“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in a speech to the Medical Committee for Human Rights, 1966

Fifty years ago today, nearly 250,000 people joined together in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, calling for human, civil and economic rights for African Americans.  This march has been heralded as one of the greatest political rallies in our nation’s history and is widely credited for helping pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (which has now recently come under attack).

On that day, physicians played an important supporting role providing emergency medical care as needed during the march.  Perhaps more importantly, the physicians who marched went on to start the Medical Committee for Human Rights, which played a significant role in the 1964 Freedom Summer where volunteers helped to register African Americans to vote in Mississippi.   These physicians contributed to the movement’s success and worked to address inequity in the health care system.

“Working without pay, they cared for wounded protesters and victims of police and Klan violence, assisted the ill, visited jailed demonstrators, and provided a medical presence in black communities, some of which had never seen a doctor. They established and staffed health information and pre-natal programs in many black communities. Appalled at the separate and unequal care provided to blacks by Mississippi's segregated system, they soon involved themselves in political struggles to open up and improve Mississippi's health care system for all.”  Read more

Several years later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed these physicians, encouraging them to continue their work for justice in health care.  Today, inequality continues to exist in our health care system.  Racial and ethnic health disparities exist and economic disparities exist.  In fact, socio-economic status is one of the most powerful drivers of health, and being insured increases economic stability and access to essential health services.  

 

Reflecting on Dr. King’s words I see our current work to expand Medicaid as an important step toward health equity.   I hope you’ll contemplate the historical importance of this anniversary and join us in this effort by sharing with your  State Senators stories of how being uninsured affects your patients and your practice.  If we stand together, we can further Dr. King’s dream for our patients and for all of us.

 

Please send your questions or comments to president@nhms.org or post a comment below.