Is Health Care Reform Just For White People?

Northwest Federation of Community Organizations Campaigns for Racial Justice in Health

Although the face of the health care debate was mostly a white one, community organizations and progressive groups across the country, including the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations and the Health Rights Organizing Project, prioritized health equity in their demands for comprehensive health care reform. They went into the fight bolstered by a big win for health justice – the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program with the removal of the five-year bar that prevented immigrant children from accessing the program. Their commitment to addressing racial disparities in health was front and center when they joined Health Care for America Now (HCAN), the largest national grassroots campaign fighting for national health care reform.

NWFCO, with HROP, led the fight for health equity in reform with the following activities:

  • Influencing HCAN’s guiding principles, policy demands and messaging to include the elimination of racial health disparities and the provision of health care for everyone in America, including undocumented immigrants.
  • Training HCAN organizers from around the country on health disparities and developing a webinar for partners to use in their work with allies.
  • Holding a health disparities Town Hall in Washington, D.C. featuring community leaders from 10 states and two members of Congress as speakers.
  • Collecting and analyzing state-by-state data on disparities that was used in an HCAN report.
  • Conducting a Health Equity 24/7 activity in which organizers sent a disparities story to Members of Congress every hour on the hour for an entire day to demonstrate the ongoing, inescapable reality of health disparities for people of color.
  • Generating, with help from Center for Community Change and Reform Immigration for America, over 1,000 phone calls to Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanding that she take leadership on immigrant inclusion.

The hard work paid off. Here’s a quick look at what’s in reform for communities of color:

  • Expansion of Medicaid, a public health insurance program that is vital to increasing coverage for communities of color
  • Provisions to explicitly reduce racial disparities, including provisions addressing the day-to-day conditions that affect whether a person is healthy or sick
  • Increased funding for community health centers, which are a critical piece of the health care safety net for people who remain uninsured post-reform, especially undocumented immigrants
  • Reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA), a significant victory for Native communities as this legislation hasn’t been reauthorized in over a decade

Of course, what we got isn’t perfect, but communities of color stand to gain tremendously. Work needs to be done to make sure that those left out of reform, mostly immigrants, will have access to quality, affordable care. Implementation campaigns will be critical to ensuring that good policy is enacted in all of the states. And other national opportunities, such as a second round of economic stimulus, are on the horizon. NWFCO will continue to be at the forefront of pushing solutions that will address racial and ethnic disparities in health.

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