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Congressional Black Caucus Offers Diversity Boosting Obama Cabinet Suggestions

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By Zenitha Prince
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

(NNPA) Amid criticisms that President Obama’s new administration seems to be dominated by White men, the new chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus has offered some diversity-boosting suggestions.

In a letter sent to the White House, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) asked the president to consider Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) for the position of Secretary of Commerce and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to fill the post vacated by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis on Jan. 9.

“Both Melvin Watt and Barbara Lee have served the American people in the United States House of Representatives and the citizens of their respective Congressional districts with distinction… [and] are exceptionally well-qualified, proven candidates,” Fudge wrote in her letter.

Watt, a former CBC chairman, has served in Congress since 1993. As an attorney, he specialized in minority business development law and was a partner in several small enterprises.

Lee has served California’s 9th Congressional District since 1998. Also a former CBC chair, she has been a persistently progressive voice on Capitol Hill, advocating against the United States’ involvement in the Iraq War and championing issues such as labor and minority health.

“While I’m honored by my colleagues’ unsolicited recommendation, my focus remains the 13th Congressional District. If the President were to ask me to join his Cabinet, I would of course have to give that very serious consideration,” Lee told The San Francisco Chronicle.

Health Agencies Urge Better Gun Policies

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By Ayana Jones
Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune

(NNPA) In response to the recent carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., various health organizations are calling for intervention in reducing firearms-related deaths and injuries.

“Since 1996, ACP has proposed policies to reduce deaths and injuries related to firearms, even as we must also acknowledge today that we are not doing enough. Over the next weeks and months, ACP will review the research on the most effective approaches to reduce firearms-related injuries and deaths, and then from this review, offer our ideas for a multi-faceted, comprehensive approach,” Dr. David L. Bronson, president of the American College of Physicians said in a statement.

“But we know already that there are policies that can help and should be acted upon immediately. Congress should start by banning the sale of assault-type weapons and high capacity (ammunition) magazines that are designed to kill as many people as possible in the shortest possible time. Weapons like the semi-automatic rifle used to kill 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.”

Bronson called for the public health system to be strengthened.

“The public health system must be strengthened and adequately funded to provide access to treatment, as long as it is needed, to people with mental health and substance abuse problems. It is especially urgent that the system provide affordable and effective treatment options for persons who may be at greater risk of inflicting violence on themselves and others, even as we recognize that most persons with mental health and substance abuse problems pose no danger,” said Bronson.

“Government must not impose any restrictions on physicians being able to counsel their patients on reducing injuries and deaths from firearms in the home, as some state legislatures have attempted to do.”

Dr. Rahn K. Bailey, president of the National Medical Association, expressed condolences on behalf of the organization of African American physicians and called for increased awareness and treatment of mental illness.

“There have been far too many senseless acts of domestic terrorism occurring in this country. After seeing the multiple images of sobbing schoolchildren, as well as distraught teachers and parents on the various news outlets this weekend, there is only one thing left to say; this has got to stop,” said Bailey, who is a psychiatrist.

Bailey noted that there is a need for acute psychiatric intervention for the victim’s family, the children who survived and for others affected.

“There is an ever present need to increase our awareness, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. This is necessary for the individual, but also for our communities as we have unfortunately witnessed; undiagnosed and untreated mental illness may lead to tragedy for us all,” said Bailey.

Bailey noted that although signs of mental illness appear in adolescence and early adulthood; mental illnesses are usually diagnosed in young men in their late teens to mid-twenties, as opposed to women which are more often diagnosed in their late 20′s. These signs or symptoms are not limited to a particular race or group in our society and we must recognize that mental illness is a medical condition.

“The stigma associated with mental illness delays adequate diagnosis and care and can have devastating effects on the country,” Bailey said.

The American College of Emergency Physicians, a national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine, called on government at every level to increase investments in mental health resources and to ban the sale of assault weapons and high capacity-magazines.

“Emergency physicians see the tragic consequences of gun violence every day,” said Dr. Andy Sama, president of ACEP.

“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims and to everyone affected by this terrible event in Newtown. We deplore the improper use of firearms and support legislative action to decrease the threat to public safety resulting from the widespread availability of assault weapons. We also are urging policymakers to restore dedicated funding for firearms injury prevention research.”

CEP’s policy on firearm injury prevention endorses limiting the availability of firearms to those “whose ability to responsibly handle a weapon is assured.” It also calls for aggressive action to enforce current laws against illegal possession, purchase, sale or use of firearms.

“The nation’s emergency physicians call for increased funding for the development, evaluation and implementation of evidence-based programs and policies to reduce firearm related injury and death,” said Sama.

“We will fully support legislation that supports the principles of ACEP’s policy on firearms injury prevention.”

MSNBC Sees Viewership Gains in Black Audience

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By Zenitha Prince
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

(NNPA) MSNBC had a banner year in 2012, seeing a 20 percent increase in ratings overall. The boost was fueled, undoubtedly, by the 2012 presidential campaign, but there was another major factor: Black viewership.

The cable news channel announced that its already robust Black audience increased by 60.5 percent to 284,000 in 2012 from 177,000 in 2011, and now comprises 31.4 percent of their total audience.

Among Black viewers, MSNBC outshined its major competitors: CNN saw a 23.7 percent increase (to 162,000 in 2012 from 131,000 in 2011) while FOX News saw a 23.7 percent decrease (to 29,000 in 2012 from 38,000 in 2011).

“I think we made a commitment, we decided, that in order for this channel to succeed, that we had to reflect the country. This meant that we had to be part of the country in ways that the other channels weren’t,” MSNBC President Phil Griffin told Mediaite.com.

Black viewers were likely drawn by the channel’s progressive approach to current issues, but also by the “look” of the network. The array of diverse on-air talents includes hosts Tamron Hall, Touré, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Rev. Al Sharpton, and contributors such as Joy Reid, Goldie Taylor, Karen Finney, Prof. Michael Eric Dyson, former RNC Chairman Michael Steele, Eugene Robinson, and Jonathan Capehart.

”We have a diverse on-air group of people,” Griffin said, “because that matters, and people want to know that we reflect their world. And it’s not just a single show—it’s across the board. You look at the guests every hour and we make sure that we have women, African Americans, everything, and I think to spend a day watching MSNBC is to see America as we have seen it.”

That diversity was not calculated solely to increase numbers, Griffin added, but was a natural outgrowth of the channel’s core philosophies.

“It wasn’t like we said ‘Oh, we have to have a diverse person on here and there,’” he said. “We made a decision. We made a commitment in ideas, issues and everything – the audience followed, and that goes back to four or five years ago. As we grew, we recognized that it was the right thing to do. It’s giving a voice to people in these kinds of programs who don’t always get a voice. Our look is as diverse as any on mainstream TV. I’m incredibly proud of it.”

Homeownership Still on Fiscal Cliff

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Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

(NNPA) While President Barack Obama and the Congress remain engaged in a never ending battle over the nation’s fiscal matters, Americans continue to struggle with their own share of fiscal fracases. The discussion over whether to lift the nation’s debt ceiling or increase taxes on the wealthy, is only a distraction from the greater issue at hand – saving Americans from losing their homes and ending the country’s housing crisis.

Millions of Americans have lost their homes over the past decade while many more are currently living in fear of the inevitable. Despite programs that local and federal legislators, along with banking institutions, have implemented in order to assist homeowners stave off a foreclosure, most have proven to be ineffective and predictions suggest a slowdown in foreclosures but not necessarily a decrease in the numbers.

Within the past few months, rays of hope have shined over homeowners who were informed that banks would take a holiday from evicting people whose foreclosures may have occurred during the November and December holiday season. In addition, it was reported recently that 10 banks accused of providing deficient mortgage servicing and foreclosure practices agreed to pay $8.5 billion in cash payments and other assistance to nearly 3.8 million borrowers whose homes were in foreclosure in 2009 and 2010. Eligible borrowers are expected to receive compensation ranging from hundreds of dollars up to $125,000, depending on the type of possible servicer error.

It’s a good sign, but foreclosures remain at a high and consistent rate. The Center for Responsible Lending (CLR) estimates that 8.1 million homes will have fallen into foreclosure by 2013, but the organization also sees a positive future for homeownership. “Today we have an opportunity to return to a stable lending environment with rising homeownership, providing working families a path to greater economic security and prosperity,” according to the CLR.

But we’re at a crossroads. Policymakers face major decisions on new lending rules and the government’s role in supporting the mortgage market. A key question: How will these policies affect homeownership opportunities for lower- and middle-income families who bore the brunt of the recent crisis?

Neither President Obama, nor policymakers, should act as if the housing crisis has ended. The country’s road to recovery will only speed up when the focus is put on improving employment opportunities for lower- and middle-income families and their ability to purchase new homes or stay in their existing homes is secured and protected from predatory and unfair lenders.

Single Payer Health Care Essential to Reducing Healthcare Disparities

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By Andrea Parrott
Special to the NNPA from The Minneapolis Spokesman-Recorder

(NNPA) After daily witnessing situations in which patients suffered or had to make decisions detrimental to their health due to difficulties in accessing health care, Dr. Elizabeth Frost and Dr. Ann Settgast had enough. They felt they had to do something that would allow everyone to have health insurance and access to health care. The two decided to found the Minnesota chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP).

PNHP is a national nonprofit organization whose members advocate for single-payer health care. The idea of single-payer health care is that instead of people paying fees to a private health insurance company, they will pay one fund. Hospitals, doctors, and other health providers would then receive payment from that one fund.

Dr. Settgast explained single payer in this way: “Some people use an analogy of ‘Medicare of all’ as a synonym for single payer… It’s an example of a fund where everyone pays into the fund and then that fund pays for health care and private deliverers of health care. So Medicare is like a little micro single payer.”

We [AP] spoke with the doctors [EF and AS], asking them about the state of health care in Minnesota. The edited interview follows:

AP: What are some personal experiences that led you to advocate for a single payer health program?

AS: That’s a great question that could take me, like, 12 hours to answer. I’m a primary care doctor, so I take care of patients on a daily basis. Every single day I see reasons why we need single payer. A recent one would be a woman who I took care of — a Vietnamese woman in her early 60s who came in and I diagnosed her with rheumatoid arthritis, which is terrible. She had terrible swelling of her hand joints — really deforming joint disease.

She was a full-time employee of a company, and her husband worked full time as well. Got her to the rheumatologist. Got her on the right drugs. Her joints totally improved. Her pain was eliminated. She was fully functional. Everything was great.

And then, she just didn’t show up for, like, two or three years. One day she just shows up on my schedule… So I came into the room. She’s a tiny little woman, and from the door I could see her joint was like the size of a golf ball — like, hugely swollen. I said (I’ll just change her name), I said, “Lynn, what happened? Where have you been?”

Since I had seen her, she got laid off from her job and her husband died. And she was only 63 at the time that this happened… She didn’t have access to health care, so she just had to stop her drugs, stop seeing her rheumatologist, and her joints deteriorated… I didn’t realize [it], but she had turned 65, so she was back.

And it’s disgusting, because this woman’s hand is ruined and it’s totally preventable. We see this stuff every single day. And it’s inhumane and it’s disgusting as a physician when all you care about is taking care of sick people to see people not access care.

EF: [On] a daily basis there are stories… Yesterday I had a patient who stopped her birth control and now is pregnant. I also today had somebody who had psoriasis… They haven’t had it treated in almost a year now because they don’t have insurance…

Again, again and again you’re looking at somebody and apologizing for our medical system: “That’s really unfair. I’m sorry that happened to you.” You can’t just keep doing that again and again. You have to find some other outlet to feel like you’re making a difference on a larger level.

AP: What do you see as the main healthcare policy issues in Minnesota?

AS: We are leading the nation in the number of individuals with high-deductible health insurance plans. The idea is that this would somehow promote personal responsibility — you have a high deductible, so you’re not going to go to the doctor unless you really need to, because you’re going to be spending your own money.

But what that says is that you’re relying on people who aren’t doctors to decide whether they need medical care or not. [This] is problematic right there. That’s our job, to say, “No, this is not something serious, you’re OK.” People shouldn’t be relied on to do that at home.

But then the other issue that we know [is that] there is actually good data showing that the higher your deductible, the less care you receive. And there’s no way to know that that care isn’t needed. You’re much more likely to see conditions being under-managed or undiagnosed. People just aren’t going to the office when they’re sick…

EF: I think a big, huge policy thing that’s really going on in Minnesota right now, of course, is the exchanges and figuring out how to set up the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act — that’s huge. That’s going to take up a lot of energy in the next year or two, but I don’t know how much it’s really going to solve the problem.

AS: It’s not going to solve it, because all you’re doing is adding this level of administrative complexity where now people can go shopping in this exchange to get their private health insurance. It might help some people to get some policy, but it’s not designing the system so that it will work. It’s adding more complexity to an already chaotic system…

You still have these huge billing departments having to bill multiple payers, and you’re still having insurance companies take all this money off the top…for functions that have nothing to do with health care. There’s still a huge amount of waste still in the system, and we haven’t done anything to change that.

AP: What are some of the main health policy issues that you see facing the nation?

EF: I think Minnesota is a little bit ahead of the rest of the nation in the area that we’re talking about… Like, we already offer Medicaid to adults without children.

AS: Our Medicaid eligibility rules are much better here… I have a brother in Indiana… If he was here, he would qualify for coverage…

EF: We’re talking a lot about how health care is paid for when we do single payer… I think Minnesota has some of the largest healthcare disparities. I know that education is the worst in the nation in terms of disparities… I don’t know how we compare to other states in terms of health care, but I have a feeling it’s not very good. One of the things that really distresses me a lot is especially the Native Americans have terrible, terrible healthcare statistics… It’s really, really sad, and that’s a population I work with a lot.

AS: The problems in the nation are the same as the problems here: uninsurance, underinsurance, people not having access to care. That’s in all of the states.

EF: Of course, the biggest problem is the insurance industry… It’s not like the politicians are in charge and they’re guiding the system, No, they need to figure out what the [insurance] industry might accept and then work within those boundaries… Our politicians are controlled pretty much by the industry…

The evidence for a single-payer system is so ridiculously strong, it’s really amazing that we weren’t able to do more with the Affordable Care Act. It’s really quite astounding that the Affordable Care Act is such a big deal and it does so little…

One of the things that was not allowed to be on the table, was not allowed to be discussed at all, was the idea that the government would purchase drugs for our elderly… Now there’s like a gazillon Medicare Part D plans. Each one of those little plans doesn’t have the purchasing power to drive down the price of drugs.

AS: We see the patients who don’t take their medicines, or they take them every other day because they have to make them last.

AP: What are some of the main challenges to making changes in health policy?

AS: The health insurers. Because if you look at the polling data, the public supports single payer, physicians support single payer… We know you can cover everyone for less cost and give everyone high-quality coverage.

What happens in the U.S. is [that], if I’m the doctor and I see 20 patients in a day and I diagnose them all with the same thing — let’s say they all have diabetes or uncontrolled sugar — every patient, depending on their payer, may pay my clinic a different fee because all the payers, the insurance companies, are negotiating with the all the clinics separately…

So it’s hugely complicated, which is part of the cost, all these contract negotiations, because everybody gets a different deal, and so every patient pays differently… It’s so unequal. And then, if you’re uninsured and you come in, you have a totally different cost than what the insurance pays in the next room.

AP: What progress do you see in addressing health disparities in Minnesota?

AS: I personally think it’s crazy to try and address health disparities without having a system that covers everyone. I mean, how can you really expect to decrease disparities if you have whole portions of the population that don’t have any access to the system? You can’t do things on a population level if you’re leaving 10 percent of the people out…

I mean, obviously having a single payer doesn’t eliminate all healthcare disparities, because a lot of healthcare disparities aren’t necessarily [related to] access to the system, but it’s the first step… I mean, how are they going to stand on equal footing in terms of their diabetes control or their hypertension control if they don’t have a doctor because they don’t have health insurance?

EF: I think it’s important to differentiate between health disparities and healthcare disparities, because health disparities are, a lot of them, socially determined. So if you don’t have a grocery store in the area…that will make it a lot harder to eat well… So I think separating those two things is important.

But in terms of access to health care, I see again and again and again…somebody gets out of Medicaid and gets a job and loses their insurance so they can’t see you anymore. So once you get back…on your feet, you get back into the system, you can’t treat those diseases that you’ve been treating…

So it’s that inequality in the healthcare system, the injustice in the healthcare system, is what makes me so angry, and it’s because I see it every day.

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BVN National News Wire