What we’re dying to see in Obama’s healthcare plan

I have an older brother, sort of. He’s technically my uncle, but in many black families, relationship labels are flexible and arbitrary. I followed him around when I was young, tried my best to look up to him and found myself disappointed as he spent his life in and out of prison. Last February, I received the call that I’d been waiting for over the past 20 years: He was in the hospital, and he was going to die.

I wasn’t sure if the cause of death would be a bullet or something else, but to my surprise, he’d been hit by a car. He was dragged 70 feet down the road and had to get both brain surgery and spinal cord surgery, all in the same week. Three weeks after going into a coma and dying two times on the operating table (successfully resuscitated), we were then forced to figure out how to manage the life of a 46-year old, paralyzed man with no health insurance.

As discussions of healthcare reform have grown louder in the weeks leading up to this final day before the Senate’s summer recess, this is one of the things that made me listen to President Obama’s plan much more closely.

According to a recent Gallup poll, nearly 20 percent of all African Americans are without health insurance and a whopping 41.5 percent of Hispanic Americans are without coverage, as well. This is compounded by the fact that people of color need health coverage the most. We get sick more often and have more ways to die than white Americans do. Brown America is literally dying for our first black president to help ease our collective pain.

We need the Obama Administration to step into the healthcare problem, and our president has boldly taken on the challenge. Americans should be grateful he has done so, for every year, thousands of citizens are financially ruined by massive medical bills they cannot pay. Special interest groups make the price of drugs higher than they should be, and for some reason, our government is not willing to even mention these warped interests in their discussion on healthcare. If the politicians are not asking the right questions, then perhaps the following questions should be asked by all of us:

What are the specifics of the plan? Right now, details on healthcare are as vague as the words “hope” and “change.” It sounds great: Higher quality care at a lower price. Oh, well if it were that simple, then why didn’t Bill Clinton do it? During his press conference (the one where everyone walked away talking about Henry Louis Gates), the president mentioned that he is still not sure how the last 1/3 of the cost of his healthcare plan is going to be paid. Isn’t that a lot of money?

Although the president gave a stellar performance during the press conference (excluding the last 5 minutes), I still walked away not really understanding exactly how the president plans to make healthcare more affordable for everyone. At this point, we are working on trust. I assume that the new plan can’t care any less about poor people than the current plan already does, so we can only go up from this point.

What are the pharmaceutical companies going to contribute? With the vast debate on executive pay taking place on Capitol Hill, it is only appropriate that we discuss the massive profitability of pharmaceutical companies at the expense of the American people. According to Forbes, the pharmaceutical industry is the third most profitable industry in America, with a profit margin of 20 percent of gross revenues. The billions being earned in profits by this industry result from the fact that drug prices are inflated in a market that is artificially closed off to serious international competition. This protection of an industry that doesn’t need protection is nonsensical and calls for significant reconsideration. True healthcare reform can’t begin without dealing with the world’s most powerful drug dealers.

What are doctors and hospitals going to contribute? It has long been reported that the American Medical Association works to artificially restrict the supply of doctors in order to keep their salaries inflated. My sister is a physician, so I am sure she will kill me for saying this, but if there are qualified students who can increase the supply of good doctors, those students should be given the chance to study. Additionally, there should be greater accountability for the astronomical cost of a doctor’s visit or trip to the emergency room. For example, why does it cost $1,000 to get an ambulance ride? Do they buy special gas? Why did my CAT scan cost me $3,000? Am I really fat or something? It appears that there are some hospital administrators who’ve gotten really good at financing their “medical bling,” and the government needs to deal with this problem directly.

How much is a drug supposed to cost? Do we think it is mere coincidence that there are laws stating that we can’t go across the border to buy drugs that cost less than the ones being made in the U.S? Similar to the NCAA, pharmaceutical companies have convinced our legislators to protect their market under the guise of protecting the public. I find it difficult to imagine a world where we can’t have safe, effective and inexpensive medication, all at the same time.

The president wants to make healthcare better for everyone, and I believe he can do it. But he is going to need our help. In a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll last week, only 36 percent of all Americans said they felt that healthcare reform is a good idea, and 42 percent of those polled said that it is a bad idea.

Those of us who cheered on President Obama’s racial distraction last week should remember that attempting to fix healthcare is a task that destroyed many political careers during the 1990s. The president needs strong support from the American people, including the 7 percent of White Americans who no longer approve of him after the Henry Louis Gates fiasco (beer doesn’t always make your problems go away). Rather than fighting for his crony at Harvard without knowing all the facts, the president should remember the facts on African American health and keep his eyes on the most important prize.

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