Universal health care would help cure COVID-19, racial injustice

by Robert Davis, MDiv, DMin

I remember the sound in his voice, the depression, utter despair, numbness, and grief. Lincoln, my friend of 20 years, called in early April to let me know that he had taken his mother to the doctor on two separate occasions and her symptoms were minimized, dismissed and she was sent home. The third and final time the staff decided to test her. That’s when they discovered his mother had COVID-19. She was admitted to the hospital and he never saw her again. She died later that day. 

I wish I could tell you this was a unique case, a one-off, but as the months rolled on several of my friends had eerily similar stories. Lincoln’s mom was a poor immigrant American who devoted her life to ensuring her two children escaped the poverty they knew in Jamaica. With modest insurance coverage she was not seen as high priority on the hospital’s list of people to examine for possible COVID-19 infection. 

America has had a long history of discrimination towards Blacks in hospitals and health care. While modern laws forbid flagrant discrimination, there is still an undercurrent that reveals itself in the disparity of treatment Blacks receive. Recent studies have revealed that doctors still hold the belief that Blacks, especially Black women, are more tolerant of pain. Blacks are less likely to receive additional testing and diagnostic procedures than their Caucasian counterparts, even when adjusting for income. 

This reality is compounded by socioeconomic disparities and lack of adequate insurance coverage, exasperated by low coverage and high deductibles. These past few months of COVID-19-19 has reminded us that the ticking time bomb of our dysfunctional health care system in America has finally exploded in the African American community. 

One of the most accessible tools to help begin remedying this crisis is universal health care. Research has shown that people with subpar insurance coverage––high deductibles and high premiums––are less likely to visit doctors for routine checkups. Many are still using emergency rooms and urgent care instead of having a primary care physician. Universal health care takes away the fear of exorbitant cost for needed checkups and medical procedures. It would allow the working poor to have the same medical access as middle class Americans. 

Universal health care also restores human dignity by affirming the basic intrinsic worth of all Americans. As long as America has a caste system in its health care access and delivery, certain populations (i.e. Black Indiginous People of Color) will continue to receive poorer medical care and services. I recognize that universal health care will not erase centuries of systemic racism and prejudice, but it does send a powerful message of human value, human  worth. As the message of human value becomes more ingrained in the American conversation and American psyche, I believe it will have the effect of elevating all people and moving us closer to a more just and equitable society. 

COVID-19 has reminded us of the festering wound of inequality in America. It has also reminded us that we can move closer towards healing this wound with promised, accessible universal health care. There is no silver bullet, no panacea that will remedy all the social ills and inequities in our country. There is no one thing that will erase or even completely reverse centuries of racism, inequality, and ingrained prejudice, but universal health care is one way to assist in bending the arc of the moral universe toward justice. Universal health care will not be a cure for COVID-19, but it can be one of the sorely needed treatments for America’s other pandemic. Let’s move towards universal health care.

Denver resident Robert Davis, MDiv, DMin is a family life specialist with more than 20 years as a senior pastor, family life counselor, hospice coordinator, and bereavement counselor. He serves in the Denver community as a criminal justice reform advocate, as Vice-President At-large for the Denver Ministerial Alliance, and on the Board of Directors of the Colorado Foundation for Universal Health Care.

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