health care in the U.S. where 50 million people have no insurance, 25 million more are underinsured and existing programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Children’s Insurance are “under attack,” and budget cuts have reduced access. Topics ranged from President Barack Obama’s health reform strategy/tactics; the history of African Americans’ health struggles; the involvement of money and corporate interests to the language of health care and the need for individuals everywhere to demand change and get “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Following are excerpts from Dr. Kinsey, Councilman Barron’s, Attorney Sankofa and Dr. McIntosh’s statements and exchange:

The Black Congressional Caucus published a study in 2003; they found there are 15 leading causes of death in the U.S. and African Americans led in 11 categories. Lord knows what it is now six years later. We’re in a health crisis, and along with the problem of medical apartheid, as Harriet Washington pointed out in her brilliant book (Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to Present), how is this answered?

Why should a revolutionary organization be talking about health?  Well, why shouldn’t they?  We die in larger numbers – more than any other groups: HIV/AIDS, lung disease, cancer, heart disease, homicides, accidents, suicides, strokes, diabetes, kidney disease.  Look at the list and you will see that just by modifying five or six things, mainly what we take into our body, you can eliminate these things.  Eliminate drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, all impact on anything else you might have, and if you’ve caught a disease, they make the situation worse. Eating improperly – salt, sugar, cholesterol – plays a role in cancer, kidney disease, diabetes.  You will never get certain types of diabetes, which is wiping people out,  if you don’t go above your ideal body weight.

Disrespect and settling disputes through violence start homicides.

Go to the Internet; look at the top 10 rap songs; take the  top 10 rap songs, 8 or 9 of those songs will provoke one of those risk factors that are responsible for the top 10 killers of black people. One of the songs will promote all eight risk factors. In my study, with country songs, it’s reversed; nine out of ten songs do not promote risk factors; just one did.  We certainly need to pay attention to the complexities of the issue of health care (from a larger perspective).

Councilman Charles Barron:
America has the largest private health care system in the world, the most expensive in the world and one of the worst in terms of quality.

When there are homeless people in America which has a $4.2 trillion economy, and we can’t afford education and healthcare, the real crisis is in this system that looks at profit over people. The health care crisis is but a symptom of a deeply rooted illness in America called capitalism.  As long as we keep dealing with the symptoms, we will all be sick, even when they pass this health care reform.  America needs a radical change in government – which is the reason we should not be afraid to talk about Revolution.

We have a Mayor who should have been on the front page of the newspapers with his statements that health care execs are not making enough money.  Executives making $10million to $40million a year are making a lot of money.

This is a monopolistic capital system, where they try to monopolize certain industry.  There are two companies (controlling most of this); and they are trying to consolidate.  They have the ability to drive costs up.

Healthcare is not affordable, not accessible, not high quality.  So what can we do about it.  Under the private insurance system, prices are high; premiums are doubling, tripling.   Everything’s going up but your salary.  You may have a plan but you have to pay a deductible, which doesn’t cover everything. So now we are debating what the best payer system is.

One answer is Single Payer which means the government will be the Single Payer for health care delivery for the middle class and below, for those who cannot essential services.  Right now – without it, the health industry can do whatever they want; they can raise prices.

Congress says their needs to be more transparency, oversight.  Everything the government does is messed up; they need to trim the fat and work on the fraud. They say Social Security isn’t working?  Oh, yes it is.  If the government would stop taking money out of the account and using it for other things, then it would work.

A lot of this has nothing to do with health care at all; it has a lot to do with politics.   If a healthcare bill passes now, the Democrats will increase their numbers in the House and the Senate.  If they fail, the Republicans have a chance.

They’re saying a lot of stuff, going into the dumpster to distort things and it’s working because it has people thinking some of the foolishness is true.

Not doing Single Payer? Try Public Option. Put it out there on the table.  Public Option will keep prices under control, but insurance companies say they’re going to hurt us because that’s what they don’t want.

Meanwhile, this is the first time in the history of  this country where a health care reform option has passed in three committees in the House and by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
But the Senate Finance Committee – (the last committee to clear health care before its taken up on the Senate Floor) is backing back away from that, favoring something called Co-op, where nonprofit insurance companies are owned by its members, the same people insured by the company.  Not like the old way where private insurers answer to investors.

Bottom of Form

President Obama is trying to get a nonpartisan agreement.  But they’ve got the vote; it’s just a matter of telling the head of the Senate and the head of the House to get it passed.

That is why we need a better system.  Both parties are controlled by white men, who have inordinate amount of power in the House, Senate and around Barack Obama. And in every party there are conservatives, liberals, centrists, moderates.

So the talk will continue, and there will be a lot of it about single payer,  public options, coops and how we’re going to pay for it all.

How do we pay for it?  Simple: raise millionaires’ taxes by 1.5%.  Another way: those making $350,000 or more, should write off 28% of their charitable contributions, not 35%.  Place a small tax on stock transfers and transfers of bonds.

I personally am for the Single Payer plan, but I think health care, the utilities, and even the auto industry should be nationalized.  Think about it:  No private company should be giving us what God gives us, and make billions of dollars off of utilities like electricity.  These things happen in other countries.

You would be surprised what could happen, here. We would move towards progressive taxation and, finally, regulation.

This is not difficult at all; it’s just common sense.

(Health Forum Panel discussion highlights will continue next week, September 3, with the presentation of Attorney Ajamu Sankofa’s comments and assessments.  Also, Next week, Barron’s thoughts on Foreclosure, Bailouts, Wall Street, and Obama, as presented at the last Sunday’s Health Activist Awards Program, will be included in the Barron, Part II article, originally announced for this issue.)

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