Today's scheduled vote by House Republicans to repeal the new health care law is largely symbolic, but the Obama administration is taking no chances that people will miss what's at stake if the worst-case scenario plays out. African Americans are among the groups to which it's reaching out to rally support in defense of the controversial measure.
Banking on its estimated 82 percent approval rating among African-American voters, the administration has been reaching out to black media outlets to convey what we have to lose without the Affordable Care Act. In a press conference call yesterday with journalists, government officials cited a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services saying a repeal of the law could deny health care costs for up to 129 million Americans — under the age of 65 — who have pre-existing conditions.
The message was important for African-American voters because one in two is affected by pre-existing conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, asthma, high blood pressure and arthritis. The law will prohibit insurers from denying coverage to applicants with pre-existing conditions by 2014. It already does so for children.
"African-American women are likely to be diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer; African-American men have some of the highest rates of colorectal cancer compared to the general population," Dr. Garth Graham, deputy assistant secretary for minority health for the Department of Health and Human Services, announced yesterday afternoon during the press conference call, which also included Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. "The law contains more than 75 provisions that will help advance health care for minority communities across the board and the African-American community."
Benjamin added that before the law was passed many people were in the position of having to submit insurance application after application, just to be denied for having pre-existing conditions. "Oftentimes they didn't know why they were denied and then there was no insurance available to them even if they worked very hard and were willing to sacrifice to pay for the insurance, they couldn't even get it," she said. "It's not even available to them because they had something that was pre-existing."
Another provision of the health care reform law is to provide insurance coverage for working families and adults who are uninsured or under-insured, Graham said. Additionally, the law will expand Medicaid to include working families and adults, which potentially can provide insurance to an estimated 4 million African Americans.
As things stand right now, if the House votes to repeal the law, Democrats hold a majority in the Senate and members have said they will block the effort. Even if that fails, President Obama has threatened to use his veto power against repeal. He has also said he is prepared to work on a bipartisan effort to improve the law, but urged lawmakers not to "go backward" and repeal the measure, according to the Associated Press.
Now, it's a matter of waiting to see how the House votes later today to determine what the next step in the nation's health care reform effort will be.
Lynette Holloway is a Chicago-based writer. She is a former New York Times reporter and associate editor for Ebony magazine.