This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Powell: A right to health care

Accessible health care has risen to the top of the list of issues facing our communities.

John Powell

Affordable insurance is one aspect of dealing with health concerns. It has become unaffordable for many people. Several efforts have been made to rectify some aspects of this dilemma, including the 2009 Affordable Care Act. There have been concerted efforts to dismantle the ACA. We wait for a verdict.

Health-care delivery is also a major concern, particularly for communities of color. Racial and cultural issues have a significant impact on health delivery systems and health care. Medical care for the poor, particularly communities of color, has been inadequate. There are reports of marginalized people unknowingly being used in medical experimentations, most notably the Tuskegee syphilis experiment between 1932 and 1972.

Prior to re-entering the Anabaptist world, I provided civil rights protection and mental health discharge planning for people labeled mentally ill. I tried to assure that individuals received the best health care available.

During reviews of patient care, particularly in Michigan, I discovered that racial bias, economic status, stereotyping, discrimination, prejudice and clinical uncertainty contributed to inequality of health care. My counterparts in other states reported the same conditions. These issues haven’t significantly changed.

Structural and cultural racism cause racial disparity, particularly for African-Americans and Latinos. According to Harvard Medical School and the American Journal of Public Health, a significant percentage of physicians providing principal care for African-Americans exhibited bias. They tended to spend less time with these patients, leading to misdiagnosis and less care.

Rich Morin, senior editor at the Pew Foundation, said, “Most of these implicit biases are consequences of subtle messages seen in the media [and] popular culture suggesting one group is good and another group is bad, . . . associating one group with crime, another group with accomplishment.”

Like the criminal justice and educational systems, racialized health care takes a toll on communities of color. American Cancer Report stated on March 15, 2017, that the death rate for women of color suffering from cervical cancer is double that of white women. Breast cancer is 40 percent more prevalent among African-American women than among white women. These cancers are curable if detected early.

This inequality repeats itself for diabetes, stroke and heart disease. In almost every illness, communities of color experience higher mortality than white folks. The problem lies with unequal access to preventive care.

The poor and people of color tend to have more health-related concerns as a result of unemployment and education. Many patients of color develop mental health and stress-related problems as a result of discrimination. Many seek medical care only when it is obvious their life is at stake. Often it’s too late.

Legislative roadblocks, racial and social attitudes hamper effective health care for indigent people. People of color are affected most.

The debate continues. Is health care a right or privilege?

To me, it’s not debatable. People die for lack of care. This is a moral issue that transcends rights or privilege. We need caring people to be advocates for change. It’s a spiritual issue for people of faith. It’s a moral issue for everyone.

John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., has worked as a pastor, preacher and teacher in Mennonite churches and institutions.

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!