Commentary: Why the Affordable Care Act Matters to African-Americans

Commentary: Why the Affordable Care Act Matters to African-Americans

Valerie Jarrett and Sylvia M. Burwell talk about why health care is so important.

Published January 22, 2015

When Astrid Muhammad heard her phone ring this past Friday, the last thing she expected was a call from the White House inviting her to attend this year’s State of the Union as a guest of the first lady.

A wife and mother of two young children, Muhammad woke up on a spring morning in 2013 and knew something was wrong. A visit to the doctor in May revealed a mass growing on her brain. At the time she didn’t have health insurance and delayed treatment and surgery that, according to neurosurgeons, would mean the difference between life and death. Prior to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies could have refused treatment for her pre-existing tumor, charge higher rates or denied her coverage altogether. But, after discovering the Health Insurance Marketplace, Muhammad was able to find quality affordable health insurance coverage. So this past summer, she had her tumor successfully removed and is now moving on with her life.

And she is not alone. She attended the president’s State of the Union Address as a representative of all those who have received insurance and care which has changed or saved their lives, or given them the peace of mind they need to rest more easily, without the worry that an unexpected health challenge could threaten their lives or livelihoods. 

During this African-American Community Week of Action, leaders, communities and families across the country are working together to ensure that all of their loved ones, neighbors and fellow Americans have the health insurance they need and that those who are not covered visit HealthCare.gov to get covered right away.

Since the start of Affordable Care Act's first open enrollment period last year, the uninsured rate among non-elderly African-Americans has declined by 30 percent. In just one year, 1.7 million uninsured African-Americans gained health coverage, and that doesn’t include the 500,000 African-American young adults who now have coverage under their parents’ health insurance plans. And as more Americans take advantage of the current open enrollment period that ends Feb. 15, 2015, those numbers will continue to grow.

These strides are particularly important given the unique health challenges, and historic and structural barriers to care often faced in African-American communities. African-Americans have the highest cancer mortality rate of any ethnic group, a lower average life expectancy than white Americans, along with higher rates of infant mortality and chronic disease. 

The Affordable Care Act is helping to change the way many in African-American communities think about their health, the need for coverage, and, for those who already had coverage, it has protected their investment.

But the Affordable Care Act is breaking down many of the health barriers this community has faced. An estimated 7.8 million African-Americans now have access to expanded preventive services such as mammograms, well-child visits and flu shots with no out-of-pocket costs. And with the investment of $11 billion in community health centers nationwide, the law is dramatically expanding access to quality care facilities in many African-American neighborhoods.

Still, for every story like Astrid’s, there remain countless more Americans in need of insurance, in need of quality care, and perhaps still unaware that the coverage they need is just a few clicks or a phone call away. 

So visit HealthCare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 to find out more. This year’s Open Enrollment period ends on Feb. 15, so if you or someone you care about is in need of health insurance, do not wait. Get covered today.

Valerie Jarrett is a senior adviser to the president and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

Sylvia M. Burwell is the 22nd secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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(Photo: Peathegee Inc/Blend Images/Corbis)

Written by Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president, and Sylvia M. Burwell, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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