The passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) promised to improve the delivery of healthcare services in America, especially for historically disadvantaged communities that suffer high rates of chronic illness. The ACA has begun to deliver on that promise, but work still remains to ensure all who need healthcare in the most prosperous nation on earth can receive it.
Some of the greatest gains in reducing the number of uninsured people in the U.S. have been realized in the African American community, which has seen a 30 percent increase in those with health insurance. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), nearly eight million African Americans now have access to critical preventive services, including mammograms and flu shots.
The benefit is extended further for adults whose children up to age 26 can remain on their parents’ health insurance. That includes some 500,000 African Americans.
Now, our focus turns to educating and mobilizing groups where more work needs to be done, in particular with African American males. Within this group, 43 percent suffer from high blood pressure, compared to nearly 34 percent of all White men. And Black males are more than 30 percent more likely to contract lung cancer, even though their overall exposure to cigarette smoke (the primary risk factor for the disease) is lower. These rates are primarily attributed to affordability and limited access to care. Thanks to the ACA those limitations to care have been lifted.
For those living in poor and minority communities, cost has always been a major barrier to care. However, access to care is now more broadly available — thanks to an expansion of Medicaid in many states — including the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and health insurance subsidies for millions of individuals and families.
In fact, according to HHS, if more states took advantage of these provisions, upwards of 95 percent of African Americans would qualify. Unfortunately, some states remain reluctant to participate, so access to coverage is limited to some who need it most.
Another barrier to health insurance is lack of information. Therefore, our job — yours and mine — is to help spread the word about the ease of signing up for insurance using Healthcare.gov. The Affordable Care Act has begun to meet its goal of revitalizing our healthcare system and making it more accessible and affordable to all Americans. Ultimately, we know this will help lead to a higher overall quality of life.
Patricia A. Maryland is the president of Healthcare Operations and Chief Operating Officer for Ascension Health.