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Has Obamacare found its Bull Connor?

Posted by John McDonough  September 1, 2013 11:43 AM

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Perhaps you've never heard of Bull Connor, though if you lived through or studied the 1960s U.S. civil rights era, you know who I mean. This is from Wikipedia's biographical sketch:

Theophilus Eugene "Bull" Connor (July 11, 1897 - March 10, 1973) was the Commissioner of Public Safety for the city of Birmingham, Alabama, during the American Civil Rights Movement. His office gave him responsibility for administrative oversight of the Birmingham Fire Department and the Birmingham Police Department, which had their own chiefs. Through his covert actions to enforce racial segregation and deny civil rights to Black citizens, especially during the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's Birmingham Campaign of 1963, Connor became an international symbol of racism. Connor infamously directed the use of fire hoses and police attack dogs against peaceful demonstrators, including children.

1A.jpgBull Connor, Alabama                         

What does Obamacare have to do with civil rights? Quite a bit: 55% of all nonelderly uninsured Americans are non-white and will disproportionately benefit from the ACA's coverage expansions. Congressman Jim Clyburn (D-SC) calls the law "the civil rights act of the 21st century." When Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney appeared before the NAACP in July 2012, he received one emphatic round of boos when he committed to repealing Obamacare. Hispanics show similarly high levels of support for the law.

The ACA is about a lot more than just civil rights. And make no mistake, the ACA is about civil and human rights.

Now, permit me to introduce you to Ralph Hudgens, Commissioner of Insurance for the State of Georgia, as portrayed in last Wednesday's Atlanta Journal Constitution:

"'Let me tell you what we're doing (about ObamaCare),' Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens bragged to a crowd of fellow Republicans in Floyd County earlier this month: 'Everything in our power to be an obstructionist.'

"After pausing to let applause roll over him, a grinning Hudgens went on to give an example of that obstructionist behavior, this one involving so-called 'navigators' who are being hired to guide customers through the process of buying health insurance on marketplaces, or exchanges, set up under the federal program."

"'We have passed a law that says that a navigator, which is a position in that exchange, has to be licensed by our Department of Insurance,' Hudgens said. 'The ObamaCare law says that we cannot require them to be an insurance agent, so we said fine, we'll just require them to be a licensed navigator. So we're going to make up the test, and basically you take the insurance agent test, you erase the name, you write 'navigator test' on it.'"

1B index.jpg                                     Ralph Hudgens, Georgia

Ha, ha, ha! And the joke's on -- Georgia's population of uninsured, the fifth highest of any state in the nation. Here are some details: 20% are uninsured, 1.87 out of 9.6 million persons; 26% of adults 19-64 are uninsured, more than one in four; 11% of Georgia's children are uninsured; 60% of uninsured live in families with at least one full-time worker; and here's the racial/ethnic breakdown of the state's uninsured: 43% white, 32% black, 19% Hispanic, and 7% other.

Like all states, Georgia had an open invitation, courtesy of the ACA, to set up its own state health insurance exchange/marketplace. Its policymakers, claiming they wanted nothing to do with Obamacare, declined. Instead of waiting for their predictions of disaster and doom to unfold, Hudgens has decided he needs to do whatever he can to make sure it won't work.  Under the ACA, "navigators" are folks who will help uninsured persons to understand their options and choices and to enroll in coverage that is best for them. Georgia is but one of a host of states   led by Obamacare-haters who are going beyond unhelpful to, in the crystal clear words of Commissioner Hudgens "obstructionist."

What explains the hostility? ODS: Obama-Derangement-Syndrome, for sure (e.g.: see this clip -- 29% of Louisiana Republicans blame Barack Obama for the poor federal response to 2005's Hurricane Katrina),  and lots else related to that. (Yes, Bush Derangement Syndrome was at least as prevalent during his days in the Oval Office.)

But let's not let our friends in America's health insurance industry off the hook (I exclude Massachusetts insurers who have mostly supported the law).  They have been the financiers and provocateurs of Obamacare hatred since before it was law. And take a look at this description by one Georgia state senator of business-as-usual in the Georgia Department of Insurance:

"'...that office is tainted because of the way it's constructed,' [State Senator Steven] Thompson, the Marietta lawmaker, said during an interview last week. 'No one contributes to (the insurance commissioner's) race except insurance companies or their employees. When you're elected in that posture, your constituency is actually insurance companies and their employees.'"

I thank Commissioner Hudgens for his candor and transparency. From now on, when anyone asks "who," in a position of authority, is obstructing Obamacare, we have our self-admitted exhibit A.

Ralph Hudgens.

Take your place next to Bull Connor, Mr. Commissioner. Well earned.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

John E. McDonough is a professor of practice at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is the author of the book “Inside National Health Reform”, published in 2011 by More »


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