By Austin Thompson BYP 100
A New Healthcare Law in Town
Despite right-wing opposition, black youth have a chance to change the course of history by mobilizing our communities to enroll in the new Affordable Care Act’s healthcare insurance marketplace. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) or “Obamacare” is a new law championed by President Barack Obama that offers health care insurance to more than 40 million people for the first time. An extremely disproportionate amount of the uninsured are African-Americans who receive less preventive care and have worse health outcomes than whites. Our families still need medical treatment so we often end up in the emergency room or urgent care for advanced illnesses that drive-up healthcare costs and are often too little too late. Until now, the high costs of coverage contributed to an apartheid health care system that is both immoral and wastes a ton of money that could be going elsewhere. The ACA is rooted basic values African-Americans and most Americans in general share. Every human being deserves the best possible care that improves our quality of life and saves money over the long-term.
“Obamacare” is a Win for Black Youth
Black youth will be among the greatest beneficiaries of the new healthcare law. Under the ACA young adults can stay on their parent’s health care insurance plan until they are 26 years old. That means greater stability between the time when we leave school and when we find solid footing in an uncertain job market. In recent years, community health centers that provide vital health services to communities of color have been forced to close their doors or cutback on staff due to budget cuts and the misplaced priorities of local governments. The ACA increases funding for community health centers and invests in creative methods for frontline care that are culturally-grounded and accessible. Private health insurance companies that used to deny children and adults coverage based on previous medical conditions are now required by law to stop discriminating and start helping people. This is one of the most widely popular provisions of the ACA along with the expansion of Medicaid. Several states refused to accept the expansion of Medicaid (a public healthcare option for low-income families) under the new healthcare law. Ironically, these are states with some of the largest populations of African-Americans. (Take a look at the map of states that are not participating in the Medicaid expansion). In states like Mississippi or Georgia where Republican lawmakers are doing everything in their power to block implementation of the ACA many black youth, especially in rural areas, may be left behind. And the ACA does not offer cover the undocumented. Indeed, there is plenty of room left for improvement.
Healthcare Insurance the New “Crack Cocaine”?
Conservative legislators recently forced a shutdown of the government in order to attack the new healthcare law. But right-wing opposition to the new law has little to do with the details of health care policy— after all the ACA was modeled after an idea originally proposed by Republicansthemselves. Their resistance to the extension of health care coverage for
millions of uninsured people and the end of healthcare apartheid is part of a genealogy of obstructionist politics that pre-dates the current national debate. From their opposition to the desegregation of schools, to their denial of voting rights and fair wages for workers, right-wing conservatism by has for the most part been exclusively about safeguarding social and economic inequality. Their role in the healthcare debate is no different. Republicans have admitted that what they fear the most about the ACA is that if people sign-up for health care coverage for the first time, they will never want to return back to the unjust past. Recently, conservative legislator Michelle Bachmann went as far as to accuse President Obama of “getting Americans addicted to the crack cocaine of dependency on more government health care”. Economist John Kenneth Galbraith once famously said that conservatives are in a “search for a superior moral justification for selfishness”. The fight to repeal the ACA and deny health care coverage to millions of people has no moral justification regardless how much money the Tea Party spends to convince people otherwise.
The Road to Healthcare Justice
Enrollment opened on October 1st for the new healthcare exchanges under the ACA and coverage will start in January 2014. It’s easy to start the process of enrollment simply by visiting healthcare.gov and opening an account. There are also trainings across the country about the new law, who qualifies for what program and where to sign-up. We don’t have to be policy experts or academics to inform our communities about signing up for healthcare coverage and can start making a difference by reaching out to friends and family in our everyday networks and starting the conversation. Healthcare.gov is easily accessible on smart phones and tablets for exactly that kind of discussion. Of course, winning healthcare justice in our communities is bigger than just one law. Healthcare justice is about demanding healthy food in our neighborhoods, fighting against the sources of environmental racism and expanding access to free community health services including reproductive and mental health treatment. However, the ACA is one step in the right direction and puts us on a path to end healthcare apartheid in America once and for all—if we accept the challenge.