African Americans, who have the highest rates of chronic disease and make up the largest percentage of the uninsured, should be especially pleased that in the last few weeks, Congress has acted to bring us closer than ever to comprehensive health care legislation that will make health insurance accessible and affordable for all.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives unveiled its version of health care reform. Previously, the Senate announced it is nearing the introduction of its own bill. Both bills are designed to lower costs, and provide more security and stability for people who already have health insurance and to provide affordable insurance to those who don't. The House bill provides the best starting point. It covers more of the uninsured, and also includes measures to increase health care equity by expanding Medicaid eligibility, protecting Medicare, making new investments in community health centers and providing free preventive services.
The House bill also contains a public option provision that still needs to be improved. That is why the National Urban League along with the Congressional Black Caucus and the Black Leadership Forum, an alliance of more than 30 African American civil rights and service organizations, have joined forces to ensure that a final bill includes a Robust Public Option like Medicare. Access to an option for government-issued health care will provide competition for private health providers, lower costs and help to close the healthcare gap. We must be wary of imposing a mandate for health insurance without addressing the issue of affordability.
The House bill's public option would negotiate payment rates with health care providers. That's not good enough. We believe that only a robust public option like Medicare will actually expand accessibility and lower costs, not only for African Americans, but for all Americans. But, now that Congress has spoken, it is time for the American people to make their voices heard.
The Black Leadership Forum, which I chair, is encouraging citizens to flood Congress with visits, e-mails, telephone calls, faxes and social media, to make our point clear: No triggers. No opt out. We need a robust public option like Medicare.
To make your voice heard, call your Senate at 202-224-3121 or e-mail www.senate.gov. You can reach your Congressman in the House of Representatives by calling 202-225-3121 or e-mailing www.house.gov.
A recent Harvard study documents that more than 45,000 Americans die each year due to lack of health insurance. And while this is an issue affecting all Americans, it is especially critical for African Americans. More than 1 in 5 African Americans are without health insurance, we have the highest rates of chronic disease and we spend a higher percentage of our income on health care. Clearly, passage of comprehensive health care reform is not only an economic imperative; it is a moral imperative and a matter of life and death, especially for Black America. The National Urban League, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Black Leadership Forum are working hard for a Robust Public Option like Medicare and a final bill that is worthy of the American people. We are close, but we need your support to get to the finish line.
Marc Morial is the President and CEO of the National Urban League.