Come together over health care – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

COVID-19 cases are on the rise and it’s upsetting to see the rising number of hospitalizations in so many states. It’s even more upsetting that the White House told Governor Lee to mandate the wearing of masks to head off a likely surge in Tennessee. But it’s downright horrifying that the governor didn’t discuss this publicly. The White House message was only discovered through a records request. Did Governor Lee hope that by hiding it, no one would find out?  But we’re at a tell-all moment as the Supreme Court prepares to debate the Affordable Care Act. And there’s no hiding how the rush to affirm Trump’s Court nominee comes just in time to vote the ACA out of existence.

In these deeply divided times, we are angry and anxious. But the threat to our health and access to health care can actually bring us together. Chattanooga’s Black-Jewish Dialogue was revived this summer in a peace-making attempt after racism and anti-Semitism collided in well-publicized media statements. When the Dialogue decided to address Health, Healthcare, and Equity it demonstrated how it’s still possible to bring together a widely diverse group: religious leaders, artists, medical professionals, municipal administrators, nonprofit staff and board members, and educators.

So compelling is civil dialogue that it quickly expanded from the original few members of Chattanooga’s African American and Jewish communities. Peace makers and change makers joined from California to Washington D.C. and internationally from Hungary, Bermuda and India. The reach of the dialogue shows that civil discourse possible, especially on the topic of our health and health care in this COVID-19 era.

There’s no denying that at first glance, the healthcare issues of the two communities have little in common. The genetic issues of inherited from ancestors in Europe, mid-East, Africa and Russia remain common in close-knit Jewish communities.  The prevalence of breast and lung cancers is heart breaking, as I’ve experienced in my own family. And I’m hardly alone. Also, the genetic vulnerability to endocrine diseases such as diabetes is startling. And the aging demographics of the community only makes the situation more anxiety provoking.

The African-American community also has genetic issues. But while the concerns also revolved around cancer and diabetes, the focus was on other causes: the environmental and economic factors. The environment in some of the Black neighborhoods is toxic. A good example is the lead poisoning in Chattanooga’s Southside Superfund site.

Isolated physically and economically, some poorer neighborhoods are food deserts, perpetuating past urban segregation with corporate decisions and a lack of public transportation. If Sen. Todd Gardenhire lived there, he might lobby grocery store chains to build branches in these neighborhoods instead of complaining that inner city folks keep going to a 7-Eleven or a convenience store for that fried chicken.

Religious organizations do help, but can’t counteract threats to minimize Medicare coverage, limit insurance access, and not cover pre-existing conditions. With a collective moan, we all agreed that it’s time for more humane health care, especially given the COVID-19 numbers. I ‘m not comforted by the GOP’s decade-long promise of ever better healthcare, a promise that has never come to fruition. And I’m horrified by the trend to censor information.

Yes, I’m updating my will, but not losing hope. Despite our differences, our humanity lurks just beneath the surface. I have faith that our better selves will rise up before health care is thrown off a cliff. We can, and should, come together to make that happen.

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