Racism and Health Care

(Originally published on AdoptionBlogs.com, Transracial/Transcultural Adoption, October 27th, 2009)

I’ve been following the health care reform bills, though I can’t say I’m keeping track of the minute-to-minute changes. Personally, I support a strong public option that ensures that all Americans have access to good health care. What does this have to do with transracial adoption?

My son’s birthmother, S, has a son whom she parents. “Iggy” is 5 years old. Just before his third birthday, Iggy experienced at least two unexplained seizures. When S brought him to the emergency room on a Friday, she was told that they “didn’t do MRIs on the weekends” and to bring Iggy back on Monday. On Sunday, Iggy had an 8 minute long seizure. He lost his eye sight, though it is, thankfully, returning. More troubling is that he experienced permanent brain damage. Developmentally, he’s about 18 months old.

I often wonder what would have happened if S and Iggy were white. I wonder what kind of care they might have received if they had more choices available to them when they went to that ER. I wonder what might have happened if that hospital had been more concerned with Iggy’s health than with the money they might lose on one MRI.

Washington Post article from 2005 summarizes what I’ve often thought, “Black Americans still get far fewer operations, tests, medications and other life-saving treatments than whites”. The article goes on to state that “some care did improve for blacks when the government put pressure on health plans and doctors by requiring them to report whether they were meeting certain minimum standards.” The emphasis is mine.  First, why should our children and their biological parents only be treated when someone forces the issue? Second, why should they have to settle for the minimum?

In Institutional Racism in the US Health Care System, we learn that “A disproportionate number of racial minorities have no insurance, are unemployed, are employed in jobs that do not provide health care insurance, disqualify for government assistance programs, or fail to participate because of administrative barriers.”

In the 2008 documentary, Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?, the filmmakers find that HIV is steadily increasing in the Black community, while it is leveling off in the White community.

Female minorities have the most difficult time obtaining good health care. Sexism and racism overlap. The Black community in the US experiences a higher rate of infant mortality and higher premature birth rates, even when socioeconomic status is taken into account. I’ve read the argument that “some people” just don’t know how to take care of themselves. This is thinly veiled racism at its best.

If you’ve ever been to a grocery store that has an organic section, you’ve likely noticed that the organic food is more expensive than the non-organic. You may also have noticed that the food that is the worst for you – candy, chips, soda, etc. – is far cheaper than food that is good for you. There are numerous reasons for this, which I don’t have the space to go into here. The bottom line is, it’s cheaper to feed a family of four Hamburger Helper than sauteed free-range, hormone-free chicken breasts with a spring salad.

There is racism in the health care system. It has been studied and quantified. Black people and other ethnic minorities are dying because of disparities in care. I think it’s important to realize this, as another way of fighting for our kids.