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CBC Hour: Eliminating Health Disparities

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. PAYNE. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman.

Let me first thank my colleagues, Congressman Horsford from Nevada and Congressman Jeffries of New York, for anchoring tonight's CBC's Special Order on eliminating health disparities.

I would also be remiss if I did not acknowledge our leader on health issues in the Congressional Black Caucus, Dr. Christensen.

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to take the opportunity to acknowledge a young person on the floor, the gentlelady from Nevada, the young Miss Horsford, who is here tonight. This is truly unique quality time to spend with your daughter.

There are numerous factors that contribute to the growing health disparities in New Jersey's 10th District--poverty, environmental threats, inadequate access to health care, and educational inequities. These issues are so interconnected that a piecemeal approach to fixing them just will not work. A comprehensive approach that focuses on providing access to quality care to all, creating good jobs that provide a decent living and increasing educational opportunities for low-income communities, is the only way to eliminate health disparities once and for all.

Even in the 21st century, health disparities are stark, especially in the African American community, in which life expectancies are lower and infant mortality rates are higher. Children of color who live at or below the poverty line are much more likely to have asthma, develop ADHD and contract diseases because they cannot afford vaccinations.

So we have a moral obligation to eliminate health disparities. Our children and our future generations are depending on us. But narrowing the health disparities that exist is not only good for our Nation's health, it's good for our Nation's pocketbook.

Research tells us that access to quality health care could eliminate or reduce the onset of many chronic illnesses and disproportionate health outcomes that add to astronomical health care costs every year. Yet many of my colleagues won't rest until they repeal ObamaCare. The fact is, the Affordable Care Act will now provide health care to 9 million African Americans who are uninsured or underinsured. ObamaCare ensures that everyone has access to lifesaving care such as preventative cancer screenings, as well as coverage for children with preexisting conditions.

We know that ObamaCare's preventative services will help save lives and save money. So why are my Republican colleagues so set on repealing it? We have to protect ObamaCare just like we have to protect Medicare and Medicaid.

Sequestration is a direct attack on these already limited health resources. Sequestration is an irresponsible, across-the-board cut approach that will only contribute to the widening health disparity gap. Because of sequestration, Medicare has been cut by $11 billion; cancer patients are being turned away from clinics, and they cannot get access to the life-saving treatments they need to live; millions in funding have been cut from community health centers.

Furthermore, the effects are very real for the people in New Jersey. In my State, nearly 4,000 fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza, and hepatitis B. There will be millions in cuts to grants that would help prevent and treat substance abuse. New Jersey will lose nearly $4.9 million in environmental funding that ensures clean air and clean water.

We live in a first world country, and you want me to go back home and tell my constituents that we cannot provide them with clean water and clean air? This is absolute insanity.

And to make matters worse, the New Jersey State Department of Health and Senior Services will be forced to provide 19,000 fewer HIV tests to low-income communities. Sequestration is directly contributing to the spread of this fatal disease. In essence, it is providing a death sentence to those who are poor and who can't afford the testing.

So I say to my colleagues tonight: addressing health disparities in this country is both a moral obligation and a financial imperative. If we are going to truly eliminate disparities, we must start by eliminating sequestration, which does nothing but further the burden of our distressed citizens. Finally, we must maintain and strengthen our investments in health care access and resources for the disadvantaged populations that we serve.

In closing, just as Medicaid and Medicare and Social Security have become common threads and fibers of this great Nation, one day ObamaCare will be looked at in the same manner.


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