Republican Platform Takes Liberties With Blacks On Health Issues

Those who think that the Republican Party's effort to appear interested in issues that affect the Black Electorate was limited to the party's convention had better take a look at the Republican Party platform. On the section that deals with healthcare, the Republican Party platform raises "minority" health issues several times and in each case positions the Republican Party as a leader and faithful advocate on such issues. However, the very recent record shows the platform's claims are dubious and disingenuous.

In the section of the platform "Retirement Security and Quality Health Care: Our Pledge to America", there are a couple of subsections where the Republicans attempt to position themselves as leading advocates on health issues of concern to Blacks. In the subsection entitled, "Improving The Quality of Healthcare For All" they begin to connect themselves to minority health causes by stating the following: "The enormous increases in the NIH budget brought about by Republican Congress will make possible aggressive new research and clinical trials into diseases and health issues that disproportionately affect women as well as into conditions that affect the elderly, the majority of whom are women. And we are leading efforts to reach out to underserved and minority female populations, where disparities persist in life expectancy, infant mortality and death rates from cancer, heart disease, and diabetes"

The last sentence is simply not true. Republicans in the U.S. Congress are not leading efforts to deal with disparities in life expectancy, infant mortality and death rates from cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Many of them won't even listen to these issues when approached by those who are concerned about them. In 1999 the NIH conducted one of the few studies on how cancer disproportionately affects "minority and medically underserved" communities, and the report, which has been distributed to members of Congress, has fallen on deaf ears, with the exception of several Democratic members of congress, including the Congressional Black Caucus.

Then, only a few hundred words later in the Republican Party Platform a leading role is claimed again by the party. They write, "Recognizing the critical importance of research, the Republican Congress, rejecting the administration's lower figures, has already begun to fulfill its pledge to double funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This is one of the few areas in which government investment yields tangible results; and those benefits can be greatest for currently underserved and minority populations, in which disparities persist in life expectancy, infant mortality, as well as death rates from heart disease, diabetes, and cancer."

Again, the Republicans pick up the refrain of their leading role with the NIH, in terms of funding, but what they do not mention about the Republican Congress and minority health issues is that there has been a bill brought before Congress H.R. 3250 "The Healthcare Fairness Act" sponsored by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Ms) that addresses the issues referred to in the Republican platform yet, Republicans have not been supportive of the bills movement through Congress and they certainly have not lead the effort. The bill will provide for ethnic minority health research, curriculum development for cultural competency training to health professionals, loan forgiveness to ethnic minority scientists conducting health research on ethnic minority populations and would elevate the Office of Minority Health at NIH to Center status.

It is interesting that for all of the talk about the Republican Congress dealing with minority health issues through the NIH that so few have been supportive of HR 3250 which deals specifically with the NIH.

The bill would deal with all of the issues that the Republicans claim to be concerned with in their platform. It would deal with research into the diseases that Blacks and other ethnic groups suffer from disproportionately. It would close the enormous gap between Black and minority patients and Black and minority healthcare professionals. There is a serious lack of doctors and nurses coming from the communities that suffer the most. A problem that despite the claims of the Republican Party platform, Republicans have done little to address.

Interestingly, Rep. J.C. Watts the Black Republican Congressman from Oklahoma has been very supportive of efforts to address minority health disparity issues yet has not been joined in any significant manner by his Republican colleagues. And Gov. Bush has been silent on the issue though he claims to be informally advised by Rep. Watts on community development issues pertaining to distressed urban and rural areas.

If the Republicans expect Blacks and others to take their new talk of diversity seriously, they will have to put actions behind their words. And they also will have to tell the truth. Putting noble platitudes into the Republican Party platform about good intentions toward "minorities" is one thing. But lying about your actions in relation to those platitudes is another. The Republicans are being dishonest about their commitment to health issues in the Black community. And a community that is dying has no time for lip service and lies.

Cedric Muhammad

Monday, August 7, 2000