GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney has said only one thing about the Affordable Care Act. It must go and on day one of his administration if elected he will start the ball rolling to repeal it. The Supreme Court may well save him from this braggadocio, vote pandering boast if the four ultra-conservatives justices joined by the court's swing vote, Anthony Kennedy, get their way. They have given every hint that they will scrap the law.
What Romney and the court conservatives have not said are two things. One is what they'd put in its place that's better. The other is what they will do to aid the millions that were and to a large extent still are locked out of having access to affordable health care after it's struck down. The law has indisputably been a huge first step toward providing initial access with the possibility of even wider access to decent health care. It has vastly increased funding for community health centers, eliminated the odious and blatantly discriminatory pre condition excuse that private insurers routinely used for decades to insure only the healthiest, and those best able to pay. It would establish a new office of Minority Health within the Department of Health and Human Services. It has provided resources for screening and prevention, chronic disease management initiatives, and health education and prevention services. This includes scholarships and grants to increase diversity in the healthcare workforce. It would ultimately provide direct financial assistance to more than thirty million uninsured to help them to buy insurance coverage.
The Act then would essentially partly level the very unlevel playing field for blacks and Hispanics who make up nearly half of the estimated 50 million Americans with absolutely no access to affordable or any health care. Put even more bluntly, it would save thousands of their lives and save billions in taxpayer dollars that now go and would continue to go to treating the chronically sick that flood and overburden county hospitals solely because they have nowhere else to go when sick. The crisis for the uninsured if the law is torpedoed is even grimmer for African-Americans.
The majority of black uninsured are far more likely than the one in four whites who are uninsured to experience problems getting treatment at a hospital or clinic. This has devastating health and public policy consequences. According to a study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, blacks are far more likely than whites to suffer higher rates of catastrophic illness and disease, and are much less likely to obtain basic drugs, tests, preventive screenings and surgeries. They are more likely to recover slower from illness, and they die much younger.
Studies have found that when blacks do receive treatment, the care they receive is more likely to be substandard than that of whites. Reports indicate that even when blacks are enrolled in high quality health plans, the racial gap in the care and quality of medical treatment still remains low.
The health care law even when all its provisions eventually kick in during the next decade will not completely end the excessively high costs of health care or fully guarantee universal coverage. But it is a monumental start.
In a crass, patronizing and insulting political jab at President Obama, Romney has repeatedly claimed that Obama squandered his first term working on a health care law that's flawed, unpopular, and won't work. If the Supreme Court knocks it down, that supposedly proves that it was a giant waste of time and presidential resources. And even if the court lets all or most of it stand, it doesn't change the fact that it's a bad law, says Romney.
If that's the case, then the ball is directly in Romney and the GOP's court to come up with a law that will prohibit insurers from excluding those with pre-existing conditions, provide subsidies for the poorest of the poor, and guarantee coverage for tens of thousands of children and younger persons that did not have access to quality care before the Act's passage. In short those who have perennially been shut out of the health care system. For a presidential candidate and a party, that has turned saying no to meaningful health care reform into a high art, and has mocked and belittled as "Obamacare" the one tangible effort by a presidential administration in the past two decades to do that, don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.
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