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OPINION: Alzheimer’s Drugs Decision Has Deeper Impact on Health of Blacks, Other Minorities

Regulators at the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) are fully aware that Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating disease that affects more than 6 million Americans, 80% of whom are Medicare beneficiaries. Among Americans 65 and older, Blacks have the highest percentage of Alzheimer’s disease, 13.8%, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association reports that older Blacks are twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s disease than whites.

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Among Americans 65 and older, Blacks have the highest percentage of Alzheimer’s disease, 13.8%, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association reports that older Blacks are twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s disease than whites.
Isadore Hall. Photo courtesy of the author.

By Isadore Hall

Special to California Black Media

Last spring, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first new Alzheimer’s disease therapy since 2003. For the 6 million-plus people living with the fatal disease in the United States, the availability of a medicine designed to treat the underlying cause of their ailment was a significant breakthrough.

However, it appears very few of those 6 million Alzheimer’s patients will receive this promising new treatment because of regulators at the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

CMS is the federal government office that oversees health coverage of more than 100 million people through Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the Health Insurance Marketplace. One of the agency’s main functions is strengthening and modernizing the nation’s health care system to provide access to high quality care at lower costs.

In January, CMS launched a process called a National Coverage Determination (NCD) to decide whether Medicare would pay for this newly approved Alzheimer’s therapy or not. Their draft decision: Medicare, as the insurer of roughly 62 million Americans, would not cover this medicine.

The proposed NCD applies to an entire class of Alzheimer’s drugs, which could impact the current FDA approved drug, aducanumab, as well as future drug therapies in this class. Given the regulatory governance granted to the FDA by Congressional order, it is my opinion this element of the NCD is over-reaching and creates a divisive relationship between two of the most critical federal agencies in the country, FDA and CMS.

This decision would also require certain Alzheimer drugs already in development (which may have different demographic and efficacy profiles) to be subjected to a CED process that lacks its own data and does not take into consideration diversity, inclusion, and efficacy.

Furthermore, and most important, the proposed NCD betrays the commitment articulated by President Joe Biden in his Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.

“Equal opportunity is the bedrock of American democracy, and our diversity is one of our country’s greatest strengths. But for too many, the American Dream remains out of reach. Entrenched disparities in our laws and public policies, and in our public and private institutions, have often denied that equal opportunity to individuals and communities,” Biden states in the document.

“Our country faces converging economic, health, and climate crises that have exposed and exacerbated inequities, while a historic movement for justice has highlighted the unbearable human costs of systemic racism,” the president’s statement continued.

“Our Nation deserves an ambitious whole-of-government equity agenda that matches the scale of the opportunities and challenges that we face. It is therefore the policy of my Administration that the Federal Government should pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.”

I know that CMS is fully aware that Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating disease that affects more than 6 million Americans, 80% of whom are Medicare beneficiaries. Among Americans 65 and older, Blacks have the highest percentage of Alzheimer’s disease, 13.8%, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association reports that older Blacks are twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s disease than whites.

African Americans are also mostly likely to be undiagnosed for Alzheimer’s Disease, according to the National Institutes of Health. Therefore, we are also most likely to be untreated.

This issue is very personal for me.

My grandmother lost her fight to Alzheimer’s Disease in 2017. I often watched her feeling helpless as she suffered from this horrifying and painful disease.

Like my grandma, millions of other grandparents, parents and loved ones bear the burdens of this disease and die from it every day.

What would it take for us to do right by them? For us to make sure that as we search for a cure, people who are living with it are receiving the best possible treatments?

CMS must modify its proposed determination to cover all FDA-approved Alzheimer’s therapies. This would give patients, social workers and physicians the ability to make collaborative decisions in the best interests of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Isadore Hall is a former California State Senator and Assemblymember from the Los Angeles Area. He currently sits on the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

Activism

Respect for Marriage Act Passes in U.S. House with Help from Bay Area Representatives

California District 13 Rep. Barbara Lee, who voted for the bill, also stated it was “a key step forward in House Democrats’ fight against the right-wing assault on freedom.”  Representative Eric Swalwell of District 15, which includes cities of Dublin, San Ramon, Livermore and Hayward simply tweeted, “Kevin McCarthy and the majority of @HouseGop just voted against same-sex marriage. As backwards as they are, we are not going backwards with them.”

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Tweet from U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington. Twitter photo.
Tweet from U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington. Twitter photo.

By Sarah Clemens, Oakland Post Intern

The House passed the Respect for Marriage Act on July 19, 2022. The bill, which was originally introduced in 2009, would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and recognize same-sex marriage on a federal level.

The reintroduction of this bill comes not long after Justice Clarence Thomas’ called for Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 landmark Supreme Court ruling that declared the right for same-sex marriage in every state, to be overturned. Thomas declared Obergefell v. Hodges, along with other landmark rulings, to be “demonstrably erroneous decisions.”

While all of the House Democrats voted for the bill, it also garnered some bipartisan support, with 47 Republicans voting in the affirmative as well. Notably, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, whose anti-gay marriage statements were immortalized in 2018 Best Picture nominee “Vice,” voted in favor of the bill.

Cheney also denounced her previous statements in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, stating, “freedom means freedom for everybody.” However, the Republican Party’s top two representatives, Kevin McCarthy of California and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, voted against it.

While the House vote is a big victory for supporters of the Respect for Marriage Act, it is still not a law. Whether it will be approved by the Senate is unclear. Chuck Schumer of New York, Democrat and Senate majority leader, stated he wanted “to bring this bill to the floor, and we’re working to get the necessary Senate Republican support to ensure it would pass.” That mentioned Republican support would be a minimum of 10 affirmative Republican votes.

Democrat support remains strong, with many citing potential codifying of the bill as a counterattack in the wake of the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, whose congressional district lies within San Francisco, spoke about the recent ruling on the House floor and stood behind the bill, saying, “as radical Justices and right-wing politicians continue their assault on our basic rights, Democrats believe that the government has no place between you and the person you love.”

California District 13 Rep. Barbara Lee, who voted for the bill, also stated it was “a key step forward in House Democrats’ fight against the right-wing assault on freedom.”  Representative Eric Swalwell of District 15, which includes cities of Dublin, San Ramon, Livermore and Hayward simply tweeted, “Kevin McCarthy and the majority of @HouseGop just voted against same-sex marriage. As backwards as they are, we are not going backwards with them.”

While according to White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, President Joe Biden has been urging the Senate to send the bill to him soon, the process has instead been delayed.

Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who became the first openly gay person to be elected to the Senate in 2012, told NPR that “we don’t want to bring it to the floor until we know that we can pass the legislation.”

Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, has stated that he’d “delay announcing anything on that issue until we see what the majority leader wants to put on the floor.”

As Democrats attempt to gain support from across the aisle, and Republicans make few statements on the bill publicly, the future remains unclear.

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Activism

William Wells Brown, Personifying the American Dream

William Wells Brown personified the American dream. He’d become an internationally renowned antislavery activist and writer who resided in and traveled widely across the northern United States and the British Isles. He penned a series of remarkable books including the first Black novel, the first printed Black play, the first Black travelogue, and the first Black panorama displayed in Britain.

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William Wells Brown. Wikipedia.org photo.
William Wells Brown. Wikipedia.org photo.

By Tamara Shiloh

The minstrel shows of the early 19th century are believed by some to be the roots of Black theatre. However, they were written, acted, and performed by whites for white audiences. The first known play by a Black American was James Brown’s “King Shotaway” (1823), but the first Black play published was William Wells Brown’s (ca. 1814–1884) “The Escape; or, A Leap for Freedom.”

While “Escape” was published in 1858, it was not officially produced until 1971 at Emerson College. It was one of the earliest extant pieces of African American dramatic literature.

Brown, whose mother was a slave, was born on a plantation outside Lexington, Ky. He would become a Black antislavery lecturer, a groundbreaking novelist, playwright, and historian.

According to the New Bedford Historical Society (NBHS), he is “widely considered to have been the first African American to publish works in several major literary genres, and widely acclaimed for the effectiveness of many of his writings.”

Bought and sold several times before age 20, Brown spent his childhood and much of his young adult life as a slave in St. Louis, Mo. There he was hired out to work on the Missouri River which, at that time, served as a major thoroughfare for the slave trade. This location allowed him several chances to escape. It was New Year’s Day in 1834 that he slipped away from a steamboat and finally became successful.

Brown landed in Cleveland, Ohio, where he began educating himself and reading antislavery newspapers. He later worked as a steam boatsman on Lake Erie and conductor for the Underground Railroad. On arrival at Cleveland, he’d taken shelter with Mr. and Mrs. Wells Brown, a white Quaker family and later adopted their names.

By 1843, Brown had become a regular on the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society lecturing circuit. He was also deeply committed to speaking out on women’s rights and temperance laws (laws banning the sale of spirits in less than 15-gallon quantities). It was Brown’s speaking that led many historians and scholars to provide the trajectory for his later career as a writer. By 1845, he’d published “Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Written by Himself.”

Brown personified the American dream. He’d become an internationally renowned antislavery activist and writer who resided in and traveled widely across the northern United States and the British Isles. He penned a series of remarkable books including the first Black novel, the first printed Black play, the first Black travelogue, and the first Black panorama displayed in Britain.

Focusing on his own historical works, Brown penned two histories of the Black race, a history on Blacks and whites in the South, and a rare military history of Blacks in the Civil War. He eventually settled in Boston, where he practiced medicine until his death from cancer in 1884.

Learn more about Brown’s compelling story through his classic American slave narrative: “The Narrative of William W. Brown a Fugitive Slave.”

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Activism

COMMENTARY: The Power of the Vote

Voting has not always been a given, in fact, just the opposite has been the practice in society for the marginalized. In the midst of so much media coverage that shows how some national lawmakers want to suppress the voting strengths of Blacks, Latinos and the formerly incarcerated, we must seize this moment to exercise our citizen right to vote.

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We as a people constantly need to work in unison to erect positivity that increases the day-to-day living challenges for the betterment of all; not just for a few.
We as a people constantly need to work in unison to erect positivity that increases the day-to-day living challenges for the betterment of all; not just for a few.

By Richard Johnson

The Formally Incarcerated Giving Back (FIGB) org. is launching a voter drive to protect and encourage democratic participation while seeking educational, economic as well as social opportunities to reunite families.

Our goal is to focus on potential voters who have been overlooked in the voting process as a class due to ultra-restrictive policy measures meant to discourage voter turnout.

Recently laws that allow those with criminal records to actively participate in the voting process on all levels have changed. This would give those underserved citizens a voice in what happens in their communities.

Voting has not always been a given, in fact, just the opposite has been the practice in society for the marginalized. In the midst of so much media coverage that shows how some national lawmakers want to suppress the voting strengths of Blacks, Latinos and the formerly incarcerated, we must seize this moment to exercise our citizen right to vote.

We can help ourselves and make changes by voting with our full strength.

We of the Formally Incarcerated Giving Back (FIGB) will be canvassing throughout our communities to register this obscure neglected class of prison returnees and their families. We will also join with other organizations, churches and the Post News Group, along with other media to spread the message of our mission. FIGB will also help contact and sign all other unregistered voters to impact change at the polls. We will collaborate with other groups, voting blocks, and entities to increase awareness while raising the turnout at the polls. We are asking all churches, institutions, and social clubs to join this endeavor by engaging with FIGB.

During the next two months we will regularly publish the results of our coordinated efforts to put boots on the ground in this column.

Change is an inevitable phenomenon; however, the right changes are not. We as a people constantly need to work in unison to erect positivity that increases the day-to-day living challenges for the betterment of all; not just for a few. Let’s be clear, nothing should be taken for granted. Just as one is seated, so can one be unseated. Let the voices of the underserved be heard loud and clear. The policy of exclusion must be replaced with inclusion.

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