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Take Down the Confederate Flag – And Raise Up Medicaid Expansion

This opinion piece by LeeAnn Hall was originally published in Huffington Post.

It’s tempting, this summery week, to sit and savor the sweet victory that was handed us by the Supreme Court in late June with the King v. Burwell decision. The court’s ruling protected the health care subsidies that allow 6.4 million people to afford their health insurance.

Many of those are people who have health insurance and routine health care for the first time in their lives because of the Affordable Care Act. Now they can breathe a little easier, knowing they can go to the doctor when they are sick, get immunizations, medications and preventive care.

The Supreme Court’s ruling came a week after the horrifying news that nine people were killed while praying inside the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina.

One of those killed was Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a South Carolina senator who was a tireless advocate for Medicaid expansion in his state. Some called him the “moral conscience of the South Carolina legislature.”

The killings in Charleston spurred the long overdue call to remove the Confederate flag from public buildings and from license plates. Removing the symbols of racism and inequity is a significant step. Just as critical is the need to remove racist barriers to quality health care.

We must continue to fight for the nearly four million people who still don’t have access to health care because of their state lawmakers’ refusal to expand Medicaid. Nearly 90 percent of those in the health care coverage gap live in the South, and they are disproportionately people of color.

It’s time to stop debating the right to health care – that discussion is done. Now it’s time to make quality health care a reality for everyone. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.

Billions of dollars in federal funding is in place for legislators to extend health care to everyone in their states. Yet, lawmakers in 19 states have refused to accept that funding – 13 of those states are in the South.

It’s time to end policies that perpetuate systemic racism. I ask these legislators and governors – what are you so afraid of that you would deny a mother a visit to the doctor, or a father medication he needs to be strong for his children?

Refusal to expand Medicaid and provide quality health care to all remains a stark and shameful example of our nation’s failure to overcome persistent racial disparities.

President Obama, in his elegant eulogy in Charleston, said: “It would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.”

We must all remain uncomfortable – and outspoken – until racism, fear and hate are erased, in our symbols and in our policies. One step must lead to the next step.

Taking down the Confederate flags would be a bold symbolic statement that reconciliation has at long last begun. Expanding Medicaid to millions of people would show that we really mean it.

LeeAnn Hall is the executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society, a national policy and organizing network that has produced pivotal reports for 20 years on national health issues.