No, Sen. Cassidy, Louisiana’s Racial Disparities in Healthcare Aren’t Just a Distraction

In a recent press briefing, Governor John Bel Edwards shared that African Americans, who only make up 32% of Louisiana’s population, have accounted for 70% of the state’s deaths. He, along with other Louisiana leaders, has recognized this for the wake up call it should be. Yet when asked on NPR’s Morning Edition whether this is a result of systemic racism, Senator Bill Cassidy immediately rejected the idea as “rhetoric” and refused to acknowledge a need to address any underlying causes when pressed.

Senator Cassidy represents one of the largest black constituency by percentage in the Senate. As an African American native of Louisiana, I’m appalled by Cassidy’s sentiments. His position on the issue of healthcare disparities as a Senator are insensitive, irresponsible, and dangerous, and as his opponent, I know that we can do better for the people of Louisiana.

In the interview, Senator Cassidy attempted to hide from hard questions about racial disparities behind his medical degree, but this is not just a medical problem. Higher rates of preexisting health conditions may partly explain the higher death rates among African Americans, but this is also an economic problem, an educational problem and an environmental problem. By refusing to address the reasons why African Americans have higher rates of those conditions in the first place, Cassidy is failing his constituents.

Contrary to Cassidy’s assertion, the healthcare disparity is not just a distraction. It must be addressed as part of the solution to the current pandemic. Rather than spend his time victim blaming, Senator Cassidy should press the Trump administration to reopen enrollment for the ACA and lower the eligibility requirements so that more people can be added to the roles for Medicaid coverage. Cassidy could also encourage his Republican colleagues in the Senate to join their Democratic counterparts to create and pass a robust bipartisan health care bill that ensures that every American, regardless of their ability to pay, has healthcare coverage that covers preexisting conditions and significantly lowers or eliminates prescription drug costs so that a person’s race does not impact their access to healthcare.

Senator Cassidy could also recognize this for the wake up call that it is and get to work addressing the structural racism in our healthcare system, our schools, our criminal justice system, our environment and our economy that is at the root of these health disparities.

The spread and deaths from COVID-19 are preventable and reveal ugly truths about racial disparities in our state. Leaders like Governor Edwards, New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell and Representative Cedric Richmond who have addressed these realities head-on have shown us the leadership Louisiana needs. We deserve the same from our senior senator.

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