October 03, 2013
By Thandisizwe Chimurenga
LAWT Contributing Writer
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) began implementation here in California under the banner of “Covered California” on Oct. 1 in spite of the first government “shut down” in almost 20 years. Republican members of Congress refused to pass a spending bill for the government on Sept. 30, the end of their fiscal year, unless Democratic members agreed to delay the start of the ACA, also known as “Obamacare,” for one year. No such agreement came and now, most non-essential operations of the federal government have shut down until the members of Congress can find agreement on how to keep the wheels of the federal government moving.
Numerous myths and a few outright falsehoods have swirled around the ACA including the charge that it is “socialism” or “socialized medicine.” Republican lawmakers have attempted to repeal the Act more than 40 times and have failed each time. As the drama of attempting to attach “anti-Obamacare” legislation to any spending bills for the government continues, here is what the Act means for African-American Angelenos.
The Affordable Care Act, which was passed by Congress in March of 2010, has made it mandatory for everyone (yes everyone) to have health insurance. The ACT, therefore, is designed to make health care more affordable and easier to get for the uninsured and the underinsured - approximately 30 million people in the U.S. Individuals who do not have health care benefits because they work part-time or are unemployed, as well as small businesses owners who are unable to provide their employees with health benefits, will now be able to choose from a variety of different insurance plans that are affordable and tailored to meet individual/business needs. Individuals and families who are already insured but unhappy with their current plans will be able to exchange them for different ones. In some instances, individuals and families will receive a subsidy to pay for their insurance premiums.
Under the ACA, approximately 7 million African Americans who have been uninsured will now be covered. The 7.3 million African American individuals and families that already have private insurance, as well as the 4.5 million elderly/disabled African Americans on Medicare, will now also be able to receive more preventive services without paying extra. Approximately 62 preventive health services (screenings, immunizations and vaccines, counselings, contraceptions and some supplements) for men, women and children are now provided without a copayment or coinsurance, whether a person has met their yearly deductible or not, as long as the services are delivered by a network provider.
“When I was a Physician Assistant, I saw firsthand how people in our community struggled to secure basic health care,” stated Cong. Karen Bass (D-37). “High costs kept them from pursuing the care they needed and treatable conditions like hypertension and diabetes became much worse before they were detected. Because of the Affordable Care Act, all of South LA has a chance to have quality care.”
For African American women in particular, the ACA should have immediate positive benefits. African American women will now have better access to birth control through preventive care; they will no longer have to be referred to a gynecologist by a primary physician - which basically meant two doctors’ appointments and two doctors’ charges; and close to 400,000 African American women will now be able to have maternity coverage since the ACA requires coverage of essential health benefits. In many states, insurers were reluctant to service women who were victims of domestic violence; some insurers even considered domestic violence to be a pre-existing condition. This has now been eliminated.
African Americans are not the only group in the U.S. to be plagued by health disparities. The ACA, while not crafted specifically to address these inequities, is poised to positively impact many of them in several ways.
The Department of Health and Human Services states that, under the ACA, lifetime limits on health insurance plans will be lifted; insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to people who have pre-existing conditions; increased funding will grow the numbers of African American physicians in the National Health Service Corps.; Community Transformation Grants will be made available to promote healthy lifestyles, lower health care costs, and reduce health disparities; and increased funding will also be made available to more than 1,000 community health centers throughout the country.
According to Cong. Bass’ office, “in the 37th Congressional District alone, ‘Obamacare’ has enabled 9,600 young adults to stay on their parent’s health insurance [until age 25], and as many as 36,000 children with pre-existing conditions in the district can no longer be denied health insurance. Thirty-three community clinics in Los Angeles received funding from the Affordable Care Act to hire and train outreach and enrollment workers to help Angelenos sign up for the new health care programs.”
CoveredCA.com, a health care “marketplace” where individuals, families and small businesses can research and compare the benefits, prices and quality of different insurance options, is currently up and running. The open enrollment period to either purchase or exchange current insurance plans will end March 31, 2014. Some insurance plans that are purchased by Dec. 15 of this year will go into effect by January of 2014. Their website address is www.coveredca.com and their phone number is 1-888-975-1142.
Several opportunities to receive more information on “Obamacare” are scheduled in the coming weeks. The Black Journalist’s Association of Southern California has scheduled a forum on “Understanding the Affordable Act” for Saturday, Oct. 5, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Second A.M.E. Church, 5500 South Hoover St., Los Angeles. More information can be obtained from www.bjasc.org.
“ObamaCare Facts, Dispelling the Myths,” is being presented as a series of information sessions sponsored by KRST Unity Center of Afrikan Spirituality. The sessions will take place on consecutive Mondays in October beginning this coming Monday, Oct. 7, from 6 to 7 p.m., at 7825 S. Western Avenue. The phone number is 323-759-7567.
Angelenos can also contact Cong. Karen Bass’ office at 323-965-1422 for assistance. Cong. Bass will host a townhall meeting on the Affordable Care Act on Sunday, November 10 at West LA College.
According to Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-2nd District), “Obamacare” means more than an opportunity for increased health and well-being for residents of the 2nd District. “It means, though, that we have to do our part. We need to learn about the changing rules, make wise choices and enroll. It’s only a triumph if we cross the finish line by signing up,” he said.