Rani G. Whitfield created the massively successful alter ego or moniker, Hip Hop Doc, in order to create a national buzz that would focus on the gross inadequacies and inefficiencies within the American health care system.
His patients in Louisiana and beyond are the beneficiaries because the “Hip Hop Doc” has become a galvanizing brand that has brought together young people and influential people within the medical profession to fight on behalf of the uninsured and underinsured.
And that’s exactly what happened when the Louisiana governor tried to justify deep cuts in Medicare and Medicaid that would dramatically impact not only disadvantanged and underpriviledged people, but also emergency rooms across and the entire health care system in general.
“The governor was playing with my people. And we are trying to save lives. They are trying to build bridges off the backs of the poor and we can’t have that happen,” said Whitfield. “He was making cuts to help the budget. So he was talking about cutting hospice and cut benefits to patients benefits with Medicare and Medicaid. But I think he is being shortsighted with this because it’s going to end up costing us a lot more in the long run because they will run to the emergency room and using taxpayer dollars to take care of their health care.
“So I was invited on a radio show to speak my mind as a family care doctor sees patients who get free care or Medicaid and I’ve had to manipulate the system to get them health care. And because I’ve done work at the free clinic, he wanted to hear my point of view and if I could do anything about it.”
Being known as the Hip Hop Doc has opened doors to the minds and souls of young people that otherwise might have remained bolted shut to Whitfield as it has for others who try to speak to kids. Through this common denominator — love of the musical genre — young people were able to peer into Whitfield’s soul and discern that he cared about them and their plight in life.
“It’s a very small part of my practice — we deal with HIV, diabetes, hypertension etc. Hip Hop Doc was my own creation on educating young people on health care. Started off doing jingles and stealing lyrics from rap artists. And I said why don’t I do this myself. We go to schools and educate people on heath care — from breast cancer to drinking and driving to childhood obesity to drug dealing. We have a nice little campaign called ‘Get on the Bus’ and we try to get everybody to get on the bus and get healthy,” Whitfield says.
The challenge of reaching children and altering their mindsets is matched by trying to derail legislation or recommendations by influential people on cutting funding to badly needed resources in economically-deprived communities.
“I’m seeing patients on a day-to-day basis who don’t have insurance or are underinsured and treat them free of charge. This is my goal, that’s my passion and I’m not going to let anyone stop me from doing what I’m doing if I can help it,” said the Hip Hop Doc. However, “When he’s in control of the budget it’s really hard to try to fight it. I’m a part of a committee that’s trying to make some noise through press releases and campaigns and marches and protesting. The groups that I’m a part of Campaign for Health Care for Everyone and the Louisiana Health Equity. These are groups of like-minded individuals who want to see decent people who don’t have health insurance or are underinsured have health care needs met,” he says.
While Whitfield and his medical compatriots fight on the front legislative lines on behalf of the community, the Hip Hop Doc implores the community to do what they can to help themselves and stave off dangerous diseases.
“Lot of stuff from mental health to physical health. If you’re smoking, stop smoking. We need to prepare and eat a proper diet, that’s low in saturated fat and keep the blood pressure low,” Whitfield advises. “We have African American men [who] tend to not want to see the doctor, but you need to get in there on the regular basis. We need to stop waiting until the last minute to get diagnosed. We tend to get diagnosed later in the stages of the diseases and get treated less aggressively. We need to get more consistent in seeing the doctor.”
And as much as it hurts his soul to treat under-insured and uninsured patients, the Hip Hop Doc is extremely disappointed in those who are blessed to have medical coverage yet fail to maintain frequent visits to their personal doctors.
“Worse, I have had patients who have health care who came to see me because they heard me on the radio or heard of my campaign. They have had insurance for the past five to 10 years and haven’t seen a doctor [in] forever. How can you be paying these premiums and not going to see the doctor?” he says.