In 2010, the President signed the Affordable Care Act into law. Nearly five years later, people are seeing the benefits of the law take shape in their lives. The law was designed to make health care more affordable, more accessible and to increase quality of care.
After some initial issues during the first open enrollment period, the latest open enrollment period has been easier to navigate. Opening on November 15th of last year, the latest open enrollment period will close on Sunday, February 15th.
Some of the most important benefits of the law will help many African Americans. It is well documented that health disparities exist within minority communities. African Americans die from cancer at higher rates than other groups. Black women are 40% more likely to die from breast cancer even though they don’t suffer from the disease at higher rates.
African American youth represent half of all new HIV infections among young people ages 18 – 24 years old. African Americans are 30% more likely to die from heart disease – the number one cause of death in the nation. Finally, African American adults are 60% more likely to be diabetic and twice as likely to have a leg, foot or toe amputated.
These are the challenges, but the Affordable Care Act provides the needed tools to alleviate these disparities. Through the law, people are given access to preventive services such as physicals, sexually transmitted disease testing, and emergency room visits, and in most states, these services are free. These types of preventive services allow people to monitor their health situations – to get baselines, to check for changes, and catch any possible conditions or diseases early enough that they don’t become chronic and can be treated properly.
There were times when health insurance companies could charge someone extra or deny coverage altogether due to pre-existing conditions. One of the biggest benefits to many people who live daily with health issues is that this law eliminates the ability to discriminate on the basis of pre-existing conditions, including being a woman, which at one time gave companies the right to charge more money. Young adults up to age 26 are also able to stay on their parents insurance until age 26, regardless of whether they are married, have a full time job or in school. This means that young adults just starting out have time to establish themselves before having to pay for their own coverage.
There are many people who are still hesitant to sign up for health insurance for many reasons, including the belief that it will cost too much. But because of tax credits, plans can cost as little as $10 in some areas. By not signing up, people are ensuring that they will have to pay. Those people failing to be covered by health insurance will face tax penalties that could be up to $325 per person for the year.
Signing up is easy and can be done online or with in-person assisters. As everyone focuses on Valentine’s Day this weekend, one of the best ways you can show your love for yourself or someone else is by giving the gift of health. We need to address the health disparities that exist and make sure that people have quality care and access to the prescriptions they need to treat or cure their ailments. The result will be a stronger community.
Janaye Ingram is the National Executive Director of the National Action Network.