In the past three years, the rate of African American without health insurance has dropped by nearly 50 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That amounted to about three million adults gaining medical coverage -- many for the first time in many years.
Those are astounding figures.
They are largely the result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare as it has come to be known). More specifically, key ACA provisions paved the way for the coverage, including: Medicaid expansion; creation of the Health Insurance Marketplace; changes in private insurance that allow young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans; and requiring plans to cover people with pre-existing health conditions.
Again, these are all great accomplishments. But the fact remains that, right now, close to 20 percent of African-Americans population nationwide remains uninsured, many of them living in the Southeast, including Florida. In all, the number of uninsured Americans stood at 28.5 million in 2015.
Many African-Americans and other uninsured people cite the high cost of insurance as the main reason they lack coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Other reasons are that many people do not have access to coverage through a job, and some people, particularly poor adults in states that did not expand Medicaid (including Florida), remain ineligible for financial assistance for coverage.
We need to do better in getting many more people covered. The ACA, as we know, needs some fixes, and I hope there’s enough political will to make the necessary adjustments to add more people. I hope the progress started will continue.
The consequences of not having health insurance are severe. Nationwide, the number of preventable deaths due to lack of insurance is about 48,000 a year, based on American Journal of Public Health studies. Furthermore, other studies found that the uninsured are less likely than those with insurance to receive preventive care and services for major health conditions and chronic diseases.
In Broward County, we know the dire implications of what happens when people are sick and can’t get medical treatment. Our last State of Black Broward: Health Report (which was supported by Sunshine Health) found troubling data about the health of our residents. One major finding: chronic diseases such as diabetes, stroke and respiratory illnesses affect the minority community at significantly higher rates than other populations.
The Urban League of Broward County is addressing these challenges. We have provided access to vital health care resources for families, which include helping adults navigate the ACA Health Insurance Marketplace and by connecting close to 300 pregnant women to safe and reliable prenatal care each year.
Yet, we can only do so much.
The ACA has helped many people get access to quality health care, and so we need to make sure it survives the rough seas that it has entered. By combining our local resources with the continued expansion of the ACA, we can expand health services for all residents, level disparities in the healthcare system, and address chronic illnesses that have plagued our community for so long.
The Baughtom Line is this: We need to keep supporting our nation’s health care reforms, which have helped millions of African-American access medical care, some for the first time in many years.