Black, Hispanic legislators tell first lady of health problems

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Continuing to cast a wide net as she works on shaping a health care reform plan, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton sat down with black and Hispanic members of Congress -- lawmakers whose constituents include some of the nation's neediest populations.

She got an earful yesterday -- on issues ranging from the troubling health needs of undocumented workers and the dearth of medical research involving Hispanics, to the disproportionate impact of AIDS and infant mortality in black communities.


And though this fourth visit to Capitol Hill represented yet another congenial gesture for "inclusiveness," the first lady heard some concerns that her White House Task Force on Health Reform may not be inclusive enough.

However, the two separate one-hour meetings elicited a warm response from members and from Mrs. Clinton herself, who pointedly sounded an alarm.


"What I heard today is particularly important because they [both caucuses] have a disproportionate representation in their constituencies of people who are underserved right now," she said.

"And the health indices about well-being for those populations clearly demonstrate that we're not doing as good a job as we should to provide quality, affordable care."

This, she suggested, would have to change.

Even those, like Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who marveled at the ability of Mrs. Clinton to "give up very little in terms of what they're [the task force] doing," seemed buoyed by the opportunity to have an audience with her.

"Usually you had to yell to get something" in the past, said Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., chairman of the Hispanic Caucus.

But in this instance, he said, officials "are coming to us," asking about their concerns and how they would like to be involved.