By Carlis V. Williams, Southeast Regional Administrator
At the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made this statement: “Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane”.
When we take into account all the injustices taking place in America in the 1960’s – in education, employment, housing and legal rights - I think it extremely noteworthy that Dr. King described disparities in health care as “the most shocking and inhumane”. But think about it. Health is fundamental to everything else!
Without good health and the availability and affordability of the care needed to maintain good health, it is very difficult to enjoy freedom and equality in other spheres such as education and employment.
Many of the terrible health disparities identified by Dr. King still exist today. These health disparities that so disproportionately affect minorities represent a huge hole in Dr. King’s Dream for equality in America. For this reason, as we celebrate Black History month during February of this year, I believe we must recognize the tremendous historical and civil rights significance of this very special time in history.
We stand on the threshold of the greatest opportunity since the 1960’s to take the cause of Civil Rights to the next level here in America. And just exactly what is this great opportunity? The Answer: The Affordable Care Act (ACA), which puts in place health care reform’s promise to reduce and eliminate health care disparities in America.
This is the next great campaign for the health and human services community in America. We need all public and private health and human services agencies and stakeholders to join in a campaign to make the tremendous benefits of the ACA a reality in the lives of our most disadvantaged citizens. You see, it is not enough to pass the laws and put in place the regulations for health care reform. We must connect the people to this opportunity. We must become the great communicators of health care reform. We need to network with other public and private agencies as well as faith and community-based organizations to develop strategies for connecting disadvantaged people to the new health care opportunities that will become available through the ACA between now and 2014 when we expect the roll out to be complete.
We especially need to focus on low-income Americans and racial and ethnic minorities who continue to experience disproportionately higher rates of disease, fewer treatment options, and reduced access to care. It is vital to make health care affordable, protect a patient's choice of doctors, hospitals, and insurance plans; invest in prevention and wellness; and assure quality, affordable health care for all Americans. This is a health care imperative. This will also continue to be a civil rights and health and human service imperative as long as racial and ethnic minorities continue to suffer higher rates of debilitating disease such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, and AIDS, as well as serious disparities in rates of insurance coverage and access to health care.
The heroic efforts of Dr. King and the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement succeeded in confronting and bringing down the injustices of their day. But this is our day! In identifying the inequalities and injustices in health care as shocking and inhumane, Dr. King is passing down to our generation the torch of health care reform – the torch of a rededication to the health, human services and civil rights ideals of excellence and equality of services for all Americans.
Let us honor Dr. King’s memory and his legacy by boldly taking up his torch and moving forward together to eliminate the shocking and inhumane health disparities of our time. I look forward to standing with each of you, our health and human service partners and stakeholders, as we move forward into this battle to fully and effectively implement health care reform in America.
Carlis V. Williams serves as the Southeast Regional Administrator, Region IV, Atlanta, Georgia. The Southeast Region includes 8 states: Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, North and South Carolina, Mississippi and Florida.