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Fair, Effective, and Efficient Health Care

The Importance of the Affordable Care Act

SOURCE: AP/Paul Sakuma

Family nurse practitioner Maggie Sullivan, right, talks with Jasmine Morales, who is three days overdue for the birth of her baby, at the Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas, a community clinic in Salinas, CA.

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In the year since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, it has already had a positive impact on millions of Americans, many of them Latinos. The new health law takes important steps to help alleviate the gap in health disparities among different racial and ethnic groups, and enhances protections for consumers, which is particularly important for many low-income people of color. The notable provisions include:

  • Ending the abusive insurance company practice of refusing coverage for people with pre-existing conditions
  • Offering up new coverage options for young people
  • Allowing small businesses to provide care for their employees

Why are these three benefits so important to Hispanics and African Americans in the United States? Because they suffer disproportionately from chronic diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Take diabetes. Hispanics are 50 percent more likely to die from diabetes than non-Hispanic whites. Almost 15 percent of African Americans and 14 percent of Hispanics suffer from diabetes compared to 8 percent of whites. Health insurers considered having these conditions a basis for denying or dropping coverage, a practice abolished by the new law.

People of color are also more likely to be uninsured and live in poverty. Only 68 percent of Hispanics and 79 percent of African Americans have health insurance, compared to 88 percent of whites. As a result, they are less likely to receive regular medical care, putting them at risk of contracting chronic illnesses or worsening their conditions.

The most significant provision of the Affordable Care Act is providing health insurance to an additional 32 million people currently without coverage. Although this piece of the new law won’t kick in until 2014, it will greatly benefit people of color, who make up more than half of the uninsured in America. Being insured will also allow many to receive quality and more affordable care on a more regular basis, as well as proper and timely treatment for chronic conditions.

Today, though, the new health law does provide health insurance to some who would otherwise be uninsured. Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, young people who are uninsured and unemployed at very high rates can now be covered under their parent’s plan. The new law requires insurance companies to allow parents to keep their children up to age 26 on their insurance plans. Currently 1.2 million young adults have insurance coverage thanks to this provision.

Increased funding for community health centers, which is critical for disadvantaged communities, is also up and running. Community health centers play a vital role in the places where they are most needed, emphasizing coordination and comprehensive quality care, including preventive services. Almost two-thirds of the patients community centers serve are people of color. The new health law increases the funding for these centers every year for the next five years. This increased funding will allow health centers to double their current capacity to 40 million patients by 2015.

Finally, the Affordable Care Act is quite good for small business. The law makes it easier for them to provide coverage to their employees through small business tax credits—a provision that is already available for these businesses. Small businesses are an important contributor to the economy, accounting for 64 percent of jobs created between 1993 and 2008. Small businesses that are eligible for tax credits employ more than 16 million people, and a growing number of small businesses are signing up to receive the credits.

The Affordable Care Act not only promises to reduce the growing health disparities that exist in our country but also provides a boost to our collective physical and economic health. High quality and affordable care will be more accessible to more people, which in turn will improve the health outcomes of millions of disadvantaged Americans. Instead of talking about repealing the law, which would be a setback for our health care system and our economy, we should make sure this law is implemented and make sure all Americans enjoy its benefits now and in the years to come.

Raúl Arce-Contreras is a Press Assistant for Ethnic Media at the Center for American Progress. Vanessa Cárdenas is Director of Progress 2050, a project of the Center for American Progress, which seeks to build a progressive agenda that is more inclusive of the rich racial and ethnic makeup of our nation.

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