WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – President Barack Obama retired to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., for vacation with his family Aug. 23 with prospects dimming for his signature health care reform; with many of his supporters feeling betrayed over political wheeling and dealing; and his opponents sensing that their first real victory in more than two years was near at hand.
Political analyst Charlie Cook wrote in his Cook Political Report that the fact that the president’s approval ratings have slid from 69 percent to about 51 percent is evidence that “the situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and Congressional Democrats.”
Since his inauguration in January, conservatives have been hoping for Mr. Obama’s complete failure in office, and they strategized that by defeating health reform legislation, they could stop his momentum cold.
Conservatives coalesced across the right-wing spectrum, engaging racists, so-called “Tea Party” activists, gun rights activists, columnists, talk-radio and cable TV hosts, and Republican elected officials into a rowdy assemblage which disrupted health care town hall meetings with armed participants, painted swastikas, and even reform supporters hung in effigy, as they spread often inaccurate interpretations of the reform bill proposed by Democrats during the last few weeks.
For his part, the president called for “honest debate” about his health-care reform proposals and he decried “willful misrepresentations,” “outright distortions” and “outrageous myths” circulating on the Internet, cable television and at town halls across the country.
In his weekly video address Aug. 22, Mr. Obama sought to assure the public in blunt terms that illegal immigrants will not be eligible for insurance under reform proposals and that the plans do not mandate coverage for abortions, contain “death panels,” or promise a “government-takeover” of health care.
He also sought to explain the role of a “public option” in the reform proposals and said his plans will expand access to health insurance coverage, while providing consumers with new “security” and “stability” in their care.
But as the measure’s passage appeared less certain than just a month ago, reform advocates complained those likely to be left out in the cold, are disproportionately non-White, because they suffer the worst inequities under the current system. Non-Whites are officially 52 percent (some say that statistic is as high as 75 percent) of the uninsured population, the largest proportion of which is Hispanic, according to a 2004 analysis published in the American Journal of Public Health.
“Segregation is still a profound problem in the United States,” Brian Smedley, a health-care expert with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies told The American Prospect. “We’ve made a lot of progress in the past 50 years, (but) in many U.S. cities, we have segregation levels that are not far below apartheid South Africa.”
Segregation in this country has a profound effect on the quality of care to which non-Whites–insured or otherwise–have access. That’s because health care disparities can be broken down into two categories: access and outcomes. That means better distribution of health resources: more and better primary-care providers in White neighborhoods. It also means healthier environments, and safer neighborhoods where children and adults can play and exercise.
Even when non-Whites are covered by health insurance, they’re less likely to have quality care and less able to afford the out-of-pocket expenses. Children born to Black women are more than twice as likely to die within their first year of life as are children born to White women. This disparity is unaffected by income or education level. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the mortality rate for infants of college-educated Black women is 11.5 deaths for 1,000 live births, more than twice that for infants of similarly educated White women, 4.2 for 1,000 live births.
If the adult mortality rate of Blacks had been the same as that of Whites, between 1991 and 2000, 880,000 deaths could have been avoided, according to that American Journal of Public Health analysis.
Non-Whites are more likely to suffer and die from chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, they’re less likely to get the kinds of life-saving treatments that Whites get, and they’re more likely to receive the kinds of treatments you would avoid if you could, such as limb amputation for diabetes.
In addition, Blacks made up almost half of the new cases of HIV infection recorded in the 2000 Census. Non-Whites are less likely to see a dentist. Only 27 percent of Blacks and Hispanics, 36 percent of Asian and Pacific Islanders, and 41 percent of Native Americans and Alaska Natives reported seeing a dentist in the past year, compared to nearly half of Whites who had.
A fifth of Black adults report being in poor or fair health, slightly more than Hispanic adults and nearly twice as many as Whites. Some of these conditions are due to disparities in employment, education, and wealth. Language and cultural barriers also hinder effective care, preventing patients and doctors from communicating effectively about medical problems and treatments.
“The reasons why many racial and ethnic minority groups have poorer health literally from the cradle to the grave are many and varied; they’re primarily related to socioeconomic differences,” Mr. Smedley said, “but they’re also profoundly related to living conditions.”
The president and his team are re-thinking their bi-partisan approach. Mr. Obama may call for an end to Democratic efforts to work with Republicans on health-care legislation, pressing instead for a party-line vote in both the House and the Senate if the stalemate on the issue persists in the Senate, according to TruthOut.org.
Democrats have started devising a strategy to pass a measure by relying only on the Democratic majority in each house of Congress.
“He’s waited and waited,” former Sen. Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) told TruthOut after meeting with the president Aug. 20. “He has indicated, much to the chagrin of people in his party that virtually everything’s on the table. And he’s gotten almost nothing in return for it.”
Despite an apparently rebounding economy, Mr. Cook predicts that as a result of the administration’s apparent inability to get health care reform passed, the electorate is in a foul mood and Democrats will lose from 12 to 20 seats in the House in the 2010 elections. “We believe it would be a mistake to underestimate the impact that this mood will have on Members of Congress of both parties when they return to Washington in September, if it persists through the end of the Congressional recess,” Mr. Cook wrote.