Our nation cannot yet celebrate the freeing of slaves 150 years after Lincoln‘s Emancipation Proclamation because the plight of Black poverty, unemployment, health care, housing and a variety of social ills remain unaddressed.
But, President Obama is in a unique position to correct two of the greatest concerns of the Black community – limited life expectancy and extremely high infant mortality rates.
This can be achieved through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, which will go into full effect in 2014. It is overwhelming supported by the Black community.
In America today, Black life expectancy is 74.7, four years less than for Whites at 78.8. The disparity between Black males at 71.4 and Whites males at 76.4 is even wider. As a result, the average Black male will only be eligible for five years of Social Security benefits compared with 10 years for White males.
Similarly, when President Obama first took office, the infant mortality rate for Blacks was more than twice the rate for Whites and Latinos and almost three times greater than for Asian Americans.
This disparity is attributable to our pre-Obamacare lack of focus on pre-natal care and early childhood needs. A quarter or more of the three trillion dollar annual healthcare costs are expended on the last six months of life for those in their 80s and 90s.
Obamacare does not yet focus on Black life expectancy rate or infant mortality rates. Many Black church leaders, however, believe that there is hope, particularly in the context of President Obama‘s recent speech on the need to eradicate these differences. Preventive care services must come from the back burner to the forefront.
Under our ‘Church-led Plan to Enhance Obamacare,’ we aim to cut the Black infant mortality rate to 2 per 1,000, the same level as in Japan. Under Obamacare, we hope to raise Black life expectancy to the 84 years achieved in Japan today. These plans will commence on August 19 at our Orange County Interdenominational Alliance meeting with pastors from the minority community.
Our interdenominational alliance efforts, led by Black, Brown, and Asian pastors, will benefit all Americans. To ensure our success, we will seek insights from the Latino and Asian American pastoral communities. For many years, the Latino and Asian American life expectancy rates have been higher than for Whites and infant mortality rates lower than for Whites.
As in any national plan like Obamacare, there are omissions that could be corrected. The first is the need to effectively reach out to the most underserved communities in a culturally sensitive fashion. A second omission, so far, is the absence of a specific set of targets and goals.
A third, and most important, omission is the absence of a specific allocation of our three trillion dollar annual healthcare budget to decrease infant mortality, enhance healthcare for mothers and young children, and aid vulnerable senior citizens.
These objectives can be reached, along with greater public support for Obamacare, by allocating as little as two percent of our annual healthcare budget, or sixty billion dollars a year over the next five years to this effort.
As Dr. King stated when Black life expectancy was less than 64 years and the average Black did not live long enough to qualify for social security benefits, ‘We Shall Overcome.’
Mr. President, we have great confidence that you will implement Dr. King?s dream of full equality before your second term is over and help all Americans be a part of the middle class.
(The Rev. Mark Whitlock is the pastor of Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E. Church in Irvine and the Executive Director of the USC Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement.)