By Hrayr Attarian, M.D.
Chicago Sun-Times, Letters, July 14, 2020
In the past three months, more than at any previous time in my 28 years as a physician, the medical community has tackled its own implicit and explicit racism. Issues such as biased laboratory norms, historic racial injustice in the field and preconceived notions about non-whites are being widely debated. The catalyst, obviously, has been Black victims of police violence and the disproportionate effect of COVID19 on minorities.
One question, nevertheless, nags at me. Can we discuss racial justice separately from economic justice?
According to the Economic Policy Institute, rising rates of unemployment during the pandemic have hurt Black Americans more than any other group. This is a health equity problem because, as the Kaiser Family Foundation reports, 49% of people receive health insurance through their work. Unemployment means a loss of health insurance coverage, which is now the case for 18% of Americans.
If the Affordable Care Act is overturned, 23 million more Americans will be without insurance during one of the worst pandemics in modern times. And this, too, according to the Kaiser Foundation, will disproportionately harm African Americans.
We must fight racism in medicine; and I, for one, feel fortunate to be employed by an organization that is on the forefront of the struggle. I wonder, however, how much more effective we would be in eradicating prejudice and bias if we also worked more for healthcare equity and economic justice.
This means advocacy for truly universal health insurance coverage, regardless of citizenship, employment, income, race or ethnicity. It means creating a system of health care that is about medicine, not profit, founded on the principle that health care is a basic human right.
We should all struggle towards that.