Our Constitution offers us “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’’ but we can’t pursue anything if we are unhealthy. Yet, health disparities in the United States are a fact of life.
African-American people have shorter lives than Whites for three reasons. One has to do with income and poverty. Poor people (and 27 percent of African-Americans are poor, compared to about 10 percent of whites) have less money and less access, often having to make a choice between medical treatment and food to eat, prescription drugs and rent.
The second barrier to health equality is proximity and access. In other words, African-Americans are more likely to be located a distance from hospitals.
There are fewer hospitals and clinics in the hood than in wealthier areas, and some preventative clinics (such as a diabetes clinic in Harlem) have been eliminated because of money.
Part of this year’s Presidential debate revolves around the issue of health care.
Mitt Romney, the architect of Massachusetts health care system, which resembles the Obama health plan, is now jogging (at least that’s healthy) away from himself, rejecting plans he once championed. Or is he? Recently, he said he would preserve some aspects of Obamacare, not others.
Fannie Lou Hamer, an international treasure, a tribute to audacity, a woman who endured a brutal beating because she exercised her right to register and vote, died at 60 from untreated breast cancer. This woman climbed every mountain, cleared every hurdle, stood down the biggest and the baddest, in the majority community and in her own.
Still, she did not have access to the health care that might have saved her life.
She could stare down the Democratic National Committee, but she could not stare down the breast cancer that killed her because she neither had the dollars or the access to treatment.
We don’t know what she might have done, but we know that she died too early.
That’s why I believe that health care is a civil right. If we have the right to a life with liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we have the right to be healthy enough to pursue happiness. The fight for the presidency is partly a fight for the pursuit of health and happiness. Which candidate supports the 47 percent in this fight?
Julianne Malveaux is an economist and author based in Washington, DC.