Saving Obamacare is a Racial Justice Issue

The House of Representatives’ vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, will be harmful to all Americans. But it is literally a matter of life and death for people of color.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 24 million Americans will lose their health care coverage if the ACA is repealed. Many of these will be people of color. Prior to the ACA, uninsured rates for people of color were exceptionally high. In 2012, 41.8 percent of Latino adults and 22.4 percent of African American adults were uninsured. (For comparison, only 14.3 percent of whites 18–65 lacked insurance.) After Obamacare, the uninsured rates for African American and Latino adults fell by one-half and one-third, respectively. The ACA clearly worked to reduce the racial disparities in health coverage.

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Children of color also benefit from the ACA. The ACA provided additional funding for government-funded insurance programs for children. But the ACA’s expansion of private insurance did far more to reduce the number of uninsured children of color.

In 2014, less than one-half of one percent of the increase in insured children of color came from government insurance programs. By contrast, nine times as many children were newly covered under private insurance. This result is not surprising because when adults become insured, they usually insure their children under the same plan. So, the ACA was the driving force behind the reduction.

The reduction in uninsured rates for people of color is only one reason to fight to protect the ACA. Frankly, people of color need healthcare more than whites. While Americans of all races need and deserve quality healthcare, communities of color suffer from debilitating diseases at much higher rates than whites. As such, the lack of adequate healthcare can have life-threatening consequences.

Per the CDC, only 7.6 percent of whites have diabetes. By contrast, nine percent of Asian Americans, 12.8 percent of Latinos, 13.2 percent of African Americans, and 15.9 of Native Americans have the disease.

While heart disease is equally present in all racial groups, the outcomes are not consistent among all racial groups. The American Heart Association reports that African Americans are 33 percent more likely than other races to die from cardiovascular diseases. Native Americans are twice as likely as other races to die from heart disease before age 65.

The American Heart Association also found that rate of high blood pressure is about 1.5 times higher in African Americans than in whites. In addition, African Americans are three times more likely than whites to die because of high blood pressure.

Diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease would all be deemed pre-existing conditions under the new health care bill.

While Republican leaders have promised that insurers will still cover those with pre-existing conditions, they have also pledged that insurers will be allowed to charge more for covering those with these illnesses. Will people of color, who make less money and suffer more illnesses than whites, be able to afford adequate care under the proposed system? It seems unlikely. Sadly, it seems far more likely that the planned changes will cause uninsured rates for people of color to rise to pre-Obamacare levels — or perhaps even higher.

Obamacare is far from a perfect system. Even with Obamacare, people of color are, for the most part, still underinsured compared to whites. But the ACA was still a major step in the right direction. Obamacare has given adults and children of color access to health care that they desperately need. We must fight to keep the gains received under Obamacare. We must oppose efforts by the Senate to pass any version of the health care bill.

Repealing Obamacare is a bad prescription for all Americans. But for people of color, losing access to health care will be a bitter pill to swallow indeed.

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