Faces of Obama's Health Care Reform


Editor's note, June 28, 2012: With news that the Supreme Court upheld key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, The Root has decided to re-run this blog posting where we met people who are affected by the health care law.

At an Iowa town hall last summer, an audience member prodded President Obama for failing to pass a single-payer health care system in 2010's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The president admitted that his health reform law wasn't everything he wanted, but he defended it.

"The health care bill that we passed was not perfect, but it [will extend coverage to] 30 million people," Obama said. "So this was a landmark piece of legislation. Yes, getting it through Congress was messy, and it didn't have every single provision in there that we wanted, but it was entirely consistent with what I campaigned on."


As Friday marks the second anniversary of the law's passage, the White House is reminding Americans that the legislation has already expanded access. "We know that 2.5 million young adults have gained coverage on their parents' plan because of the Affordable Care Act — and that includes 410,000 African Americans within that number," Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, told The Root in an interview this week. "We know that 5.5 million African Americans are eligible for preventive care without co-pays and co-insurance now as a result of the Affordable Care Act."

Here are some of the real African Americans behind those numbers.

Help in the "Doughnut Hole"

Helen Rayon, 72, works at a West Philadelphia senior center assisting her peers with their health and wellness needs. She cites free preventive care (including physicals and screenings for blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol) as a piece of health care reform that has been particularly important for seniors on a fixed income.

"Last year the center ran a breast-health campaign and found that, within a group of about 52 women, 28 of them had not had mammograms in several years," Rayon told The Root. "Their explanation was that the fee involved held them back. When they found out that they could get their mammograms free now, that gap closed. They are getting mammograms, gynecological checkups and other health screenings more. It makes us all more cognizant of getting examinations instead of putting them off until it's too late."

Rayon, who takes seven daily medications, is also one of many senior citizens in the Medicare "doughnut hole" — the coverage gap that occurs once their total drug costs have exceeded $2,250. While the Affordable Care Act seeks to fully close that gap by 2020, last year a new provision kicked in to help in the meantime.


"Now I get a 50 percent discount on brand name drugs," she said. "So for those of us in the doughnut hole, the law has begun to help."

"I'll Never Forget My Mom's Face"

For Michael Byrus, a 25-year-old college student in Raleigh, N.C., the Affordable Care Act rule that allows young adults to remain on their parents' policies until age 26 has been a huge relief over the past two years.


Living with Crohn's disease, a painful condition that requires regular treatment, Byrus was dropped from his mother's insurance policy in 2009. At the time, in order to be covered, he had to maintain 12 college hours a week, but complications from his illness and an ensuing surgery had kept him out of classes for three weeks.

"I could barely walk because my stomach was split from the surgery," he told The Root. "But the insurance company sent a letter saying I was about to be dropped, while I was still in the hospital. I'll never forget my mom's face."


Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, he has been able to stay on his mother's insurance — and receive a vital intravenous infusion every eight weeks — without the threat of interruption. "It's a nice thing to have because otherwise I don't know how we would pay for it," said Byrus, who is looking into insurance options for when he turns 26 next year. "I'm very fortunate right now."

Read more about the Affordable Care Act in this interview with Cecilia Munoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council. She talks about how health care reform is making a difference for African Americans in particular and why the Obama administration is not worried about legal challenges to the bill.


Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.

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