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Gig and part-time workers have been left out of the healthcare conversation in the United States for far too long

It is no secret that the healthcare system within the United States is flawed. In large contrast to other countries, there is no universal healthcare. As such, the U.S. government does not provide healthcare for most of its citizens. Instead, healthcare is provided by multiple distinct organizations. These include insurance companies, healthcare providers, hospital systems, and independent providers. Such healthcare facilities are widely owned and operated by private businesses. 

Millions of people are left vulnerable to falling through the cracks as public and private insurers set their own rates, benefit packages, and cost-sharing structures within the bounds of federal and state regulations. 

Employer-sponsored health insurance was first introduced in the United States in the 1920’s. This method indicates that employers might contract with private health plans and administer benefits for their full-time employees as well as their dependents. By 1965 public insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid were introduced as a means to compensate for some, but certainly not all, of the already existing flaws. 

Medicare ensures a right to hospital and medical care for all persons aged 65 and older, and later those under 65 with extreme long term disabilities or end-stage renal disease. On the other hand Medicaid, which covers around 17.9% of the American population, is state-administered and is meant to provide health care services to low-income families, the blind, low-income pregnant women and infants, and individuals with disabilities. Eligibility for Medicaid is largely dependent on criteria which vary by state. Individuals need to apply for medicaid coverage and to re-enroll annually. 

As of 2021, the U.S. ranks 22nd globally in terms of quality healthcare with countries like Finland, Japan, and Canada placing above it. In 2018, nearly 92% of the country was estimated to have health coverage, either through their employer or based upon other factors. That statistic leaves roughly 27.5 million people, or 8.5% of the population, uninsured. 

Those flaws intensify dramatically when it comes to the gig or part-time workforce. For one, it is no coincidence that struggles in regards to access to affordable healthcare also run along the lines of race, gender, and income in this country, just as it does with the countless other social issues which persist here. 

For one, those who work within a gig or part-time capacity are often not offered an employer-sponsored health insurance plan. Not to mention that they are also not salaried, so their income is often limited or unreliable, leaving these workers with little opportunity or access to the healthcare system that is in place. Such workers are either required to purchase their own health insurance or apply for Medicaid. Now, while Medicaid eligibility varies between each state, many people who are classified as low-income wind up making too much money to actually be an eligible candidate for the narrow assistance program. At the same time, however, many of the private health insurance plans are extremely expensive, leaving workers stretched thin financially or in danger medically.

This dynamic effectively allows for inequality to flourish. This is no surprise considering that the gig and part-time economy is mostly made up of minority groups, thus being complicit in the racially skewed power structures which exploit people based on their race, religion, gender, sexuality or socioecomic status. That includes single mothers, previously incarcerated people, immigrants and Indigenous, Latinx or Black adults to name a few. In fact, nearly a third or 31% of Latinx adults aged 18 or over earn money through the gig economy. This is compared to 27% of Black Americans and 21% of white adults.  

Workers rights groups in the gig and part-time sphere have been advocating in the name of things like workers compensation for various minutia including maintenance of drivers vehicles, the right to organize, access to 401K, paid family leave and proper employment classification, among other things. This is especially important when you consider that, contrary to popular belief, most people are not using their gig or part-time job as a “side hustle” to compliment their salaried and health-insurance sponsoring full-time position. Instead, this is likely their primary source of income, along with perhaps a second or even third job doing something similar. They are doing as much as they can to make ends meet and survive within a world and system which layers on barriers to their success and sustainability. One that fails to acknowledge their exhaustion and that remains complicit in their vulnerability. 

At the root of what workers are demanding is dignity on the job. 

Workers are fighting to dismantle the system of exploitation that has further isolated and damaged vulnerable communities across the country. To put this better into perspective: there is an unprecedented number of care deserts in the United States. Medical care deserts are best defined as a region which is more than 60 minutes away from the closest hospital. Nearly 1 in 5 residential areas in America, or around 640 entire counties, fall under this definition. 

Also affecting access to healthcare and employment status substantially are child care deserts. Child care deserts are areas in which there are little to no licensed child care providers. An estimated 51% of all residents in the United States live in a child care desert. Plus, child care is especially limited among particular populations such as for low-income families, rural families, and Latinx or Hispanic families. 

Each and every person is deserving of the right to proper healthcare, especially that which is free of the leaps and bounds of a system that oppresses and makes it extraordinarily difficult to access or afford. 

That said, the COVID-19 pandemic without a doubt boosted the telemedicine industry dramatically, putting more accessible and affordable healthcare on the map. A rainbow behind storm clouds, telemedicine has the potential to help people in many ways beyond what we saw over the past year. 

For one, people don’t have to worry as much about transportation, making virtual appointments not only cheaper but also less time consuming. Similarly, because such appointments can take place right from your home, the patient is offered a lot more flexibility to accommodate their work schedules and things like child care. Not to mention stressors in regards to scheduling, the possibility of domestic violence or even religion that can make traditional medical care difficult.  Therefore, due to its asynchronous nature, this intrusive care modality can be much less anxiety-inducing for patients. 

One telemedicine option, Alpha, has been offering such services for much longer than those which were forced into it by the pandemic. Alpha is a growing platform that allows for patients to receive primary care or talk therapy from home. It specializes in holistic treatments for women ranging from regular checkups to ongoing mental health appointments, nutrition and reproductive care – including postpartum depression – acknowledging that women often carry the burden of handling healthcare for their entire families (spouses, children, elderly parents, siblings, etc.) while also working. In this way, Alpha’s services are entirely patient led and personalized. 

Women’s health in particular is ignored, invalidated, and not taken seriously within the medical industry of the United States. Through the asynchronous telemedicine that Alpha offers, patients have a direct line of written conversation with their physician to ask questions or address concerns, unlike an in-person setting where phone calls are screened or a patient might see a different doctor each time they visit. This way, visits are much more private, personal, and accessible. 

Additionally, by allowing patients to pay with cash or in an a-la-carte fashion, the company stands by its mission to meet patients where they are. According to its website, Alpha has a few external/local partnerships in 43 states in the case that a patient needs a procedure done or to go to a lab to receive a test which cannot be completed from an at-home kit – remaining dedicated to combatting the issue of care deserts across the country. 

Alpha’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jacobsen, highlighted a mission of the platform. “We educate patients on their medical condition. We are always involved with the patient because involving the patient in their care, making an informed and fair treatment plan and decisions about prescription medications is going to increase adherence to the plan by the patient.” 

 “And obviously,” Jacobsen continued, “support the relationship between the patient and the provider. We know that a good relationship with the provider actually shows better patient outcomes.” 

Alpha encourages all employers to consider health plans which include telemedicine, citing its inherent ability to provide a less stigmatized experience for patients. More specifically, much of the patient demographic using Alpha are people either without insurance or moving in and out of insurance.

“It is a great fit for gig workers and very convenient, given the fact that you don’t have to take time out of business hours.” Gloria Lao, co-founder and CEO, added, “you can solve your medical issues at midnight on your couch and still get cared for.” 

It is surely going to be difficult to return to fully in-person treatments after the pandemic considering the cutting-edge programs which have emerged and its potential to drive affordability. Perhaps, with a more urgent shift toward progressive politics in the United States and as the unions formed by workers across the country begin to catch fire, we can expect to see more attention focused on finally making healthcare accessible, affordable, and non-discriminatory.


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Gender Race Inequality

Glossier has reached cult status, but does the beauty startup really include everyone?

A few weeks ago, Glossier was hit with a class action suit alleging that their website is not accessible for the seeing-impaired.

The plaintiff, Kathleen Sypert, filed the complaints with Glossier after “she was denied goods and service” while navigating the website and encountering “multiple access barriers.” Sypert, who is blind, also filed similar complaints with AllSaints, Beecher’s Cheese, and a few other companies for the same issue. The case has since been settled, but it has ignited a conversation about what it means to be inclusive in an e-commerce driven society.

This lawsuit mirrors the one filed against supermarket chain Winn-Dixie last year.

Under similar allegations, the court found that the website was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which  “prohibits individuals with disabilities from being discriminated against when it comes to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities or public accommodations,” according to an NBC News report.

The grocery store was ordered to make the website accessible, in what’s considered the first trial regarding website accessibility under the ADA.

Enacted in 1990, the ADA had ensured that street-side retailers and merchandisers kept physical clearance in aisles and general accessibility throughout their stores. However, the ADA has expanded to include a company’s website thanks to e-commerce companies like Amazon driving consumers to the Internet and the recent Winn-Dixie ruling.

In doing so, the number of lawsuits filed citing a violation to the ADA Title III has increased, specifically in New York where Glossier is based.

It’s strange to see companies like Glossier, a beauty brand that aims to be inclusive in their products and assert a “symbiotic relationship” with their customers, even slapped with this lawsuit when at face value they appear to be doing so. It’s important, though, to differentiate a company’s words from their actions. You can say that you offer goods to a wide consumer base, but when you fail to make those products attainable to these individuals – whether they are defined along by race, gender, or physical abilities – then you failed to achieve the goal you set out to do.

It would be like Fenty Beauty being exclusively sold in Sephoras located in majority-white neighborhoods.

There’s no follow through.

And while it’s easy to dismiss the lawsuits as an attempt to exploit shortcomings in design since in the past year businesses are paying out an average of $16,000 per settlement, rarely is this done for the benefit of the plaintiffs. 

According to a report by the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, plaintiffs in New York only receive about $500 per case compared to what their attorney cashes in on recovery fees. So to dismiss Sypert is to ignore a history of exclusion, intentional and accidental, that has made the existence of the ADA critical in defending those with disabilities.

So no, you don’t get to be rewarded for doing the bare minimum. Inclusivity doesn’t stop once you offer an array of foundation shades or show that you’re body positive.

It’s 2018.

To do so is to follow the wave. It’s ensuring that your consumers are offered an equal and devoid of prejudice experience in-store and online. Failing to do so shows who you are and who you actually represent.

Love Wellness Interviews

Jaimee Ratliff is championing inclusive yoga through hip hop

Jaimee Ratliff, is an Atlanta based Yoga instructor, who teaches yoga with a twist. Her students flow through challenging poses with hip-hop and R&B tunes in the background. Yoga is not just a form of exercise, but a tool used for self-care that has helped Jaimee get through difficult times. Jaimee teaches yoga through pop-up classes and out of different venues throughout Atlanta, with the goal of making yoga accessible to everyone, regardless of age, race, and gender.

Jaimee sat down with The Tempest to discuss her love of yoga, self-care and what it means to be a woman of color teaching yoga.

The Tempest: On your website, it details your mission, which is to make yoga accessible to all people regardless of race, gender etc. How have you achieved that so far?

Jaimee Ratliff: I have achieved my mission by making my class open and welcoming. When people come into my class they don’t have that same feeling that I did when I first went into studios. It makes people feel more comfortable when you walk into a place and you see people that look like you.

I would say that about 85% of my students are people of color. It’s not a typical yoga class, it’s very diverse. You don’t just come in seeing one race, which is typically Caucasian women. I have people of all shapes and sizes in my class.  And before we even start a class, I make my students introduce themselves to someone they don’t know. I would say that’s how I keep the diversity.

[bctt tweet=”It’s important that my students see someone that looks like them” username=”wearethetempest”]

 Why did you choose hip-hop?

I choose hip-hop because I knew that I wanted to be able to get more people of color involved in the practice. And there are a hundred different studios that you can take classes in, but most of them aren’t playing music like that.

I thought, what way could I entice people to just come? Some have those initial barriers to entry because people are like, “I’m not flexible enough” or “yoga isn’t for me”. And they don’t really see images of people that look like them anyway.

I felt that the best way to get them in the studio is to create this hip-hop yoga, that invites movement and community. They can move how they want! That alone entices people. They can see that I’m relatable. I don’t sound like a lofty guru, I have a sense of humor and I encourage them to try new things. But I also include inspiring meditations at the end of class. So you’re getting both Tupac and the Depac.

The goal is to introduce people of color to yoga. Because I feel like we’re the ones who need it most. Self-care is a big buzzword in the wellness industry now but it’s not something that we always subscribe to. We are taught to work our asses off and never really take care of ourselves. Because if you take of yourself then you are seen as selfish. But self-care is important and I speak on that a lot. And I want to bring more people into yoga and then from then on they can decide if they like, vinyasa or maybe like the restorative or yin; there are so many different styles. I want them to see the benefits physically, mentally and emotionally that you can get from a regular practice and from there you’re free to go on and try out whatever works for you.

[bctt tweet=”I don’t sound like a lofty guru.” username=”wearethetempest”]

 Do you find that yoga is an attractive way to encourage self-care in the black community?

I think it’s one of the many modalities of self-care. I wholeheartedly believe in therapists and seeking out others like spirituality or meditation. There are so many types of healing. Personally, I use it as one of the tools in my toolbox to keep myself mentally and emotionally sane. But it’s not a one size fits all. There are aspects of the practice that again if you’re a spiritual person, you may want to read scriptures or go to church. And I’m glad you mentioned therapy which is also another stigma in the black community, along with other communities as well.

What makes my classes unique is that I bring a real, raw part of myself and my own journey to my students. So I do talk to them about how therapy is something that I have integrated with yoga, through tough times. I also share a large part of my journey online. I believe we need more people who don’t just showcase their glamorous lives on social media, but also the tough parts because that’s what makes us human and feel connected.

[bctt tweet=”Showcasing the difficult parts of our lives make us feel connected” username=”wearethetempest”]

Are you currently on tour now?

The hip-hop tour kicks off February 24th in New York City which I’m very excited about. I just found out that it was sold out, along with a few other cities: Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, and Nashville. We had to open up two classes in Chicago because one class sold out in four days, and then the second one sold out in four hours. Out of about 840 tickets, we’re about 35 tickets from being sold out.
Jaimee in front of a yoga class with her arms in the air Via Rebelle Agency

What advice do you have for women of color who want to create these spaces?

I would say a big part of that is bringing your authentic self. and I guess people have observed the success I have obtained with doing the hip-hop yoga and will try to throw these classes on to their schedule. You have to ask yourself, why am I doing this? Because if it’s not organic and authentic then it will show. You truly need to be passionate about what you want to do.

Before I became a yoga teacher, I was a travel writer and everyone would tell me that they wanted my life, when inside I struggled with personal issues. I don’t want people to look at me and want my life. Being authentic will attract the people in the audiences that you want to bring to whatever it is you want to create. With yoga, there are so many options. You can take a yoga class with anybody. But it’s more than the class, it’s the person, it’s the teacher it’s that connection that has people coming back.

If I were to share anything with the readers of The Tempest, I would say to stay open to all the experiences that you have in life. Everything we experience leads us closer and closer to who we are to become.

This piece has been edited for length and clarity

An earlier version of this article stated that Jaimee has her own studio. Jaimee does not have a stationary studio and focuses on only pop-ups.

An earlier version of this article stated that the tour only had 480 tickets. The total tickets for the tour was 840.