Without health insurance, too many sick kids can’t attend school, learn, and get themselves out of poverty. Without health insurance, a single mother with kids can’t get the job she needs to pay taxes, take care of her kids, and give them a role model whom her daughters can emulate. Without health care insurance, Americans lose their economic security.

That was the message of Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Council on Civil Rights. He spoke at a plenary session of the annual meeting of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) today, on a panel dealing with the knotting huh is holding its annual meeting this week in Bethesda, MD. The theme was how to address health disparities in this era of health reform.

Health care is the core civil rights issue, he intoned.

Why? Fundamentally, health care is woven into economic justice in the United States.

“Health disparities begin before birth and they last a lifetime,” Henderson explained. Low birthweight babies are destined to have health status lower than babies born at normal birthweight.

Henderson talked about that baby as he grew into childhood with, say, poor eyesight that prevented him from effectively learning in elementary school. “What if the dot that connects a kid to success,” Henderson explained, “is a pair of eyeglasses?”

The face of intentional discrimination in health care in the U.S. was documented in a New York City report on health care “apartheid” in the city in 2005 — which found that patients were sorted out into “separate and unequal” pools depending on their health insurance status.

It’s economic discrimination, Henderson continued, because ethnic minorities are two times more likely to be uninsured.

Ultimately, he described health as a “national security issue.” Our core workforce — the young people growing up in homes without access to affordable health insurance — won’t be able to take on their role of rebuilding the U.S. economic in the context of fierce global economic competition.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: We are all one job loss away from losing our insurance coverage. The latest Kaiser Family Foundation report on employer-sponsored health insurance was released today, and found that health premiums rose to $13,375 for a family of 4, the report says. Employers cover $9,860; workers contribute $3,815, or 27% of the premium (when they opt to take advantage of the benefit).

Economic insecurity is indeed woven into health care and households in the U.S.
Underneath access to insurance, though, is the issue of quality — the “Q” in the acronym “AHRQ.” And all health citizens, across socioeconomic strata, can be victims of poor health care quality.

Ultimately, Dr. Carolyn Clancy, the Director of AHRQ and panel moderator, said, “we’re all at risk for pretty crummy care” in the U.S.