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Medicare for All Would Help End Racial Disparities in the South

We must take a stand against a for-profit health care system that too often devalues Black lives. 

"Medicare for All would not end racism in our health care system, but it is a necessary first step to address the racial health disparities that plague the South and our entire country," write the authors. (Photo: Jim Watson/Getty Images)

"Medicare for All would not end racism in our health care system, but it is a necessary first step to address the racial health disparities that plague the South and our entire country," write the authors. (Photo: Jim Watson/Getty Images)

The coronavirus pandemic and ongoing protests over racial disparities in the U.S. have highlighted just how broken our health care system is, especially for Black Americans. 

As local elected officials, we have witnessed first-hand in our cities how our for-profit health care system fails so many of our residents.

In Louisiana, Black people account for 53% of all coronavirus deaths in Louisiana despite making up 32% of the state population, according to the Louisiana Health Department. Black coronavirus patients also made up three-fourths of hospitalization in the state. 

These disparities are underscored by broader racial trends. Black children in New Orleans are 3.5 times more likely to be uninsured than white children—8.5% compared to 2.5%—and Black adults are twice as more likely to be uninsured than whites—32.3% to 16.6%. 

In Tennessee, Black residents make up 12% of the population, but account for 33% of coronavirus deaths. Black Tennesseans are 40% more likely to be uninsured than White Tennesseans.  

"In this moment of reckoning on racism in so many aspects of society, we must take a stand against a for-profit health care system that too often devalues Black lives."

Latinx communities are also experiencing a disproportionately high rate of positive COVID-19 cases in our communities. In Knox County, Tenn. Latinxs represent 30% of the county’s positive and probable COVID-19 cases, while only representing 5% of the county’s total population. A study in New Orleans Parish, La., found that 20% of Hispanics tested positive to COVID-19 vs. just 3% of Whites. Latinx Tennesseans are three times as likely to be uninsured that White Tennesseans, and Latinx Louisianans are 3.6 times as likely to be uninsured then White Louisianans.

These rates of uninsurance are likely to drastically increase as tens of millions more Americans have been thrown off their employer-sponsored health insurance since the pandemic began. 

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People without insurance are much more likely to skip or delay needed care, leading to much higher rates of dangerous underlying health conditions that make COVID-19 much more deadly.

 Black Americans are also more likely to live in communities where access to healthy and affordable food is scarce—often known as “food deserts.” Residents of food deserts have higher levels of diabetes and heart disease, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

In this moment of reckoning on racism in so many aspects of society, we must take a stand against a for-profit health care system that too often devalues Black lives. 

Our economic health depends upon our physical health. This is not a red issue or a blue issue, it's a red white and blue issue. The future of the U.S. is depending on universal health care.

That’s why the New Orleans and Knoxville City Councils joined cities and towns across the country in passing resolutions recently in support of Medicare for All. These resolutions send a powerful signal to Congress that our cities stand with the majority of Americans who demand guaranteed health care. 

Medicare for All would cover every American, regardless of their race, income, or where they live. By partnering with the Medicare program to develop budgets, hospitals would be paid based on the health needs of their community, instead of on the ability to pay of the populations they serve, ensuring that vital hospitals near vulnerable populations won’t be improperly forced to close. Special reserves would be set aside for unanticipated public health crises, like the pandemic we are currently living through.

Medicare for All would not end racism in our health care system, but it is a necessary first step to address the racial health disparities that plague the South and our entire country. 

Jason Williams

Jason Williams is the New Orleans City Council President.

Amelia Parker

Amelia Parker is a Knoxville City Council Member.

 

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