In 1965 at the conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery march while standing before a contingent of physicians of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, Martin Luther King Jr. remarked, “Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhumane.” Decades later, the state of health care is still dismal for millions of Americans, particularly the Black and the poor.
Heart disease is suffered by 50 percent more Blacks than Whites in the United States and African Americans are more likely to develop liver ailments because of inability to procure treatment or life-saving transplants. Also, 40 percent of HIV-infected Americans are Black. A staggering 86 percent of infected children are either Black or Hispanic. And Blacks are stricken with the AIDS virus at ten times the rate of Whites.
In the midst of this, President Obama’s health care reform bill has elicited outrage and criticism from White middle-class conservatives. And Congress has been debating a national health care plan for more than six months.
Despite being largely left out of the debate on health care reform, there are few groups that can speak of the disparities in health care between the haves and the have-nots with the knowledge, empathy and experience of Black doctors.
Paul A. Edwards MD, Aaron W. Maddox, MD, PC, and Robert P. Heidelberg, MD, PC, are among the leading Black physicians in Metro Detroit. All three visited the offices of the Michigan Chronicle to weigh in on the debate about health care and how it impacts the African-American community.
“Clearly there is a great disparity in health care in the African-American population where unemployment is much higher,” said Dr. Edwards. “That’s the problem with health care and that’s the message you don’t really hear from these opponents that are complaining about people taking or limiting their medical benefits.”
The sad irony is that while emotions run high among opponents of the health care bill that could benefit millions of Black, poor and working poor Americans, there is barely a whisper heard from health reform opponents against the huge financial subsidies to large corporate conglomerates for military contracts and the production of weapons of war and destruction. The medical industry is also a big business that is both driven and insulated by profit and greed.
“I think one of the problems is there’s so much money to be made in so many different disciplines around medicine,” Dr. Maddox said. “You have the pharmaceutical companies, the insurance companies and you’re talking billions and billions of dollars. Because of this and the way our government works with lobbyists, a lot of the legislation that comes out is based on who’s lobbying the hardest and who has the most money, not necessarily who’s right. It’s also based on greed. People are afraid of losing something. The main thing you have to realize is that health care is a right, not a privilege.”
The United States spends more money on health care than any other nation on Earth, yet for approximately 20 percent of its population there is no health care at all and for other segments of the population care is inadequate.
Even relatively destitute countries like Cuba have managed to provide health care for all its citizens and seem to be unburdened with the litany of health problems and ailments that are suffered by millions in America.
“One of the reasons is waste and mismanagement,” said Dr. Maddox. “You take a homeless person that has high blood pressure. They are not going to be able to get in to see a primary care doctor. However, when they have a heart attack or a stroke or go to the emergency room, emergency services are obligated to take care of them, and for medicine that may have been preventive at a few hundred dollars a year. One day in intensive care can be $20,000 or more, and they may still die. If the focus had been on preventive you wouldn’t have all the waste, and you would have better health care.”