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Republicans Pledge to Cripple Health Care for African Americans

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By Lesley Russell, Special to the NNPA from the Insight News –

House Republicans’ “Pledge to America” contains one particularly specific public policy proposal worth worrying about - the pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act of 2009. This comprehensive health reform law, designed to fix our broken health care system over the coming decade, in particular provides a unique opportunity to address the health care disparities that African Americans experience from birth to death in the form of higher infant mortality, higher rates of disease and disability, and a shortened life expectancy.

The "Pledge to America" would replace health care reform with a grab bag of isolated measures that mostly benefit those who already have health care coverage. These piecemeal measures will do nothing to address the hurdles such as lack of health insurance, lack of access to preventive care, and other barriers that black families face in getting access to the care they need. Let’s take a closer look at their pledge to understand just how devastating their proposals would be to Blacks.

The pledge will not improve access to health insurance coverage for African Americans. Twenty-one percent of African Americans, including 11.5 percent of children, were uninsured in 2009, the last year for which complete data is available. This represents an increase of 818,000 people without insurance over the figures for the previous year. What’s more, African Americans are the least likely to be able to afford insurance. Of all racial and ethnic groups in the United States, they are most likely to be poor, 26 percent live in poverty, and the median annual income of an African-American household is $17,000 less than that of the average American household.

Conservatives who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act have no plan to expand coverage to help those who cannot afford health insurance. They want to repeal Medicaid expansions, repeal financial help to small businesses struggling with the costs of employee coverage, and repeal the tax subsidies that will help working families purchase coverage through health insurance exchanges.

Their pledge does contain a claim that Republicans will make it illegal for an insurance company to deny coverage to someone with prior coverage on the basis of a preexisting condition, eliminate annual and lifetime spending caps, and prevent insurers from dropping your coverage just because you get sick. They never mention, however, that all of these protections are already enacted in the Affordable Care Act.

The pledge will not rein in the excesses of the health insurance industry to protect African Americans nor will their pledge rein in the excesses of the health insurance industry to protect African Americans - and indeed all Americans - from the excesses of the health insurance industry, which ACA will deal with effectively and fairly in the coming years. Specifically, conservative proposals do nothing to rein in the discriminatory practices and price-gouging behavior of the health insurance industry, such as those that recently saw one insurer, Anthem Blue Cross of California, attempt to increase premiums by 39 percent in the insurance marketplace for individual insurance policies.

What’s more, the pledge would do nothing to ensure that health insurance plans spend premium dollars on health care. In contrast, the Affordable Care Act requires that at least 80 percent of premium costs are returned in benefits. The pledge will not improve access to primary care for African Americans. More than a quarter of African Americans do not have a regular doctor, compared with only one-fifth of white Americans. Twenty-two percent of African Americans report having little or no choice in where to seek care, and many of these people end up in hospital emergency rooms. A primary care provider and a facility where a person receives regular care substantially improve the health of Americans with access to such care. The Affordable Care Act’s emphasis on primary care will particularly benefit people of color, especially those who live in areas that are currently medically underserved.

Conservatives have no plan to improve primary care or increase the primary care workforce. They want to repeal the provisions in the new law that will boost primary care capacity, establish more school-based clinics and more community health centers targeted to the needs of the communities they serve, and develop and expand the so-called medical home model for Medicare and Medicaid patients. Medical homes - health care settings that provide patients with timely, well-organized care and enhanced access to providers - are associated with a reduction in health care disparities for adults and better access to preventive services.

The pledge will not provide better preventive health services for African Americans. Chronic diseases, many of them preventable, place a high burden on African-American communities, where 48 percent of adults suffer from a chronic disease compared to 39 percent of the general population. Obesity is debilitating and is often a catalyst to chronic disease. Seven out of 10 African Americans ages 18 to 64 are obese or overweight. As a consequence they are twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as whites.

In addition, they are more likely to suffer complications from diabetes, such as end-stage renal disease and lower extremity amputations. African Americans experienced 29 percent higher death rates from cardiovascular disease than white adults, and 40 percent higher death rates from stroke. Their age-adjusted death rate for cancer is approximately 25 percent higher than for white Americans, primarily due to late diagnosis.

Black women are less likely to receive prenatal care in the first months of pregnancy and older African Americans are far less likely to receive pneumonia or flu shots. African Americans face the most severe burden of HIV in the United States.

Better access to prevention and early interventions would help keep the African-American population healthier throughout their lives. Yet conservatives would repeal the provisions in the Affordable Care Act that will enhance preventive care and remove the co-payments and deductibles for approved preventive services such as immunizations, screening for colorectal cancer and diabetes, and mammograms. Among the programs that Republicans want to repeal are demonstration projects to develop comprehensive models for reducing childhood obesity, and increased funding for a nurse home-visiting program to help improve the health and well-being of mothers and their children.

The pledge will not improve the lower health quality and health care disparities that African Americans experience. African Americans are less likely than white Americans to get timely access to care and good quality care, and may face some inherent biases within the health care system. Defining and measuring health care disparities is a prerequisite for understanding and addressing them.

If the Republicans repeal the new health care law, they will repeal requirements that federally funded programs collect and report data on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, health literacy, and primary language, using methodologies that will ensure health care disparities can be measured. They will also undo the provisions that establish the Office of Minority Health at the Department of Health and Human Services and a network of minority health offices located within HHS that elevate the Office of Minority Health at the National Institutes of Health directly into the Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Conclusion: The Affordable Care Act makes significant advances for African Americans’ health coverage, quality of care, and access to health care services. It represents an important milestone toward the ultimate goal of eradicating racial and ethnic disparities in health and health care in the United States. House Republicans’ "Pledge to America" represents a devastating rollback of much-needed changes to our nation’s health care system - a step backward that will ensure that African Americans continue to receive poorer care and live in poorer health than the rest of the nation.

Lesley Russell is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. To read more about the Center’s analysis of the Affordable Care Act go to the Health Care page of our website.

Flat Rock Walks the Walk to Preserve Slave Cemetery

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By Pureterrah Witcher, Special to the NNPA from The Champion –

A procession of more than 300 people ran, walked, and gathered in Lithonia recently to preserve a cemetery off Lyons Road–a place where more than 200 slaves rest.

Built in 1833, members of the Flat Rock archives and museum say the Flat Rock Slave Cemetery, nestled on a steep hillside in an affluent Lithonia subdivision, is missing a number of headstone markers, security equipment, protective gate lacks, and regular lawn maintenance.

“There are so many improvements we need to make to keep this place from being overtaken by the decay of time,” Johnny Waits said, president of the Flat Rock archives and museum, the organization that hosted the event.

“As the oldest Black town in DeKalb, the historical sites and records of Flat Rock are essential to preserving the county’s past,” Waits said of the cemetery located within the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area.

Walking through the three-acre cemetery, Waits went on to say the cemetery has been vandalized over the years, but was recently cleaned up by the Greater Atlanta Archeology Society, and mapped and studied by Georgia State University. Paperwork to get the cemetery designated as a national historic site is under review.

Helping to consecrate the cemetery for the first time, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-GA, spoke to the crowd gathered on Flat Rock Road on the sight of DeKalb ’s oldest Black church, which was torn down in 1971.

“Sometimes it takes stopping and looking back at our achievements to appreciate where we are,” Johnson said to the crowd.

“The future can look hopeless because we don’t take the time to look back, appreciate, and preserve our history. It’s amazing to see the names and dates on the graves,” he added.

Established in antebellum times, Flat Rock appeared on maps in the early 1800s, however, was removed after the Civil War, in 1868.

To pay homage to those buried in the cemetery, the full day of events included a visit by the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Company, the Atlanta Chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers, music from the Georgia Geechee Gullah Shouters, and hourly tours to the Lyon South River Plantation, where participants were able to tour slave quarters and learn about the community from historians.

“It’s great to be able to bring my family out here to see the cemetery - to experience the history and culture. We’ve never seen something like this,” Renee Wright of Lithonia said, who walked with her children in the 5K Benefit Walk.

“I hope this is continued. More people need to know all about this place,” Wright said.

A Reflective President Obama Looks to New Realities of Washington

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By Tony Best, Special to the NNPA from The New York Carib News –

A reflective U.S. President Barack Obama, chastened by the Democratic loss of their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives but buoyed by his party’s ability to hold the Senate has put job creation and accelerating the pace of economic growth at the top of his agenda for the next two years.

Accepting blame, not only for the loss of the House and his party’s reduced strength in the Senate but also for the defeat of at least nine governors across the country, Obama acknowledged that he hadn't done enough to change the culture and ways of doing business in Washington. However, he defended his Administration’s emphasis on health care reform, stimulating the economy and other signature measures, which he insisted were vital to stop the economic free-for-all he had inherited.

Speaking during an hour long news conference at the White House the day after the mid-term elections, the President said that he felt bad about the loss of so many prominent and dedicated public servants who were defeated in House, Senate, and gubernatorial races. But, he vowed to put more Americans back to work and to improve their earning and spending power.

Job creation is an important question for Republicans and Democrats, he told reporters.

The President seemingly took solace in the Democrats ability to retain the Senate by the narrowest of margins, especially the victory by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada, a feat which public opinion polls in the two weeks before Tuesday election had put in doubt. Obama vowed to work with both Republicans and Democrats to accelerate the pace of growth.

But the somber atmosphere at the crowded news conference at the White House didn’t extend to Albany in New York as Andrew Cuomo sailed to an overwhelming victory in the race for Governor to succeed David Paterson. The sweet taste of victory enjoyed by Cuomo, who defeated Conservative Republican candidate Carl Paladino by close to a two-to-one margin wasn't the only joyous note for Democrats in the Empire State. Eric Schneiderman handily thumped Dan Donovan, Staten Island District Attorney, to become State Attorney General and Thomas DiNapoli overcame a strong challenge from Republican Harry Wilson to remain State Comptroller.

While the Democrats cruised to an easy victory once again in the Assembly, they may have to wait several days to know if they are going to retain the majority in the State Senate. With the 59 seats declared so far evenly being divided, about three remain to be decided and that could make a difference between sweeping the Republicans or sharing power with them for the next two years.

In Massachusetts, Duval Patrick won a second term as Governor. Once again, New Yorkers voted once again to restrict members of the City Council, the Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate and Borough Presidents to two terms. In a referendum, most City voters said two terms was enough.

Newly-Elected Black Republicans – Where Will They Fit?

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By Zenitha Prince, Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspaper (DC) –

Election Day victories for two Black Republicans raise a rare question in the House of Representatives in the 112th Congress: How will two African American members of the Grand Old Party interact with the Congressional Black Caucus?

Fourteen Black Republicans ran for Congress in the Nov. 2 mid-term elections but, after all the votes were counted, only Tim Scott, a South Carolina businessman, and Allen West, a Florida-based Army veteran of the Iraq War, will take seats. They are the first African-American Republicans to be elected to Congress since 1995.

So far, West has said he wants to be part of the CBC, while Scott is still undecided and is leaning toward not participating.

“It’s really heartening to see this type of diversity demonstrated in African-American representation,” NAACP Washington Bureau Chief Hilary Shelton said. “[Republican Party Chairman] Michael Steele deserves credit for seeing more African-Americans seeking office under the Republican banner.”

He added, “They could be a real asset to the strategy of passing legislation in the House and in advancing the CBC [Congressional Black Caucus] agenda… It’s very difficult to get things through without the cooperation of Democrats and Republicans.”

Not everyone is as sure about the Republican freshmen’s value to the CBC, raising questions about whether Scott and West will choose to join—or even be welcomed—into the caucus, which was created in 1969 as a Capitol Hill advocate for the nation’s African Americans.

While membership is open to all African-American lawmakers, its members have been overwhelmingly Democrats, with only one Republican, Gary Franks of Connecticut, ever becoming a CBC member. Though invited, J.C. Watts, a Black Republican who represented Oklahoma from 1995 to 2003, declined membership. Sen. Edward Brooke, a Massachusetts Republican who served in the Senate from 1967 through 1979, was not publicly invited and refused to join a CBC boycott of President Richard Nixon’s State of the Union address in 1971 although he criticized the Nixon administration’s approach to the Black community and civil rights.

“The name of the group is not the Congressional Black Democratic Caucus, it’s the Black Caucus. [And] if they go back to their founding principles then these two men should be welcomed with open arms,” said Black Republican political strategist Raynard Jackson. But, he predicted, even if they were admitted, “this group will make a hostile environment for another Black [Republican] based on them not being compatible in their philosophical leaning.”

Echoing statements by CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee, D-Calif., in an Oct. 22 article in The Economist, Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards told the AFRO, “If they’re aligned with the interests of working people, particularly African-Americans, who struggle and they want to work with us to advance those interests," Scott and West would be welcomed into the caucus. But, she added, “What I know of them and their agendas, it is difficult for me to see how that would work [though] it might make for some interesting discussions.”

Backed by the national Tea Party and elected to office by mostly White voters, Scott and West have decidedly conservative agendas, including limited government, lowered taxes, and cuts in government spending. Jackson said that, even among GOP ranks, the men are considered to be far, far right of center, making them almost incompatible with the mostly liberal members of the CBC.

“These boys are crazy; they’re Tea Party people,” Jackson told the AFRO. “I’ve had White people calling me up saying these guys are extremely conservative and so far out of the mainstream. Can you see them talking with Maxine Waters? I’d like to be a fly on the wall.”

But, he added, “If I were them, I’d join just to push the issue.”

West, in a Politico interview, indicated his interest in joining the CBC. “That has been a monolithic voice in the body politic for far too long. There is a growing conservative Black voice in this country,” that needs to be heard, West told the publication.

Scott, on the other hand, told Politico he is less willing to join, pointing to his experience in the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus and the dissonance between him and Black Democrats.

Jackson suggested that the pair also have plenty of dissonance with more moderate Black Republicans.

Moderate Black Republicans are “more concerned with pleasing White people” and less committed to a “Black agenda,” Jackson said. That makes them a detriment to the GOP, rather than an asset, he added.

Though White Republicans are excited by these two additions to the House, saying their victories signal a potential increase in the number of Black conservatives, the new additions will not incite more Blacks to join the party “if they’re saying the same thing White conservatives are saying," Jackson said. "It’s not the messenger; it’s the message. You can’t send a Black to say the same things Pat Buchanan says."

“In a lot of ways,” Jackson added, “it would be better not to have these guys in these positions because it gives the White folks in the party a way out” of having to create real change, “especially if they [Scott and West] have no real power.”

Bush Talks About Kanye West's Katrina Comment

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By Dorothy Rowley, Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspapers (DC)–

Former President George W. Bush said in a recent NBC interview that the lowest point of his life was when rapper Kanye West made statements in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that painted Bush as a racist. West’s statement, from five years ago, that “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people,” hit a sore spot with the then-president. During the televised interview in which Bush promoted his memoir, “Decision Points,” set for release in November, he said he didn’t deserve to be labeled as a racist.

“I didn’t appreciate it then. I don’t appreciate it now,” Bush told reporter Matt Lauer. “It’s one thing to say, ‘I don’t appreciate the way he’s handled his business.’ It’s another thing to say, ‘This man’s a racist.’ I resent it, it’s not true and it was one of the most disgusting moments in my presidency.”

Responding to Bush’s comments, West said he definitely understood what it was like to be accused of being a racist “because the same thing happened to me.” West was referring to criticism he garnered during a segment of the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards where he took the microphone from Taylor Swift, who had just won the award for best female video. West, apparently believing that Beyonce should have won, shouted that the hit-making Black singer had been robbed.

“With both situations, it was basically a lack of compassion that America saw,” West reportedly said in a recent interview with a hip-hop radio station in Houston. “With him (Bush), it was a lack of compassion with him not rushing, him not taking the time to rush down to New Orleans,” West continued. “With me, it was lack of compassion for cutting someone off in their moment. I think we’re all quick to pull the race card in America.”

Nevertheless, according to popular columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson, “The tragedy is that it took West’s racial dig at Bush over Katrina to shame him and the nation about the response” to the devastating hurricane.

In his book, Bush also sheds light on two of the most contentious times of his eight years as commander-in-chief: the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the country’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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