President Obama decided that the man he originally picked to head the civil rights division at the Justice Department, Thomas Saenz, was too controversial, so he's now turned to someone he hopes will have clearer sailing through the confirmation process. Earlier this month, the president nominated attorney Tom Perez as assistant attorney general for civil rights. Perez is currently the secretary of labor for Maryland and had previously worked in the civil rights division at Justice in the Clinton administration. The administration decided not to move forward with the Saenz nomination largely because of Saenz's efforts on behalf of illegal immigrants, which made him an easy target, but Perez also has some skeletons in his policy background that could prove troubling.
In 2006, Perez wrote a law review article for the University of Maryland's Journal of Health Care Law and Policy, in which he argued for explicit race-conscious admissions policies for medical school. He cited a handful of studies that purport to show that minority doctors are more likely to provide medical care to under-served poor minority populations than white physicians are. He then leapt to the conclusion that the best way to improve access to medical care for underserved populations was to insist that medical schools use race or ethnicity in choosing which students to admit.
In effect, Perez appears to be arguing for a form of medical apartheid in which minority patients should be served by minority doctors under the presumption that both groups benefit from this practice. The argument is both insulting and dangerous.
It is true that black and Hispanic doctors disproportionately serve patients on Medicare, Medicaid and other public health care programs, but it is a big leap to suggest that this practice should be encouraged or is, indeed, beneficial either to aspiring doctors or poor black and Hispanic patients. As other studies have shown, doctors who primarily treat patients enrolled in government programs are less likely than those with private insurance to have passed demanding board certification in their specialties and to have access to high-quality specialists in other fields. Under Perez's rationale, it shouldn't matter whether the doctors who serve poor people are less likely to be board-certified so long as they are black or brown.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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