Health care justice will require economic justice

Rising levels of unemployment mean a loss of health insurance coverage, which is now the case for 18% of Americans.

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A sign held up at a Health Care Justice demonstration in the Douglas Park in Chicago on June 27, 2020.

Nam Y. Huh/AP Photos

In the past three months, more than at any previous time in my 28 years as a physician, the medical community has tackled its own implicit and explicit racism. Issues such as biased laboratory norms, historic racial injustice in the field and preconceived notions about non-whites are being widely debated. The catalyst, obviously, has been Black victims of police violence and the disproportionate effect of COVID19 on minorities.

One question, nevertheless, nags at me. Can we discuss racial justice separately from economic justice?

According to the Economic Policy Institute, rising rates of unemployment during the pandemic have hurt Black Americans more than any other group. This is a health equity problem because, as the Kaiser Family Foundation reports, 49% of people receive health insurance through their work. Unemployment means a loss of health insurance coverage, which is now the case for 18% of Americans.

If the Affordable Care Act is overturned, 23 million more Americans will be without insurance during one of the worst pandemics in modern times. And this, too, according to the Kaiser Foundation, will disproportionately harm African Americans.

We must fight racism in medicine; and I, for one, feel fortunate to be employed by an organization that is on the forefront of the struggle. I wonder, however, how much more effective we would be in eradicating prejudice and bias if we also worked more for healthcare equity and economic justice. 

This means advocacy for truly universal health insurance coverage, regardless of citizenship, employment, income, race or ethnicity. It means creating a system of health care that is about medicine, not profit, founded on the principle that health care is a basic human right. 

We should all struggle towards that.

Hrayr Attarian MD, Wicker Park

Carbon pricing key to cutting emissions

The Sun-Times’ Tuesday editorial pushing people to support bold climate change legislation brought a smile to my face. As the editorial argued, we need to start cutting carbon emissions now because otherwise this problem only grows.

While there are many great ideas in the House Democrats’ climate change proposal, one vital piece of the solution is largely sidelined: carbon pricing. This seems strange given that many climate groups and scientists — not to mention the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report for the Paris Agreement signatories — have all recommended carbon pricing as an efficient way to reduce carbon emissions. Even a study commissioned by the House Democrats themselves shows that their current proposals would fall short of their stated goals on reducing emissions.

Fortunately, there’s a bipartisan carbon pricing bill in the House right now, with 81 cosponsors, that would fill this gap. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act proposes putting a fee on carbon at the point of extraction and returning those funds monthly to American households, like a regular stimulus check but paid for by companies that extract fossil fuels.

The carbon fee part of the legislation would incentivize energy companies to move towards renewable energy sources, and the dividend portion would return the revenue to American households in such a way that roughly 60 percent would get back more money in carbon dividends than they paid in increased energy costs.

As Chicagoans push Congress to enact climate change legislation, we should make sure our representatives know that carbon pricing must be part of the solution.

Alex Marianyi, volunteer with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Avondale

Visit a public school, Secretary DeVos

Marie Antoinette, aka Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, wants children back in school this fall. The president says he will pressure governors to reopen schools. 

We all want a safe environment so children can return to school. But DeVos and the president’s “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” approach puts the lives of students, teachers, staff and administrators in jeopardy. DeVos and Donald Trump must get out of their ivory towers. They need to schedule a field trip to an overcrowded underfunded public elementary school today. 

Mark Renz, Oak Lawn

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