By Pat Maryland
NNPA News Wire Guest Columnist
The passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) promised to improve the delivery of healthcare services in America—especially for historically disadvantaged communities that suffer high rates of chronic illness.
The ACA has begun to deliver on that promise, but work still remains to ensure all who need healthcare in the most prosperous nation on earth can receive it. Healthcare.gov is now available for the open enrollment period through January 31, 2016. It’s imperative that members of the African-American community take advantage of this opportunity to access the coverage and care they need.
Some of the greatest gains in reducing the number of uninsured people in the U.S. have been realized in the African-American community, which has seen a 30 percent increase in those with health insurance. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), nearly 8 million African-Americans now have access to critical preventive services, including mammograms and flu shots.
The benefit is extended further for adults whose children up to age 26 can remain on their parent’s health insurance. That includes some 500,000 African-Americans.
Now, our focus turns to educating and mobilizing groups where more work needs to be done, in particular with African-American males. Within this group, 43 percent suffer from high blood pressure, compared to nearly 34 percent of all white men. And Black males are more than 30 percent more likely to contract lung cancer, even though their overall exposure to cigarette smoke (the primary risk factor for the disease) is lower. These rates are primarily attributed to affordability and limited access to care. Thanks to the ACA those limitations to care have been lifted.
For those living in poor and minority communities, cost has always been a major barrier to care. However, access to care is now more broadly available, thanks to an expansion of Medicaid in many states, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and health insurance subsidies for millions of individuals and families. In fact, according to HHS, if more states took advantage of these provisions, upwards of 95 percent of African- Americans would qualify. Unfortunately, some states remain reluctant to participate, so access to coverage is limited to some who need it most.
Another barrier to health insurance is lack of information. Therefore, our job – yours and mine – is to help spread the word about the ease of signing up for insurance using Healthcare.gov. For those who have used the program before, it is important that they review their policy to see if it still meets their needs and fits within their budget. For those would-be first-timers, take them by the hand and lead them through the site.
The Affordable Care Act has begun to meet its goal of revitalizing our healthcare system and making it more accessible and affordable to all Americans. As we make our way through this latest enrollment period, our mission is to ensure more African-Americans have the information they need to make informed choices about their healthcare. Ultimately, we know this will help lead to a higher overall quality of life.
Patricia A. Maryland, Dr.PH, is the president of Healthcare Operations and Chief Operating Officer for Ascension Health.