With most people still confused about what the Affordable Care Act means, and Republicans still vowing to dismantle it, African Americans who have been affected tell The Root how the law's benefiting them.
Wednesday marks the first anniversary of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the law better known as health care reform. But despite the passage of time, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation survey, most Americans are still confused about how it will impact them personally.
If all goes according to plan, by 2019 when the Affordable Care Act has been fully implemented for five years, it’s expected to cover 32 million people through expanding Medicaid eligibility and providing insurance subsidies for the poorest Americans. Everyone else who is uninsured will be required to buy insurance from state-run exchanges or face an annual fine of $695 or 2.5 percent of income. The administration claims that most Americans, who already get insurance through their employer, Medicare, Medicaid or the veterans system, will just keep their insurance.
But how is the legislation affecting people right now? Over the past year, other provisions have already kicked in:
--Young adults can stay on their parents’ policies until age 26.
--Medicare and private plans acquired since September 2010 now provide free preventive care, including physicals and screenings for blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol.
--Insurance companies are no longer allowed to deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions.
--Government-run insurance plans have been set up for adults with pre-existing conditions, allowing them access to coverage.
--Small businesses begin receiving tax credits to help them pay for employee coverage.
--Seniors have received $250 to help cover some of the Medicare “doughnut hole” coverage gap.
--Insurance companies are barred from dropping patients’ coverage when they get sick.
It’s a list familiar to anyone who’s followed health care reform, but to people affected by the changes, they’re more than just empty bullet points.
“I was ecstatic when it passed,” Michael Byrus, a 24-year-old community college student from Apex, North Carolina, told The Root. Byrus suffers from Crohn’s disease, a painful condition requiring regular treatment which, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, continues to be covered under his mother’s insurance policy.
“When I turned 23 last year, I was nervous because the insurance company had sent a letter saying that I was going to be dropped. If I’d lost my insurance, it would have come down to dropping out of school and getting a full-time job just to pay for my medication. I have to take a shot every two weeks, and without insurance it would be $1,000 a pop.”
Jacqueline Germany, an interior designer in Montclair, New Jersey, says she benefited from the law’s small business tax credit. Before the legislation, she could only afford to pay for 50 percent of her employees’ benefits, but now she’s able to cover 85 percent.
“I was also able to shop around and get a lower policy, so I got more bang for my buck,” she told The Root. “I’ll be getting back $2,000 that I plan on reinvesting into the health care premium pool for my employees. It’s helped me a lot toward providing health care, and it’s been one less headache in running the business.”
Of course, not everyone is thrilled with health care reform. In January House Republicans voted to repeal the law, only to have the measure fail in the Senate, but GOP leaders have vowed to continue the battle. In an op-ed published on Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ripped the law, arguing that it will place a burden on businesses, result in massive job loss, and force Americans to get dropped from their employer-based insurance.
In spite of the doom predicted by Republican critics when President Obama signed the bill – that it would lead to a “socialist government takeover,” put seniors to death, and destroy American society as we know it – a year into the legislation, things haven’t been so drastic. And according to the Kaiser survey, while 39 percent of respondents would like to see it repealed, 51 percent want to keep the law or expand it.
The Affordable Care Act sure isn't perfect, and as it proceeds there will certainly be bumps in the road. On its first birthday, however, more Americans still think it’s worth trying.
Cynthia Gordy is the Washington reporter for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.
On the first stop of his Latin America trip, President Obama emphasized shared ties to Africa between the U.S. and Brazil -- and called for cooperation to help lift up the continent.
This weekend President Obama embarked on his five-day Latin America trip to Brazil, Chile (where he touched down on Monday) and El Salvador to strengthen relationships, with a particular focus on the U.S. trading role in some of the world's fastest growing markets.
Addressing Brazilians directly in a speech from Rio de Janeiro on Sunday afternoon, he spoke of shared values between the United States and Brazil, and how the two countries can work together through student exchanges, expanding collaboration between science and technology researchers, and working to stop drug trafficking. Obama also singled out working together to combat hunger, disease and corruption in Africa.
"As two countries that have been greatly enriched by our African heritage, it's absolutely vital that we are working with the continent of Africa to help lift it up," he said to applause from the audience at the Teatro Municipal. "That is something we should be committed to doing together."
Brazil, which has the second-largest population of African-descended people in the world after Nigeria, has long worked with African nations in terms of oil and energy, humanitarian aid and trade. What's new, however, is President Obama's allusion to Brazil and the United States doing joint work on the continent.
"He's making a logical connection which has not been made before by the United States: the fact that our common origins in Africa create a common opportunity to Africa," said David Vidal, director of the Conference Board Center for Citizenship and Sustainability, and former Brazil correspondent for the New York Times and Associated Press. "It's a new statement of intention and redirection that I think is very significant."
So far, Brazil and the United States have already launched their first trilateral project in Africa, an agricultural program in Mozambique. By training Mozambique's famers how to grow and sell more vegetables through improved production and marketing methods, U.S. and Brazilian agricultural experts hope to bolster the country's farm sector.
Vidal says such collaborations are particularly important given the rapid expansion of China in Africa, where Chinese workers have created roads, hospitals and schools in exchange for access to raw materials. "It certainly puts into context whatever may come of a U.S.-Brazil collaboration because there's a lot already going on, and China's leaving everybody in the dust."
Sharon Freeman, president of Americans, Chinese and Africans Connecting, which facilitates African business collaborations between Chinese-, African- and other black-owned firms around the world, agrees that President Obama may have been alluding to competition with China. "If Obama was hinting that the U.S. and Brazil should combine efforts in Africa, why would he be saying that?" she told The Root. "The answer is because we want to compete with China, and maybe we could do it better together."
As President Obama warns of U.S. military intervention in Libya if violence continues, some lawmakers ask: Why?
Following heavy criticism of his cautious leadership style on Libya, on Friday President Obama gave remarks about the crisis surrounding Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s escalating violence against the Libyan people. Obama announced that the United States is preparing to take a more aggressive approach in the conflict, but also tried to assure that American military engagement would be limited and part of an international effort to protect civilians.
“Here is why this matters to us,” Obama said, giving his analysis of the situation if left unchecked. “Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow.”
Obama listed the intervention efforts taken thus far, including laying sanctions, enforcing an arms embargo against the Qaddafi regime, and Thursday's U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing a no-fly zone and other uses of force if the killings do not stop.
“Once more, Muammar Qadaffi has a choice,” the president said, underscoring the resolution’s clear demand for an immediate cease-fire, as well as establishing water, electricity and gas supplies back to all areas of the country. If Qaddafi does not comply, he continued, the United States, our British and French allies, and members of the Arab League, will take military action.
“I also want to be clear about what we will not be doing,” Obama said. “The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya. And we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal – specifically, the protection of civilians in Libya.”
Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa has announced an immediate cease-fire, but it it hasn't stopped Qadaffi's soldiers from continuing its campaign against rebel forces, according to reports.
Although President Obama has support on military engagement from congressional Republicans (Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham) as well as Democrats (Senators John Kerry and Bob Menendez), lawmakers on both sides have also expressed reluctance about making Libya our problem. Questions remain about the extent of violence against innocent civilians, as opposed to fighting between armed rebels and Qaddafi loyalists, and how the interests of Americans are being served.
Republican Senator Dick Lugar explained his reservations at a Thursday Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing: “Given the costs of a no-fly zone, the risks that our involvement would escalate, the uncertain reception in the Arab street of any American intervention in an Arab country, the potential for civilian deaths, the unpredictability of the endgame in a civil war, the strains on our military, and other factors, I am doubtful that U.S. interests would be served by imposing a no-fly zone over Libya."
In his remarks on Friday, President Obama stressed that he made his decision carefully, particularly when our military is already stretched thin from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “But the United States of America will not stand idly in the face of actions that undermine global peace and security,” he insisted. “I have taken this decision with the confidence that action is necessary, and that we will not be acting alone. Our goal is focused, our cause is just, and our coalition is strong.”
In a wide-ranging news conference, President Obama defended under-siege programs for the poor and unemployed.
For a few days now, Republicans have criticized President Obama over rising gas prices. House Speaker John Boehner blames the problem on Obama’s now-lifted moratorium on oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico last summer and the termination of drilling leases in national parks. Others have accused the president of gleefully sitting back and watching gas prices, which have shot up amid unrest in North Africa and the Middle East -- the easier to force Americans into embracing electric cars and high-speed rail.
To get in front of the conversation, on Friday the president held a news conference.
“We’ve been having this conversation for nearly four decades now,” said Obama, pointing out that rising gas prices – and partisan handwringing over the issue – are far from a new phenomenon. “I think the American people are tired of talk.”
While he expressed openness to tapping more American oil resources if the situation calls for it, the president again pushed for moving to clean energy. “As long as our economy depends on foreign oil, we’ll always be subject to price spikes,” he said, arguing that we can’t drill our way out of the problem since the United States only controls two percent of the world’s oil.
As for the short-term, Obama acknowledged that Americans are feeling the cost of rising gas prices acutely – and some more so than others. “A lot of folks who are having the toughest time, who are either unemployed or have low-wage jobs, they’re the ones that are most severely affected because they’re using a higher portion of their income just to fill up the gas tank,” he said.
The global community, Obama said, has committed to filling gaps in oil supply, to make up for Middle East political turmoil. He’s also asked Attorney General Eric Holder to monitor the industry for price gouging, to ensure that people aren’t getting ripped off.
The press conference dipped into a broad range of subjects, including the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan (Obama assured Prime Minister Kan that the U.S. will provide any assistance needed), and the president’s careful consideration of involving the U.S. military in Libya (it’s on the table, but he’s still thinking about it).
And at several points Obama revisited subjects pertinent to “folks who are unemployed or have low-wage jobs” -- groups he hasn’t mentioned much lately as he focuses on winning the future.
Housing was discussed as a major economic concern. “We’ve got a lot of folks who, because housing prices have fallen so steeply, are still hurting. Some of them are threatened with foreclosure, maybe because they lost a job,” he said. He pointed to his Home Affordable Modification (HAMP) program, which offers incentives for lenders to modify home loans, but admitted that the going has been painfully slow.
While the administration predicted that three to four million homeowners would be able to modify their loans under the plan, so far only about 500,000 have. “It’s going to take some time for the housing market to improve,” he said. “But we’re continuing to take a range of steps to try to strengthen that process of recovery.”
Obama mentions his housing efforts just as congressional Republicans have placed them in the firing line. This week the GOP-controlled House voted to end his home refinancing program aimed at borrowers who owe more than their homes are worth. Next week HAMP goes on the chopping block. The president has threatened a veto if the Senate passes the killing of either measure.
On Congress’ inability to agree on a continuing resolution to fund the government through this fiscal year, Obama stood up for education programs for low-income students.
“There are going to be certain things that House Republicans want that I will not accept,” he said of Pell Grants and Head Start. “I think it’s very important to understand that our long-term debt and deficits are not caused by us having Head Start teachers in the classroom,” he said, calling the early childhood education program and Pell Grants critical to the nation’s long-term success.
Obama’s style is usually to take the best deal he thinks he can get, so even though he’s drawn his line at foreclosure assistance, Head Start and Pell Grants now...you never know if more capitulation is around the corner. But after he’s already proposed disappointing cuts to LIHEAP funding and Community Development Block Grants, on this he just may stick to his word.
Congress averted a looming government shutdown by passing a two-week extension for federal funding. That's great, but now what?
Two days before funding for government services was scheduled to run out, on Tuesday Congress passed a bill to temporarily finance the government for two weeks. The short-term solution also came with $4 billion in cuts to current federal spending.
Making it easier for Democrats to get on board, those reductions hit areas that President Obama had already proposed cutting in his 2012 budget, such as the Smithsonian Legacy Fund, election assistance grants, and earmark spending for special state projects.
Now lawmakers have another two weeks to figure something out. Republicans already have a plan, using their House majority to demand a Continuing Resolution that would slash $61 billion from discretionary funds through the fiscal year. Democrats say such deep cuts are unacceptable, however, and the president has threatened to veto the legislation.
It’s a formula for more short-term spending bills, allowing Republicans to reach their goal bit by bit.
The president expressed approval of the bill’s two-week funding extension, but his pleasure stopped there. “We cannot keep doing business this way,” he said in a statement on Tuesday. “Living with the threat of a shutdown every few weeks is not responsible, and it puts our economic progress in jeopardy.”
He urged congressional leaders to meet with White House officials immediately, and work on finding common ground. But with common ground having eluded the two parties so far, it seems doubtful that anything agreeable will emerge.
"I could see it going a number of ways," Rebecca Thiess, policy analyst for the Economic Policy Institute told The Root, noting a likelihood of more two-week compromises. “The worst-case scenario would be for Democrats to agree to the [House Republicans'] continuing resolution, and have that get passed to fund the government for the rest of the year.”
Aside from striking a blow to low-income people – given its heavy cuts to human services including early childhood education programs, Pell Grants, job training services and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition supplemental program – Thiess says the GOP spending bill would also slash about 800,000 public sector jobs.
“In terms of long-term debt issues, it would a blip on the radar,” she said. “Our long-term issues are not caused by these discretionary programs that Republicans are going after.”
Meanwhile, President Obama’s stand on this feels oddly feeble. At Monday’s White House briefing, press secretary Jay Carney even said that the White House was willing to agree to a 30-day deal that would have come with $8 billion in cuts. It’s a direction that, instead of adding anything to the debate, seems to give in to GOP demands.
After $4 billion here, $8 billion there, and so on down the line, Republicans aren't going to stop and be satisfied. Instead this feels more like: 4 billion down, 57 billion to go.