The 40-member Network of Ethnic Physician Organizations on April 26 voted to fight a California ballot initiative they say would hurt the state's ability to address racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare.
The Racial Policy Initiative has qualified for the March 2004 ballot and would prevent the state from collecting data on its citizens' racial or ethnic identities.
Robert Beltran, M.D., vice chairman of the California Latino Medical Association, says the proposal "will have a drastic impact for racial and ethnic communities trying to identify various health disparities."
Physicians say the proposal's exemption for the "lawful classification of medical research subjects and patients" would not include data now collected by public agencies needed to protect public health and advance healthcare and disease prevention.
A clause in the initiative allows a two-thirds vote by the state Legislature to authorize exceptions.
"The proponents have stated unequivocally that they would support any legislation that gives a blanket exemption to any healthcare issues if it is determined that the existing medical exemption is inadequate," says initiative architect Ward Connerly, chairman of the American Civil Rights Coalition, who led the successful 1996 campaign banning racial preferences in public hiring, education and contracting.