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Al Gore, The Health Care President? Not for Black America

Have you ever wondered why Al Gore places so much emphasis on a prescription drug benefit for senior citizens? Especially since 40 million Americans, including 11 million children, are not covered by health insurance while all senior citizens are covered through the Medicare program, regardless of their income. Even millionaire senior citizens qualify for Medicare coverage, not to mention that they still are eligible to collect Social Security. It doesn't seem to add up that people with health insurance get more attention for a missing piece of their plan - prescription drugs, while an even greater number have no insurance at all and get less attention and even less funding from Al Gore.

That is until you factor in the reality that Gore is trying to win the vote of senior citizens. So Gore, at every turn, proudly champions a prescription drug benefit that is said to cost $250 billion dollars while at the same he offers only $42 billion in increased spending to provide health insurance for children without coverage. And this $42 billion will only cover 1 million of the 11 million children without health insurance. Gore announced the children's healthcare initiative while on the campaign trail last week.

The problem with the initiative is that it seeks to expand coverage for children through the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a program that simply has not worked according to the promises of the Clinton administration. The CHIPs program as it is commonly known, is a $24 billion, 5-year effort to provide government health insurance to children who live in families that don't qualify for Medicaid coverage but who make less than 200% of the poverty level.

The Clinton administration said the program would insure 5 million children by the end of this year but it has failed in this regard. Only 2.6 million will be enrolled by September. And while Gore blames Gov. Bush for the children in Texas that are uninsured, and the failure of Texas to take advantage of the program, he fails to mention that there are several other states that have been unable to access the insurance program but through no fault of their own. Rather, red tape and delays made by the Clinton administration are responsible for much of the problem.

And so the question begs to be asked: If Clinton-Gore couldn't insure children under the SCHIPS program as it is, with $24 billion, why pour $42 billion more dollars into the program until the problems are corrected?

But, you can only ask that question if you believe that Gore's motivation is pure. That would cause one to overlook the obvious: the motive for increasing the funding is to have an election-year program, no matter how bad it is, to show voters who are concerned about this important issue. It certainly is not to solve the healthcare crisis among America's children.

In this same spirit, Gore and the Democrats (right in the platform) speak about Medicaid expansion. They want to qualify more people for the health insurance program for the poor. Sounds good right? Well, it would if we knew that Gore had been vocal about getting those who already qualified for Medicaid to access the program. Medicaid isn't insuring the people who qualify for it now yet Gore, true to election-year form, wants to expand those who qualify.

More than 1/3 of low-income families don't enroll in Medicaid because they believe that they will have to answer unfair and intrusive questions. It was recently reported that among patients who had applied for Medicaid over the last 2 years, 55% were asked about how they handle their money, 16% were asked about their sex life, 48% were asked about drug and alcohol abuse and 77% were asked about the paternity of their children. 69% of people felt that they were not respected in the program.

Then others were discouraged by the complex nature and length of the Medicaid application and didn't know if they were eligible for the program. Rather than working to bring these people who already eligible for the program into it, Gore seeks to win more votes by expanding the program.

Next, by now, everyone has heard how Gore takes on "the big oil polluters" and will continue this fight. But what Al Gore fails to mention is that he hasn't taken them on when poor inner-city children have been involved.

The federal General Accounting office (GAO) has just concluded that at least 700,000 children covered by Medicaid are at a significant risk for lead poisoning and that "despite federal policies, most children in or targeted by federal health programs have not been screened" for lead poisoning. Black children suffer the most from these problems. Just look at how many inner city children have asthma because of pollution, poor ventilation and poisons in housing projects.

And what has Gore done to change federal environmental laws that exempt chemical and pesticide producers from having to prove the safety of their products before they sell them to Americans? Not much.

And where has Al Gore been when it comes to the horrible food inspection procedures of the U.S. government? The GAO estimates that as many as 81 million cases of food-borne illness occur every year and that 9,000 people die from such illnesses. And the medical bills alone, from these illnesses total $22 billion.

If Gore is so interested in taking on the big "special interests" as he says, he could start with the meat industry which successfully lobbies Congress and the White house every year to ignore unsafe practices and procedures in their industry that endanger the health of every American every time they eat out.

And while Gore portrays himself as "taking on the big pharmaceutical companies" he has done next-to-nothing to take on the FDA which regulates the "big pharmaceutical companies". With each passing year drug manufacturers gain wider latitude to make false claims about the quality and safety of their products. Many Americans don't even realize that many of the drugs given to them by their doctors have never even been approved by the FDA for such usage.

Gore doesn't have to look any further than his own government if he really wants to wage war against the "big pharmaceutical companies". The U.S. Government is the biggest enabler for the real damage these companies perform - much more than the excessive prices they charge, which the vice-president would like for us to focus on.

And then we have the "mental health crisis" which Gore has now discovered through the courageous battle his wife, Tipper has waged against depression. We don't doubt Gore's interest in the issue but we do question his use of it politically and how it is shamelessly aimed at white suburban soccer moms when health professionals will tell you that the problem is spreading most rapidly in the Black Community.

In the last 15 years the Black suicide rate has doubled and we have only learned this through the efforts of a Black U.S. Surgeon General, David Satcher and not through the efforts of Al Gore. If it is up to Al Gore and his advisers the issue will not be aimed at those who are affected most by the problem - Blacks, rather it will become an issue used to increase his standing among white woman voters.

And lastly, we have to mention the fact that Al Gore's Democratic platform speaks to the issue of teenage smoking but is absolutely silent on alcohol. Not a peep on the issue. Gore never mentions it in his speeches. Could it have to do with the fact that the alcohol industry gives so much money to the Democratic Party? While Gore takes a self-righteous attitude toward tobacco special interests, asking his party to reject contributions from the industry, he seems to have no problem with his party receiving buckets of cash from the alcohol industry.

In the last 10 years Seagram's has given the Democrats $2,673,983 and Anheuser-Busch Companies has given $1,102,764.

And which has done more damage in the Black community - alcohol or tobacco?

So maybe Al Gore is the Healthcare president… just not of Black America.

Cedric Muhammad

Monday, August 21, 2000

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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

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