March 30, 2010
For Immediate Release
NAKASEC Reflections on the Passage of Major Health Reform Legislation
Hemi Kim, NAKASEC, 202. 339. 9318
Sohn Sik, KRCC, 773.588.9158
Dae Joong Yoon, KRC, 323. 937. 3718
On March 23, 2010 President Barack Obama signed a landmark health reform law HR 3590, the Patient Protection & Affordability Act, and followed-up with the first improvement to it today via HR 4872, the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 to overhaul America’s health care system.
The National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC) and its affiliates, the Korean American Resource & Cultural Center of Chicago and the Korean Resource Center of Los Angeles have been visible and vocal participants in the health reform debate for the past year. Our participation was a calling from the disproportionately high percentage of uninsured Korean Americans – more than other Asian American ethnic groups, and higher than other racial groups. Because of language barriers, the high rate of economic dependence on small business ownership, and immigration status, Korean Americans are well positioned to see the nexus of America’s health system in its failure to address the needs of ordinary working Americans.
It has certainly been a long and difficult journey. We began in the summer of 2008 with “America’s Future Starts with Healthy Children” campaign seeking the reauthorization and expansion of the State Childrens Health Insurance Program. Several thousand petitions along with high level and consistent legislative visits were punctuated with a successful art exhibit in Washington DC during the pinnacle of the fight. In 2009, President Obama signed the Childrens Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009, preserving coverage for millions of children, increasing health access for up to 4 million additional children and creating the renewed sense of hope for what could be achieved in the larger battle for comprehensive health reform.
While NAKASEC and affiliates publicly supported the policy provisions outlined by the larger healthcare movement, as an organization representing low income immigrant and communities of color, our interest and focus was on increasing immigrant access to health care and eliminating health disparities. Significant events towards this included Unity in Movement, a mobilization of about 300 people from 29 states on September 17, the publication of a survey of immigrant small businesses in Koreatown, Los Angeles which identified the critical need for a public option and immigrant access to health care, gathering over 7,300 petitions in two weeks in support of the inclusion of immigrants in health reform legislation, and the November 23rd health care rally in San Francisco with a parallel direct action at the office of the inflammatory Representative Joe Wilson.
Health reform was a driving priority for our organizations. As small as we are, we dedicated much of our resources and hope to ensuring access for all Americans.
A Victory that is Bittersweet
There is no denying the monumental nature of the new health reform law. It will provide health insurance coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans, it is designed to prevent people from being denied coverage due to preexisting conditions, significantly expand Medicaid for people who earn the least income, close the Medicare Part D donut hole for seniors, create options for individuals in each state to purchase affordable coverage, and provide tax breaks to small businesses that want to purchase health insurance for their workers. For this, we applaud all those who made it happen, from individual Americans and advocates to lawmakers and President Obama.
We also know that specific exclusionary policies were crafted to deny access to care for undocumented immigrants, to continue making low-income legal immigrants wait 5 years before being eligible for federally-funded Medicaid, and to put in place onerous verification requirements to apparently seal access against intrusion; contrary to the underlying theory of health insurance that more people sharing risk together would lower costs and improve health status. Similarly, with the new bill, it is women, not men who will find themselves on guard against policies in their states that create more excuses for health systems to deny care based on reproductive health organs that only exist in women’s bodies. Preventing federal funds to be used for reproductive health services is not gender neutral policy.
Health Care for All IS Good for America
From one community member, we are told: “It feels as if we embraced Americans as a whole for their healthcare needs, but Americans did not embrace us back.” We as progressives or health advocates need to step back and examine how American discourse failed to help significant pockets of communities in great need. Without directly bashing immigrants and people of color, certain groups were scapegoated in an attempt to undermine the larger health reform effort. Our soft hand was not enough to counter these attacks and establish immigrant and health equity into law.
In recent days, the destructive discourse and hate-filled nature of anti healthcare reformists is being exposed for what it is. We are reminded once again that no battle is ever about the issue itself but also about power. Claiming victim status and vulnerability, it was largely people who have health insurance who sought to keep more people from gaining coverage. It is truly a sad state of affairs when anti-health care reformists are all too willing to give large insurance companies undue credit while opposing reforms that would serve a wider public by providing working individuals and small businesses tax breaks and affordable premiums.
Political agitators of hate and narrow individualism missed an opportunity by neglecting to comprehend that including everyone is good for America. Our hope is that one day the anti-reformists will be on our side, calling on the President and Congress to do more to serve the general public, and to do less to weigh in on the side of corporations and laws that have historically harmed our communities.
With this mindset, we recognize the importance of the health reform bill’s passage into law. NAKASEC and our affiliates are committed to working to ensure that reforms are implemented in a way that does achieve the goal of providing quality affordable health care for as many Americans as possible. We will also press on to achieve universal health systems that will allow anyone to confidently seek medical care in America.