Pete Buttigieg unveiled a proposal Tuesday to correct troubling health disparities among African-Americans and Hispanics—a crucial constituency to win over to have any hope of securing the Democratic presidential nomination.
The South Bend mayor’s eight-page proposal pledged to even the playing field for minorities who typically have worse access to medical providers and much higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic health conditions compared with white Americans.
Buttigieg has surged in the polls to lead the Democratic primary contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. But he’s in trouble in subsequent primaries in Nevada and South Carolina, where strong support from African-American voters has given former vice president Joe Biden a strong lead.
Buttigieg has been criticized for his handling of racially-charged incidents within his city’s police department and has only a smattering of endorsements from black or Hispanic elected officials. That could be a huge stumbling block for his campaign, considering no Democrat in the last three decades has secured the party’s nomination without a majority of black support.
Buttigieg is hoping to help correct this problem with promises to make the health of minorities—both through direct medical care and indirect aspects such as housing, food, education and access to clean water—a top priority.
He promises that in his first 100 days as president his administration would develop a “National Health Equity Strategy.” He also vows to help particular geographic areas combat the worst disparities and to support programs to train the health-care workforce to overcome racial bias when treating patients.
The disparities are particularly stark when it comes to life expectancy. A black man living in a rural community is likely to live seven years less than a white man living in a city. Black life expectancy at birth is about three and a half years lower than that of whites. The mortality gap between black and white Americans been cut in half since 1999, but the United States still has a long way to go before it’s eliminated.
“Millions of Americans today still find their health determined by who they are or where they live,” the paper says. “Systemic discrimination takes the form of a doctor who takes a Black person’s pain symptoms less seriously . . . it manifests in a hospital system that breaks ground only in a predominantly white neighborhood.”
The paper also calls for improvements in black maternal health, an area that has recently undergone increased scrutiny as celebrities including Beyoncé and Serena Williams have spoken out about their own struggles with pregnancy and childbirth. Black women are three to four times as likely to be at risk of pregnancy-related deaths as white women, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
It’s hard to overstate Buttigieg’s need to inspire confidence among black voters in particular. They’re only a tiny sliver of the electorate in the earliest primary states, but they’re much larger voting blocs in nearly every primary that comes after.Minorities comprise more than one-third of Democratic voters in the 16 states with primaries on March 3, known as “Super Tuesday.”
For now, Buttigieg is focusing on South Carolina. He’ll meet with Latino community leaders and locals in Okatie, South Carolina, at noon today to discuss health equity, a spokeswoman said. On Sunday, the mayor attended services at a church led by the Rev. William Barber, who revived a campaign originally started by Martin Luther King Jr. to combat economic inequality.
Afterward, Buttigieg told reporters that he believes he is making progress with black voters, including those “who may yet not feel that they know me,” per the Associated Press.
“Part of what I’m trying to do is talk about these issues, including specific racial issues around voter suppression and systemic racism, in a way that helps everyone in the country understand why we all have a stake in dealing with it,” Buttigieg said.
The campaign is opening four offices and hiring 40 staffers in the state. The campaign launched its first ad there yesterday, spending $2 million on a spot that features the mayor listening to a racially diverse group of voters.
By releasing yet another health-care proposal among the many coming out of his campaign over the last few months, he seems to be adopting the sort of “plan for everything” style his opponent Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was first known for.
One of his other proposals is “Medicare for all who want it,” which would retain employer-sponsored coverage while allowing anyone to buy a public plan if they preferred. The approach, which the mayor rolled out over the summer, is strikingly similar to the public option plan championed by Biden—so much so, that Biden accused Buttigieg of stealing his idea.
“[Buttigieg] doesn’t have the enthusiasm, and [his] moderate plan,” Biden said in an interview with Politico. “It’s the Biden plan.”