The Brown & Black Forum hosted by VICE News and Cashmere Originals and moderated by Vice’s team of correspondents brought Democratic presidential candidates to Des Moines, Iowa, for a conversation on the pressing issues facing communities of color and didn’t shy away from the hot topic of healthcare.
A disturbing statistic noted during the discussion was the disproportionately high death rates of Black women, a key voting bloc for dems, due to complications from pregnancy or childbirth.
While each of the candidates outlined plans to tackle Medicare for All and skyrocketing prescription drug costs, plans to address systemic prejudices that prevent people of color from receiving quality care has proven much more difficult to articulate.
Here’s what the candidates had to say about healthcare at the Brown and Black Forum.
When former Maryland congressman John Delaney took to the forum stage, he called out a policy touted by many of the presidential front runners, Medicare for All. Delaney went on to call the policy political suicide.
“It’s never going to happen. I’m actually for doing things that are going to happen,” he insisted.
Delaney’s website outlines plans he believes will eliminate the barrier to access services. For instance, introducing “Pay for Success” programs like the Nurse-Family Partnership in South Carolina, which provides specially trained nurses to regularly visit young, first-time moms-to-be, starting early in the pregnancy, and continuing through the child’s second birthday.
While taking questions from the audience, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado was asked what he would do to address implicit racial bias in healthcare.
“You can draw a straight line from slavery to Jim Crow to the redlining in our banking and housing systems, to the mass incarceration we have today,” Bennet said, adding that currently as a nation,“We’re just not doing well enough.”
In his response, Bennet touched on the root of institutionalized racism, but stopped short of addressing a solution to the bias often directed towards minorities who seek care.
Bennet’s plan includes expanding healthcare access by introducing Medicare-X, a means to create a public Medicare option “that starts in rural areas and covers essential health benefits, including maternity care.”
“I don’t pretend I know what it’s like to walk into a maternity room swollen and walk right out because no one will listen,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar when addressing the plight of Black mothers, in spite of their socioeconomic backgrounds.
When pressed on specific actions she plans to take on reproductive justice, Klobuchar wants to implement standards outlined in the Maternal CARE Act, legislation introduced by Senator Kamala Harris, which provides funding for bias training and support for mothers on Medicaid.
On her website, Klobuchar said she would in her first 100 days as president “immediately implement a new law that tackles the shortage of maternity care health professionals—including nurses, midwives and obstetricians—in underserved areas, and she will develop best models of care to address racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality.”
When talking with Pete Buttigieg, the only openly gay candidate in the race, moderator Antonia Hylton turned the conversation to the Pain in the Nation report, which highlights a disturbing increase in suicide rates in young Americans, particularly those of color and of the LGBTQ+ community.
“There is a sense of being under attack, there is a sense of pressure and weight,” Buttigieg said when describing the impact that President Trump’s divisive language has had on the mental health of many minorities in America.
Buttigieg went on to say that having a president that uplifts Black trans women and promotes inclusivity coupled with his plan to introduce mentorship in schools are ways he believes his presidency could impact the troubling trend.
The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana’s plan also includes policies like offering implicit bias and discrimination training to health-care providers, establishing maternal mortality review committees, and expanding Medicaid coverage for pregnant mothers to one year after birth.
Buttigieg also plans to address the underrepresentation of Black Americans working in healthcare, along with training current healthcare workers to combat racial bias in treatment scenarios.
Similar to other candidates, including the former Vice President Joe Biden, Buttigieg supports universal healthcare for all who want it, allowing people the choice to either opt into a government-backed health insurance option or stick with their existing private insurance.
The Brown & Black Forum kept candidates on a strict time limit, so not every candidate had the chance to address every issue. Read on to learn where some of the other presidential hopefuls stand on healthcare reform.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang outlined a vision toward implementing universal healthcare for all Americans. His platform includes cutting the cost of prescription drugs and offering comprehensive care but stops short of addressing the specific needs facing communities of color.
Senator Elizabeth Warren was credited with addressing the Black maternal mortality rate, however her plan to reward hospitals with a bonus for raising the survival rates seemed to miss the mark by failing to address the damaging stereotypes health-care providers bring to the job.
Warren, a supporter of Medicare for All and eliminating private insurance altogether, has revamped her stance to transition into her Medicare for All plan as a "choice" for Americans to try it.
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont believes his Medicare for All plan would help to close disparities like the higher infant mortality rate facing Black families.
In addition to eliminating millions of dollars in past-due medical debt, Sanders' plan to address Black maternal mortality starts with tackling low insurance rates.
Under Medicare for All, Sanders would ban providers from discriminating against patients removing profit from the healthcare system. Sanders would also seek to place providers and resources in traditionally underserved communities. This includes placing intense focus on addressing systemic discrimination by creating avenues for more Black doctors, dentists, nurses, and psychologists who can “provide culturally competent care in their communities,” his campaign outlined.
Billionaire Tom Steyer's healthcare plan promises to expand access to healthcare through more Obamacare funding and a public option. In contrast to the Medicare for All plans proposed by rivals like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Steyer wants private insurance to play a major role in health equity.
To keep medications affordable, education accessible, and our planet livable, Steyer proposes a wealth tax.
Steyer also supports legislation like the Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act introduced in 2018 by Senator Kamala Harris.
Vice President Joe Biden’s plan to improve access to healthcare stems from examining what worked and what didn’t with President Barack Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act.
Biden’s plan would give all Americans the option of enrolling in a government health plan, but would also leave private insurance intact.
Biden described the mortality rate for Black women a “disgrace” and plans to invest “significant resources” to gather data, fund services and expand access to health services to address the issue.