How Much Is Race a Factor Behind Health Care Opposition?

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By Brittany Hutson

President Obama achieved one of the most historic measures that this country has seen when he signed the health care reform bill (i.e. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010), which will result in health care coverage for over 30 million additional Americans and lower costs for most Americans. Passage of health care was controversial and the conflict has yet to be settled because congressional members have pledged to move forward in efforts to defund the health care bill.

Generally, politicians who oppose health care reform have cited costs as being the driving motivator behind their disapproval of the bill.  However, a recent study suggests that economics are not the only reason for opposition to health care. The Greenlining Institute, a multiethnic public policy, advocacy and leadership institute, conducted a report to explore whether race is a factor in the health care backlash. Although data from the 2008-2010 American National Election Survey found that 44.3% were in favor of health care while 35.8% did not, the report states that “there was a substantial racial component to support the measure.” There were only 38.4% of whites that supported health care, while 78.6% of blacks, 52.6% of Latinos and 43.6% of people from other racial backgrounds all supported it.

According to the study, one possible reason for racial difference in support of health care may be due to the inequality that exists between whites and people of color. For example, people of color are more likely to be without health insurance compared to whites, and blacks and Latinos are less likely to have a regular doctor compared to whites.

“It’s pretty well known that under the health care bill, disproportionately the people that might be positively impacted are non-white,” said Carol Swain, professor of political science and professor of law at Vanderbilt University. “There’s so much uncertainty with the new bill to say for certain whose going to benefit and whose going to lose, but clearly the perception is out there that disproportionately, the beneficiaries would be minorities and not white.”

The report zeroed in on “racial resentment, a political belief system that fuses whites’ belief in traditional conservative values such as the protestant work ethic (i.e. hard work equals success) with whites’ negative feelings towards black as a group. Whites who share this perspective tend to believe that the reason blacks fail to get ahead in society is their failure to work hard enough, and not because of racial discrimination.”

For whites who were high in racial resentment, their attitudes towards health care reform were more about their feelings towards blacks as a group. But for those who were low in racial resentment, their feelings towards health care are related to their feelings about Obama, not their view of blacks as a group, the study concluded. The study also adds that those high in racial resentment may have internalized the health care law to reflect their feelings that certain groups, such as blacks, are getting something that they do not deserve or have earned.

“I believe there’s a perception out there that right now, the government is favoring minorities, which may help to fuel that resentment,” said Swain.

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