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Afro Newspaper - Life, Death and Health Care Reform

Op-Ed

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Location: Washington, DC

By Representative Elijah Cummings

It is becoming abundantly clear that the opponents of President Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act care little about minority health.

David Bositis, senior research director for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, has observed in the {Washington Post} that about 36 percent of African Americans have no health insurance (compared to approximately 12 percent of Caucasians).

"Because Americans of Color suffer from hypertension, diabetes and cancer at twice the rates of Caucasians," he notes, "insurance companies, when permitted to do so, exclude us more often from coverage."

"I wonder," Mr. Bositis asks rhetorically, "why those who are fighting this law do not care about the high death rate and high rates of the illnesses of black Americans?"

I suspect that Republican opponents of President Obama and the Affordable Care Act might argue with David Bositis' critique. Yet, during a recent speech before the NAACP, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, again threatened to repeal the health care reforms that will reduce these health disparities.

"If our goal is jobs," Mr. Romney candidly declared, "we have to stop spending over a trillion dollars more than we take in every year. So to do that, I'm going to eliminate every non-essential, expensive program I can find. That includes Obamacare . . . ."

"Expensive?" Surely, although the Congressional Budget Office has concluded that the Affordable Care Act will actually save money for American taxpayers in the long run.

"Non-essential?" I fail to understand how Mr. Romney can reach that conclusion when Americans in large numbers, and especially Americans of Color, are dying before our time because far too many of us lack adequate health insurance coverage.

Last month, the advocacy group Families USA issued a well-documented analysis of this national tragedy, concluding that, in 2010 alone, 26,100 Americans nationwide died prematurely due to a lack of health coverage. This staggering annual death toll equates to 502 working age Americans dying prematurely every week.

If given the opportunity, Republicans also would end Medicare as we know it, replacing Medicare's current, guaranteed coverage with only a voucher that would be inadequate to protect our seniors.

The Republicans also oppose our Affordable Care Act's staged elimination of the Medicare Part D "donut hole" that is costing many of our seniors thousands of dollars that they cannot afford.

Without Democrats' principled advocacy, health care reform would be in mortal danger. Fortunately, President Obama and Senate Democrats currently stand in the way of these radical and regressive Republican proposals

Moving forward with expanded protection of our health is yet another reason why this year's presidential and congressional elections are so critical for every American family.

The Democratic vision of universal, high quality and more affordable health care is especially important to those of us who are Black. Expert projections indicate that, when fully implemented, the Affordable Care Act could extend health coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans - 7 million of whom are African Americans.

The Affordable Care Act already has eliminated lifetime limits on the dollar value of health coverage; provided access to coverage for children up to age 26 through their parents' plans; and ensured coverage for children with pre-existing conditions. Beginning in 2014, moreover, no health insurer will be able to deny coverage to anyone based on pre-existing conditions, whatever our age.

The Act also authorizes a major expansion of the Medicaid program to all eligible Americans with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level. It provides for the creation of state and national "insurance exchange pools" and, where justified, provides premium assistance to individuals and families.

The Affordable Care Act contains reforms that are calculated to make health insurance more affordable for us all. For the average American family, the Act's new protections can mean not having to choose between visiting the doctor and buying groceries.

Recently, the constitutionality of the Act was upheld by the United States Supreme Court. Yet, on July 11, Republicans in the House of Representatives again voted to repeal these critically needed reforms - while offering nothing substantial as an alternative.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has declared that providing affordable health care to America's uninsured millions is "not the issue." In response, we should be asking Senator McConnell and his Republican allies, "If our survival is not the issue for you, what is?"

In my view--and President Obama's--protecting our health is the foremost issue in our ongoing national health insurance debate.

For tens of thousands of Americans each year, meeting this challenge will be the difference between death and life.


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