June 23, 2020

Fighting the Health Impacts of Racialized Capitalism During the COVID-19 Pandemic

by The DSA Medicare for All Steering Committee

The COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately killing communities of color. In Chicago, New York and other states, COVID-19 has been more deadly for Blacks and Latinos. In California, the same is true for Asian and Pacific Islanders. In the UK, 34% of 6770 critically ill COVD-19 patients were from ethnic/racial minority groups. 

Socio-economic and environmental factors, along with co-morbidities rooted in the for-profit healthcare system, account for the disproportionate deaths from COVID-19 among people of color. That the professional class is mostly white and living in suburbs and wealthier urban enclaves explains their relatively lower rate of infection and death from the novel coronavirus. 

The structural characteristics of capitalism, and especially its current form of finance capitalism that further devalues wage labor in favor of huge rewards to speculative investment and monopoly rents are responsible for: 

  1. Environmental racism that place pollution sources in these communities and create toxic vectors for worsening disease from the coronavirus; 
  2. Black and Latino workers concentrated in “essential” jobs, rather than being able to work from home, or exposed to the health effects of unemployment from hospitality sector wage and gig jobs that closed down; 
  3. Mass incarceration in jails (without the cash for bail) and in petri dish prisons mostly for drug and property crimes; 
  4. Concentration of workers of color in dense urban neighborhoods, relying on mass transit, in crowded apartments because of high rents; 
  5. Disproportionate chronic diseases including diabetes, due to fewer doctors and clinics and closed hospitals in urban and low-income areas because the corporate consolidation of healthcare facilities renders those areas “unprofitable;” 
  6. Reliance on underfunded public health plans like Medicaid, and on employment-based insurance that creates better tiers of health coverage for high paid workers and the wealthy; 
  7. Lack of decent food heightening the risk of obesity as corporate grocery stores chains don’t believe these neighborhoods are sufficiently profitable; 
  8. Redlining by banks that refuse to lend to small businesses, especially Black-owned in urban and rural areas. 

We must create a system of guaranteed healthcare during the pandemic, which covers everyone for out of pocket expenses and all costs for the uninsured, through adoption of the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act, and for the long-term through improved Medicare for All. Only by eliminating profit from healthcare will we ensure healthcare providers and facilities exist in communities of color. Only through a publicly financed and administered system will we be able to prioritize public health, early intervention and prevention, and provide free vaccines. Only if we break the link between employment and health insurance, and eliminate all costs at the point of service, covering all residents regardless of immigration status with comprehensive benefits, can we equitably provide healthcare to all. 

Medicare for All provides the model for a society based on solidarity and caregiving, which re-directs resources and establishes healthcare and housing as public goods. Food insecurity, environmental racism, mass incarceration and police violence, and the violence of mass detention of immigrants, must be addressed as a public health crisis. We must create a culturally competent healthcare system that listens to and honors the experience of Black and brown patients, which can overcome the legacy of atrocities like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment (the clinical study) and high Black maternal morbidity.

Achieving Medicare for All can lay the foundation and create a system to do that. We urge Congress to pass the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act as the first step. 

The DSA Medicare for All campaign is working with chapters to develop campaigns that position Medicare for All as the policy tool to address racial health disparities. We are encouraging and empowering chapters in articulating a demand, identifying a target, power mapping the terrain, and building a coalition. Such campaigns could include: 

  • Collaborating with the Social Medicine Consortium’s Campaign Against Racism in pushing cities to declare racism a public health crisis and articulating M4A as a tool for addressing this crisis and preparing us for the next crisis.
  • Pressuring electeds to issue public statements articulating their support for M4A as a tool for addressing racial health disparities.
  • Collaborating with DSA Health Workers Collective to host combination teach-ins/phone banks about racial capitalism, COVID-19, and the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act.
  • The ‘positive vision’ arm of a municipal anti-austerity campaign, centering aligned demands to defund the police and invest in community health care.

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