What Health Care Reform Means for African Americans

Many of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act are just starting to be implemented -- and black people may benefit more than most.

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act in March 2010as activist Marcelas Owens looks on. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act in March 2010as activist Marcelas Owens looks on. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

This is Part 1 of The Agenda: What Obama Has Done for You, a series of articles looking at President Barack Obama’s record on issues that affect blacks.

On March 23 of this year, after months of heated conservative backlash at town halls and Tea Party rallies nationwide, President Obama signed into law HR 3590, which enacted sweeping changes to America’s health care system. Not a single Senate or House Republican supported the bill.

With 46 million Americans living without health insurance, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, health care reform’s real benefits breached divisions between classes, genders and races. Nevertheless, African Americans are still suffering disproportionately with the problems of this country’s broken health care system.

In 2009, 19 percent of blacks did not have health insurance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number for whites was 10.4 percent in 2007. What’s more, 48 percent of African-American adults suffer from chronic diseases, compared with 39 percent of the general population.

With a series of steps set to roll out over the next five years, HR 3590, also called the Affordable Care Act, is designed to eliminate these and other disparities. And in fact, many of the law’s provisions have already begun to be implemented.

Health Insurance: Expanding, Better Coverage

Simply getting health insurance will be a big step forward for millions of African Americans. “The Institute of Medicine has articulated that health insurance is a key component to reducing health disparities within minority communities,” Dr. Garth Graham, deputy assistant secretary for minority health in the Office of Minority Health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), told The Root.

By immediately providing small businesses with a tax credit to help cover their employees, the new law has already made health insurance more accessible for many. And come 2014, the government will also offer tax credits to individuals who need to buy their own insurance. For those who still can’t afford insurance, the federal government will provide matching funds to states in order to help cover additional low-income families under Medicaid.

The government estimates that these benefits could help 32 million uninsured Americans get coverage.

A series of measures will guarantee that all people who are insured are treated fairly by their insurance companies. This means that by 2014, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage to anyone with pre-existing conditions — a huge coup for the African-American community, which is plagued with chronic illness.

Insurers are already barred from denying children with pre-existing conditions. Again, while all Americans stand to gain from this particular regulation, African Americans in particular should celebrate: Black children are more prone than white children to a host of illnesses, including type 2 diabetes and asthma.

“This will make sure that children up to the age of 19 don’t get denied coverage, even if people are switching between insurances,” says Dr. Graham.

Preventive Services: Catching Cancer Before It Catches You

As of Sept. 23, all new health-insurance plans will be forced to cover — at no additional cost — a critical variety of preventive services, including mammograms, colonoscopies and well-baby visits. “Why is that important for African Americans?” asks Dr. Graham. “Because black men have some of the highest death rates from something like colon cancer.