Commentary: What the 2012 Election Means for Health Care for the Poor

The future of Medicaid is hanging in the balance. 

Posted: 11/02/2012 01:36 PM EDT
Commentary: What the 2012 Election Means for Health Care for the Poor

As Election Day approaches, one of the most pressing issues on the minds of most Americans is the state of health care, especially for those who are living at or below the poverty line. And for our candidates — President Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney — their strategies to address this group couldn’t be more different.

 

The passing of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, and it being upheld by the Supreme Court earlier this year, is one important tactic in ensuring that 30 million more Americans will have health insurance. The ACA will expand Medicaid, a government issued insurance for low-income and disabled Americans.

 

Back in September, I wrote for BET.com on how this expansion works:

 

Medicaid eligibility rules are different in each state, according to HealthDay. And in many states, “low-income, non-disabled adults who aren't pregnant or don't have dependent children can't qualify for Medicaid coverage. Few states cover non-disabled parents at or above 100 percent of the federal poverty level — currently $19,090 for a family of three.”

But in 2014, under the Affordable Care Act, the new eligibility rules will cover people 64 and under who are living 133 percent below the poverty line. Translation: A single person making $15,415 a year or a family of four that earns only $31,809 could get Medicaid.

 

But there is a catch: Expansion is solely based on a state's willingness to do so, not by a mandate from Congress. As we have seen over the past months, states such as Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas are giving serious pushback.

 

So the battle continues on.

 

Romney, on the other hand, wants to overturn the ACA and make drastic cuts to Medicaid. Jonathan Cohn from the New Republic sums up Romney’s alarming plan:

 

The one policy for which Romney has offered specifics is Medicaid. And those specifics are eye-popping. He’d hand the program over to the states, with very few strings attached and far less money, leaving them relatively free to decide who gets the program and what it covers. Independent estimates suggest tens of millions of people could lose coverage, depending on how efficient the states can be and how, exactly, they decide to distribute the cuts.

 

His plan, borrowing from his running mate Paul Ryan, could slash Medicaid up to 34 percent in the next 10 years. And Black America should be extremely concerned about this, especially given how many of us depend on Medicaid for our healthcare.

 

In 2009, 27 percent of African-Americans — 10 million people, including 6 million children — were covered by Medicaid [PDF] according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. This report also found that Medicaid covered nearly 50 percent of all poor Black Americans. Also, Medicaid covered half of all Black children in the U.S. and nearly 64 percent of low-income Black children. Medicaid also helps African-Americans with serious health issues — it covered 35 percent of Blacks in fair or poor health and 59 percent of Blacks living with HIV/AIDS.

 

It’s obvious why this election could be a game changer for Blacks and their health.

 

And while the ACA isn’t perfect — some progressives believe that the Dems watered the bill down to appease the GOP and that millions of Americans will still go without coverage because of it.

 

It’s pretty obvious to me which candidate cares more about the health of the poor in this country. And he’s the guy who is the president to 100 percent of us, not just 53 percent.

 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

 

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(Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

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