Black Folks Are Key to Obamacare’s Success

The first lady is aggressively touting the Affordable Care Act with black voters—here’s why.

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The term “working poor” (pdf) refers to Americans who grind for more than 27 weeks a year and yet make less than the federal poverty guidelines. And more than a fair share of us can be found among the working adults who aren’t officially considered poor, yet don’t earn enough to make ends meet: roughly $16,000 a year for a single person or $32,500 for a family of four, a group that typically goes uninsured.

The Obama administration hopes to extend health care coverage to the working poor by expanding Medicaid. The catch? Last summer the Supreme Court gave each state the right to decide whether or not it would extend Medicaid. Although states can still change their minds, most Southern states and a number in the Midwest and West (read: many of those headed by Republican governors) have decided not to increase Medicaid coverage.

Whether intended or not, their position significantly harms black Americans, who are more likely than other groups to live in the South. In fact, 40 percent of black folks who would have qualified for coverage live in states where Medicaid is not being expanded—almost half of this group in Florida, Georgia or (surprise!) solidly red Texas.

The bottom line is that African Americans are a key component of President Obama’s base. And black women in particular are also the health care decision-makers for their households.

Sending Michelle Obama out to rally support for Obamacare was a smart move.

Hilary Beard is co-author of Health First! The Black Woman’s Wellness Guide, which won a 2013 NAACP Image Award, and has led the Black AIDS Institute’s volunteer journalists to the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., and Vienna. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.