Racial Disparities Continue to Plague Health Care Under the ACA Even As Coverage Expands to More Americans

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DocPatientDespite much backlash and criticism, the Affordable Care Act has been successful at expanding access to affordable health insurance to millions of Americans, but even as more people obtain coverage, racial disparities are becoming an increasing problem.

From the ugly reality of the digital divide to several states adamantly refusing to expand Medicaid, there are several factors that have proven why the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, is still useless when it comes to eliminating racial gaps in health care coverage.

Fortunately, states like Montana have decided to expand Medicaid in a move that will help cover 70,000 more people.

In more than 20 other states, however, the battle to expand Medicaid is faltering.

“[T]here are still 21 other states where legislators continue to turn their backs on people — about 3.8 million people — who fall into the Medicaid coverage gap, denying them access to affordable health insurance,” LeeAnn Hall, the executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society, wrote in a Huffington Post blog. “These are people who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for ACA marketplace subsidies or afford premiums and deductibles on their own.”

It’s a situation that is having a disproportionately greater impact on the Black community due to the actual locations of the states that are leaving so many of their residents without affordable health insurance.

“More than half are states in the Deep South, the states of the Old Confederacy, where a disproportionate share of uninsured people are people of color, especially African-American and Latino,” Hall adds. “There is no way to describe it than health care racism.”

So while more than 12 million Americans got Medicaid coverage under the ACA, the Medicaid gap that is particularly dominant in Southern states has allowed millions of Black people to slip between the cracks — again.

The governing bodies in the South aren’t the only problems Black people are facing in their desperate attempt to obtain affordable health care either, Hall explains.

Obamacare has placed an unusually high reliance on digital means to sign up for coverage, which has made the digital divide an even greater problem for those in rural communities.

“I know people who were trying to sign up for health care coverage, but they don’t have Internet at home, they don’t have email addresses,” the president and founder of Upgrade Mississippi, Antron McKay-West, told Hall. “When they tried to sign up by telephone, the assistants on the other end often told them to just go to the library and use the Internet there to sign up and check their email.”

The problem with that proposal, McKay-West explained, is that in some rural towns the closest library is still miles away.

“In the neighborhood where I grew up, the library is 15 miles away,” McKay-West added.

Even some urban communities are left without the same type of Internet access that other communities take for granted.

Low-income families typically don’t have a computer at home and may not be able to afford an Internet subscription.

This creates yet another gap where low-income or rural families are unable to finally obtain the affordable health care that many believe is an American right.

“Obamacare didn’t cause the widespread racial disparities we found, but neither did it solve them,” Gary Delgado, visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Social Change and a longtime civil and human rights leader, told Hall.

Delgado led a team that surveyed 1,200 low-income people in 10 states for a report released by the Alliance for a Just Society.

“We have a lot more work to do,” he said of the current health care reform.

He explained that while Obamacare doesn’t seem to be the source of any new major problems, it’s still a “new house built on an old foundation, using the old bricks.”

Hall says that he’s absolutely right.

“He’s right,” Hall concludes. “We need a stronger foundation and more bricks. We also need to welcome everyone inside to enjoy the basic human right of quality, affordable health care.”

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