Republicans, trying to make good on campaign promises, are working hard to repeal the 2010 healthcare law that, once fully implemented, will provide health insurance in some form for all Americans. Those who supported the law realize that it’s imperfect but recognize that the law’s passage was an important first step. Over time, the law will save billions of dollars and ensure that Americans, regardless of income, can access medical help when they need it.
A new study shows us that money will be saved in other ways, too. A report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reveals shocking racial health disparities. Billions of dollars are spent each year treating illnesses in advanced stages. With healthcare more readily available, it is safe to assume that chronic conditions can be treated regularly and early, avoiding costly hospital stays and saving the larger public money in the long run.
It’s never been a secret that race and income play a part in the quality of medical care an individual receives. But these numbers are shocking. In a country as rich as America, the expectation should be that all children live through infancy and grow into healthy adults. However, children born to African-American women are three times more likely to die before they make it to their first year than those born to women of other races. If the child does make it to adulthood, they will be twice as likely to suffer from high blood pressure and much more likely to suffer from heart disease or have a stroke than their White counterparts. And, unfortunately, their chances of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is shockingly higher than that of Whites.
Granted, each of these illnesses is preventable. Personal responsibility—eating right, exercising, practicing safe sex—goes a long way in making sure an individual is not afflicted with these diseases. However, if one does find themselves struggling with one of these illnesses, they should be able to access quality medical care early and often and not have to worry about costs. If the diseases go untreated, the long-term effects go far beyond the individual: society ultimately pays. $7 billion to be exact. That’s how much is spent a year treating preventable diseases in this country. And African-Americans have twice the rate of preventable hospitalizations than Whites.
Before Republicans continue with their plan of repealing the healthcare law, with no workable proposal for a replacement, they should first think about what price the country will have to pay if they are successful. The Republican Party should not only leave the current healthcare law intact, they should sit down with Democrats and strategize to improve it. One of those improvements should be funding more community clinics in urban areas—clinics that educate and counsel residents on disease prevention. The Republican Party needs to realize that honoring campaign promises is important but only if that promise is in the best interest of the entire nation.
(Judge Greg Mathis is vice president of Rainbow PUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.)