Muslim Health Professionals Hold Capitol Hill Citizens' Hearing on Universal Healthcare
WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) Sept. 16, 2009 – On September 15, 2009, MAS Freedom (MASF) a civic and human rights advocacy entity of the Muslim American Society (MAS), participated in a Citizens' Hearing on Universal Health Care at the Rayburn House of Representatives building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT). A panel of prominent Muslim health care professionals and three members of Congress also contributed to Tuesday's hearing as the nation continues to be engaged in a ferocious, and often unprincipled, attempt by some political forces in America to derail the idea of comprehensive health care reform. (SLIDESHOW)
The political contest is heated, and often uncivil, yet Muslim physicians, national leaders, and civil rights leaders are united by two points of agreement: first, that health care is a human right – not a commodity; and second, that the tenets of the Islamic faith compel Muslims to work for social justice and compassion, which means, in the context of this political issue, universal health care in the United States.
"This crucial issue involving health care moves beyond mere public policy. Universal health care is both a moral and spiritual imperative and must be recognized as a fundamental right for everyone," stated MAS Freedom Executive Director, Mahdi Bray.
Testifying before a panel of national Muslim leaders including AMT President Dr. Agha Saeed, Nihad Awad, Executive Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Naim Baig, Secretary General of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Dr. Jamal Barzinji, Vice President of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), MAS Freedom (MASF) Executive Director, Imam Mahdi Bray, and Kaizi Khan of the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), New York chapter, health care professionals and practicing Muslims, Dr. Khalique Zahir, President of the Medical Association of North America, Dr. Zaid Imran, a prominent psychiatrist, and Dr. Esam Omeish, a prominent Virginia surgeon and former Board Chair of the Muslim American Society, offered their perspectives on the national health care debate. (PHOTO ALBUM)
Dr. Khalique Zahir noted that while the United States leads the world by a large margin in per capita health care expenditures, this staggering amount is not evenly distributed across the population. He pointed out that the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans account for 63 per cent of all health care expenditures in the country, while the cost of health insurance has risen some 140% in the last decade. Additionally, some 50% of this $ 2.2 trillion spent on health care in the U.S. every year is wasted, and that the average annual health care cost for a family of four in America is now $16,771.
Dr. Zhair went on to explain that this staggering collective bill is driven, in part, by some $210 billion spent every tear on "defensive" medical costs that are intended to protect physicians from possible malpractice lawsuits. This reality underlines the need for comprehensive reform to guarantee that physicians can deliver quality care without the fear of potentially ruinous litigation.
Psychiatrist, Dr. Zaid Imran offered his expert testimony by noting that, while seeking medical knowledge and serving the needs of others is sacred in Islam, the defense of the not-so-sacred national status quo is funded by some one million dollars spent every day by the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies to oppose the structural reforms presented by President Obama. Dr. Imran added that one large health care organization-United Health Group-booked some $812 billion in profits a year ago.
Virginia surgeon and former Board Chair of the Muslim American Society, Dr. Esam Omeish, reiterated the need to regard health care as a human right, and not a commodity, noting that the ultimate goal of advocacy should be the creation of "robust and sustainable" care for all, and not the continued preservation of profits made by the insurance industry.
Meanwhile, however, as insurance and drug companies continue to fight against universal coverage, the idea of health care for all Americans is being vigorously supported by the American Medical Association and virtually all professional medical groups in America. The opposition to reform, Omeish stated, "is not about health care-it's about (opposition to) (President Barack) Obama."
Three members of the House of Representatives- Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), Rep. Andre Carson (D-Indiana, and the second of two Muslims elected to Congress), and Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) all gave enthusiastic praise for the national Muslim stand for health care reform.
Rep. Kucinich particularly emphasized both the Islamic values of compassion and caring for others as a central tent of the faith, and the need to organize a serious political movement to hold the government accountable for living up to the constitutional responsibility to "promote the general welfare" for all people in society.
As a co-author of HR 676 (a bill calling for a national single payer health insurance system), Rep. Kucinich emphasized that the road to universal health coverage in American will be a long one, but that people must be prepared to continue to struggle for this objective, adding, "All of our faith traditions are based on some variation of the golden rule to love our neighbors as ourselves."
One aspect of the national health care mosaic – that of free health clinics – is not often a topic in the current public debate, however, Khizer Husain, a Fulbright Scholar and Washington Liaison to the Task Force on Health Care Affordability, noted the solid, and even remarkable, contribution that free Muslim health clinics are making in serving the community of poor and disadvantaged.
There are some 25 of these Muslim-initiated clinics throughout the United States (out of a total of some 1,200 free clinics in the nation), demonstrative of the Islamic concept of "faith in action" and the Islamic charitable obligation to serve needy people.
One of these institutions, the Ummah Clinic in Los Angeles, was praised on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California) for its outstanding service in the Los Angeles community. The clinic now provides care to some 16,000 people, less than 2% of which are Muslim.
In an impact statement regarding the ordeal she endured while suffering from a serious illness and losing her health insurance, Muslim community member Beverly Britton told panel members, "In the end, I lost my home."
America's Muslim health care providers are not monolithic, but two things are certain: they are both a formidable force in the national health care reform debate, and they are seriously committed to the Islamic principles of compassion and caring for the welfare of their neighbors.
And in this case, compassion means affordable health care for every person in this nation.
For additional information contact MAS Freedom AT (202) 552-7414, (703) 642-6165 or by email: info AT masfreedom.org.
Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity.