California Minority Caucuses Urge Governor To Address Minority Health Disparities in Health Plan
Members of the Legislative Black Caucus, Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus and the Latino Caucus in California last week held a town hall meeting to urge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to address racial and ethnic health disparities in his universal health plan, the Sacramento Bee reports (Rojas, Sacramento Bee, 11/5).
Under the governor's $14 billion proposal, all residents would be required to obtain health coverage, either individually or through their employers, and the state would subsidize coverage for individuals with annual incomes less than $25,525 and for families with annual incomes less than $51,625. Lower-income workers who do not qualify for the subsidies but whose health insurance costs exceed 5% of their family's income would receive a tax credit (Kaiser Health Policy Report, 10/10).
The groups presented various CDC statistics that "support their contention that the inequitable distribution of resources has resulted in wide differences in the incidence of diseases and other adverse health conditions," according to the Bee. Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Calif.), chair-elect of the Legislative Black Caucus, said, "We want to deliver a message to the governor (and) to the entirety of the Legislature that any health care discussion, absent the issue of health care disparities, will continue to undermine the quality of care and life expectancy in communities of color." He added, "We wouldn't be here tonight, in fact, if we had been adequately heard."
A day after the town hall meeting, Assembly member Karen Bass (D) sent Kim Belshe, Schwarzenegger's secretary for health and human services, a study titled "The State of Black California." Bass spearheaded the study, which was released by the Legislative Black Caucus. Belshe said that "far too many" of the state's 6.7 million uninsured residents are minorities, adding, "Getting an insurance card in everyone's pocket is an important piece of the problem." She said, "At the same time, we all know that the insurance card isn't enough," which is why Schwarzenegger's plan puts "a high priority on prevention, wellness and health promotion."
Richard Williams -- a professor of medicine at the University of California-Los Angeles, who wrote the report, "Eliminating Health Disparities in America" -- said, "The simple explanation for health care disparities is just plain racism. Whatever proposal comes out of the governor should speak to completely redesigning the way we do primary care medicine in this environment."
Assembly member Mary Hayashi (D) said that although Asians often are thought of as the "model minority," they have health issues that have been overlooked, including high suicide rates among elderly Asian women. Hayashi has introduced a bill (AB 330) that would require California to develop a report to assess the level of health disparities (Sacramento Bee, 11/5).
"The State of Black California" report is available online (.pdf).