NAACP: Five things you can do to help pass health care reform

OPINION - There are five key things that must be done and that we can do to ensure that the Senate passes a real health care reform bill with a strong public option...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Sometimes it seems that the terrible economic news – unemployment rates, home foreclosures and the increasing number of families forced onto the streets – never seems to end. So this weekend’s victory with the passage of the H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, in the U.S. House of Representatives, is particularly comforting. Just a few weeks ago, it was unclear whether any health care reform bill would make it through the House this year, let alone legislation that includes a public option.

Indeed, the fate of the bill was in question up to the moment President Obama ventured to the Hill on Saturday afternoon to make the case for its passage in person. It’s not that Americans are particularly divided on health care reform – survey after survey shows that the vast majority back it strongly. No, from the beginning, this has been a battle pitting big-money interests against the health of our most marginalized and powerless communities. The safe bet would have been on the drug companies and lobbyists, and from this perspective, Saturday’s vote was a striking victory for President Obama.

Of course, with any political process, passing the bill involved compromise, and the version that passed the House may not include all the provisions we had hoped for. Yet in its current form, the legislation includes provisions that will have a profound impact on people of color.

First, the sheer magnitude of the scope of coverage is encouraging. The bill will expand health coverage to an estimated thirty six million Americans who currently have no insurance at all. Literally tens of millions of families will be affected, particularly those black and brown families that disproportionately make up this country’s working poor.

Second, the legislation forbids insurance companies from dropping coverage to individuals based on “pre-existing conditions.” For African-Americans, who as a group, suffer from alarming rates of chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and HIV/AIDS, this eliminates one all-too-common barrier to receiving basic medical treatment.

Notably, the bill would eliminate co-payments for preventative care, making regular checkups and doctor visits free for all families. Not only will this help diagnose and treat illness early, but will help foster a culture of health in the neighborhoods and communities that have gone without care for so long.

Perhaps most important, the House bill represents the first step toward the goal of universal coverage for all Americans. We have begun the process of fundamentally reforming the system – a goal that we now know can be achieved in this generation.

Clearly, as historic as Saturday’s vote was, our work is not close to finished. As the reform discussion moves to the Senate the battles still lie ahead. Already, some opponents of reform have drawn their line in the sand, signaling that their opposition may be based more on political expediency than policy differences.

But we move into the Senate fight inspired and empowered. We have already defied the odds by getting this far.

In order to achieve real health care reform in this country, the members of the US Senate need to hear from you, their constituents. There are five key things that must be done and that we can do to ensure that the Senate passes a real health care reform bill with a strong public option:

1)Call 866-783-2462 and talk to your senator and his or her staff, explain to them that real health care reform must include a public option.

2)Meet with your Senator personally. You can go to his or her district office and meet with them, bring friends and family members, and tell them that we need real health care reform with a strong public option.

3)Come to Washington, DC and visit with your Senator. You can call and speak with your Senator’s staff and set up a meeting with them in Washington, DC.

4)Collaborate with your local chapters of the NAACP, National Urban League or any civil rights organization. You can call, email or visit your local chapter office and ask them what you can do to help. We are planning many activities that will send a strong message to the Senate and we need your help.

5)Organize a house party or a local meetup. As we all know, every six years Senators are up for re-election, and they must listen to their constituents. You can organize a meet up or a house party to talk about real health care reform, collect stories of people who have been gravely affected due to lack of health insurance and work together to send a strong message to your Senator.

On Saturday the grassroots mobilization led by working families made history, and today we are one step closer to making universal health care a reality for all Americans.