By NICK CHILES
For the life of me, I still have the hardest time figuring out why so many white people are so vehemently opposed to a law that would make it easier for them to obtain health insurance. I hear all the arguments about not wanting government to be involved in “rationing” their care, or deciding which doctors they can go to, but I think surely these people can’t be so naive as to not realize how severely most health insurance companies already restrict their coverage and make financially based decisions about what procedures and care will be covered. This has been going on with HMOs for decades. Don’t Americans know this, I ask myself?
And it’s especially confusing down here in the South, where opposition to universal healthcare is the strongest—and where the states have by far the most people without any health insurance. Even on my daughter’s soccer team, I have seen the contradictions, when a white parent’s child gets hurt on the field and I observe the terror in her eyes when she wonders what she’s going to do because they don’t have health insurance. Yet the polls would have you believe that all these white folks will fight the idea of somebody giving them affordable health insurance until their dying day.
But a fascinating piece by Judy Lubin on the Huffington Post provided me with some much-needed answers as the nation assesses the fallout from the Supreme Court’s 5-4 vote to uphold President Obama’s healthcare law, so-called Obamacare.
In her piece, Lubin describes several studies that have been done by researchers at Brown University and at Vanderbilt, who devised experiments to see how much racial attitudes spill over into feelings about public policy proposals that have no explicit connection to race. Michael Tesler, a political science professor at Brown, found that anti-black stereotypes were a strong predictor of how people felt about healthcare reform, and when subjects were told that proposals were initiated by President Clinton instead of Obama, their opposition to the proposals decreased.
Vanderbilt researchers Monique Lyle and Syndey Jones reported similar findings that Obama’s racial identity colored the feelings of many white people about the healthcare law.
So this means that as with so many other things, racism is such a powerful, all-consuming poison that it will push people into making decisions and taking actions that are totally counter to their best interests. This has been the story of the American South for centuries, so I guess healthcare reform should be no different. For too many Americans without health insurance, they would rather deal with the momentary terror of wondering how they will treat their child’s injury than grant President Obama the benefit of handing them affordable health insurance.