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Rx for health care?

For years, black politicians, particularly the Rev. Jesse Jackson, have clamored for a national health care system, or at the very least, reforms making medical treatment more affordable. Their proposals, however, were usually labeled as liberal largess.

At long last, some type of health care reform is in the nation's future. But its structure and the impact it will have on the current system and on the already high tax burden can only be projected.

Historically, some Congress members found it easy to support the idea of health care reform, since the chance of legislation moving from bill to act was slim. Thus, members were free to propose change without fear of paying potentially high political or budgetary costs.

But now, as plans to restructure the health care system are hitting Congressional tables, Senators and Representatives--including Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members--have tough choices before them. They must consider not only the federal deficit, but also how much their constituents are willing to pay to receive national health care.

Health care hit the national consciousness during the 1992 presidential campaign. To increasing numbers of Americans, a lack of affordable health care had become a personal crisis, and legislators cited runaway costs as a threat to the national economy. In 1980, health care made up 9% of the gross domestic product (GDP). By 1992, it had grown to 13.4% of the GDP. Furthermore, it is projected to represent 17% of the GDP by 2000.

Upon election, Clinton showed his commitment to reform by appointing his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to head the Task Force on National Health Care Reform. Black legislators are taking part in the process. Last March, Mrs. Clinton met with CBC Chairman Kweisi Mfume (D.-Md.) and others to discuss national health care proposals.

A number of liberal members of Congress, including many CBC members, support a plan similar to Canada's comprehensive health care plan. But it is doubtful that such a plan would be passed in this country. In the face of a growing federal deficit, a bill to replace private insurance plans with a national system paid for with tax money would die instantly.

By contrast, the Clinton plan focuses on managed competition, an idea first developed in Wyoming. Under managed competition, Americans would no longer buy health care insurance directly from insurance companies. Instead, they would get it from federally approved cooperatives that would negotiate a deal with groups of health care providers offering a particular price for service packages. The nation would be divided into regions, with one cooperative to a region. Groups of consumers would be able to choose the package that best serves their needs. Advocates of the plan say that health care expenses will shrink. Employers would subsidize the plan for employees, while the government would pay for the unemployed.

At present, more than 37 million Americans are uninsured. In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau found that over a 28-month period, one quarter of the nation goes without health insurance for at least a month.

This type of coverage would be a boon for the black community. Compared with whites, blacks are less likely to have health insurance coverage. Moreover, blacks have greater health risks. The problem is compounded by the economic condition of America's poor, says Dr. Charles H. Epps. Jr., dean of the Howard University College of Medicine. High unemployment in the black community creates inferior health care, as the jobless are unlikely to have health insurance. Creating a national health care policy will go a long way toward helping those who can least afford to be sick.
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Title Annotation:African American leaders' positions on health care reform
Author:Cunningham, Kitty
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Words:600
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