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    COMMENTARY: New healthcare bill the wrong choice for African Americans

    In 1954, Thurgood Marshall and a team of NAACP attorneys argued the landmark civil rights case, Brown v. Board, before the Supreme Court. They demonstrated to the Justices that segregated schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause — that separate was and would always be unequal.
    Our representatives are on the brink of instating a health care plan that epitomizes separate and unequal. Thirteen U.S. Senators — all white men — sat behind closed doors in Washington, D.C. and crafted a replacement to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
    Their proposed bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), based off of the House’s American Health Care Act (AHCA), would only benefit people like themselves — healthy, wealthy white men — and quarantine the rest of the country into the confines of high cost, low quality health care.
    The Senate’s inequitable protection plan would disproportionately hurt the sick, the poor, the elderly, women, and people of color. It would make healthcare more expensive for seniors and people who are already sick, increase out-of-pocket costs for doctor’s visits, slash subsidies to help low-income people pay for health insurance, and cut Medicaid support to states by three-quarters of a trillion dollars.
    In more than twenty years as a health and social policy professional, I have witnessed the dire consequences of African Americans living without health care, and I have watched the ACA repair some of the most egregious inequities in our health care system. If the Senate bill passes, the impact will be devastating, and, in many cases, lethal.
    The current version of the Senate’s health care plan is projected to cause some 22 million people to lose their coverage by 2026, including 15 million next year. It also proposes to cut more than $772 billion from the Medicaid program over ten years and phase out additional funding for its expansion. At the same time, the bill proposes tax cuts of $700 billion that will largely benefit high-income individuals and big businesses — especially profiting the top one percent of earners. In effect, cuts to Medicaid for the poor and to premium subsidies for low-income people will serve to refund the rich.
    The Senate’s plan grants several allowances to states that hold the potential for serious harm. The plan permits states to opt out of providing essential health benefits that made coverage under the ACA more comprehensive, such as maternity and mental health care. States that opt out of providing these essential benefits would receive their share of $112 billion over ten years to help offset the states’ cost for covering those who need care most and likely set up high-risk insurance groupings. This provision would incentivize states to mark up the cost of coverage for people with certain needs, ostracizing them to their own costly risk pool.
    But the sick are not the only ones that the Senate plan puts at risk: under the new bill, low-income families and individuals would also be significantly hurt by the cuts to Medicaid. Proposed changes to Medicaid would make it more likely that states will reduce much-needed services or cut back enrollment. The resulting increased cost of care would be hurtful to elderly Americans, most of whom experience a decline in income, but they would be especially crippling to African-American seniors, who experience poverty at twice the rate of their white counterparts.
    The ACA cut the uninsured rate for African-American adults by almost half between 2010 to 2015 and eliminated the inequity in uninsured rates between African-American and white children. For the first time in history, thanks to the ACA, a Black child is no longer more likely to be uninsured than a white child. The new bill threatens to undo all of this progress. Suddenly, health care and insurance will once again be out of reach for many African Americans, nearly a quarter of whom were living below the poverty line in 2015.
    Further, the BCRA is an assault on the health of women of all races. The bill would prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funding for at least one year, including Medicaid and Title X, despite its status as a source of care for services that women need, such as contraception and screenings for cancers and STDs.
    Our nation does not need a new health reform law. The ACA is the most comprehensive legislative effort to improve and democratize health care access in our nation’s history. We need to bolster the ACA’s promises of progress, not regress to conditions that were unacceptable then and are indefensible now. We need Congress to develop policies that help prevent illness, better manage disease, and facilitate health and well-being in our society overall. Our government’s focus should be on repairing and strengthening the ACA, not replacing it–much less with a dangerous, divisive alternative. It is time to put all of America first.
    By Marjorie Innocent
    Guest Columnist
    Join the NAACP on social media with the hashtag #BeInTheRoom. Dr. Marjorie Innocent is senior director, NAACP Health Programs. Contact: Malik Russell, director of communications, mrussell@naacpnet.org, 410-580-5761 (office)
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    Losing healthcare access, Medicaid too risky for Louisiana

    There are very few things, if any, more important in life than our health. As such, it’s important that we as Louisiana residents are mindful of the gains we’ve made through the Affordable Care Act as well as through Medicaid expansion here. For the first time ever, insurance companies are mandated to cover preventative care services and are also prohibited from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

    As the first state in the Deep South to expand Medicaid, Louisiana has positioned itself to be at the cutting edge of healthcare reform. With more than 420,000 individuals who now have health coverage under Medicaid expansion, Louisiana residents are receiving life-saving early detection because of an increase in health screenings and treatment of health conditions including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Sadly, however, many of the gains that have been made over the last few years are on the verge of being lost.

    On May 3, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) signaling the first victory toward President Donald Trump’s repeal and replace agenda. Though this reform impacts the entire nation, it poses significant concerns for poor states like Louisiana which, prior to Governor John Bel Edwards’ decision to expand Medicaid, had one of the highest uninsured rates in the country. A 2017 survey conducted by LSU’s School of Mass Communication noted that, “About three-fourths of Louisiana residents approve of the state’s decision to expand its Medicaid program last year under the auspices of the federal ACA. [However], the public remains deeply divided over the ACA itself, but opinion is shifting in a more favorable direction.” That being considered, it’s highly likely that many Louisiana residents, even those in favor of passing Trump’s AHCA, will be disgruntled to discover its potentially negative impact on Medicaid funding in Louisiana. If the Senate successfully passes the AHCA, those with pre-existing conditions could be forced out of the insurance marketplace into a “high risk” pool. There could be a reduction in the benefits now offered that cover preventative care services. This could have a major impact on the health of Louisiana residents.

    As of May 8, more than 6,400 Louisiana women were screened for breast cancer; 103 were diagnosed with cancer. Additionally, 8,823 Louisiana residents were screened for colon cancer. Of those individuals 2,593 of them successfully averted colon cancer by having polyps removed, and 82 individuals were diagnosed. These statistics make it clear that the issue of protecting the ACA and Medicaid expansion is about saving lives. In order to ensure that our state continues to move forward in providing access to healthcare for all of its residents, we must take action now prior to the U.S. Senate vote.

    Join other advocates and:

    • Stand together for health at the State Capitol. The “Health Day at the Capitol” is May 24 at 9am, hosted by the Louisiana Center for Health Equity in conjunction with the Campaign for Healthcare for Everyone Louisiana and a number of other community organizations. The event will feature a press conference on the steps of the Louisiana State Capitol, followed by a display of resources in the Capitol Rotunda until noon. This is an opportunity to stand together in support of health care, showcase your organization and services, network with others, share your concerns, attend committee meetings and connect with legislators. (www.facebook.com/LACenterHealthEquity/).
    • Contact your U.S. Senator now. The Senate is taking up the American Health Care Act (AHCA). Contact your U.S. Senator now. Senator Bill Cassidy and Senator John Kennedy can be reached at (202) 224-3121. Select option “1”.
    • Subscribe to Louisiana Center for Health Equity newsletter. Stay informed about healthcare advocacy efforts and the work of LCHE partners. Go to http://www.healthcareeveryone.org/ and subscribe. The Louisiana Center for Health Equity is a nonpartisan non profit IRS tax exempt public charity 501(c)(3) organization. LCHE works to address the increasing disparities in health and healthcare across Louisiana. LCHE represents the interest of health equity by promoting the elimination of health disparities caused by poverty, lack of access to quality healthcare and unhealthy environmental conditions with a focus on health and wellness.

    By Alma C. Stewart, R.N., M.S
    Founder and President, Louisiana Center for Health Equity
    Convener, Campaign for Healthcare for Everyone – Louisiana
    Host, “Today’s Health Topics,” a weekly radio show on WTQT 106.1 FM.

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    Responsibility rests with Cassidy, Kennedy to stop health care bill

    “Today’s vote is deeply troubling news for hundreds of thousands of Louisiana families who struggle to afford health coverage or who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions. Congress rushed its vote on the American Health Care Act without getting an independent analysis of its impact from the Congressional Budget Office. That means we have no idea how much worse the bill has gotten, or how many people would lose coverage,” wrote Louisiana Budget Project director Jan Moller on the passage of the American Health Care Act.

    He added:

    What we do know is this: At a minimum, the bill would strip coverage from 24 million Americans - including 466,500 in Louisiana - over a decade. It would decimate the Medicaid program by cutting $800 billion, and increase pressure on the state budget to make up the lost revenue. It would strip away legal protections for people who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions such as cancer or diabetes, resulting in premium hikes that would make coverage unaffordable for those who need it most.

    The Affordable Care Act is not perfect, but it has been a godsend for Louisiana patients and the state’s economy. It has pumped billions of dollars into Louisiana and brought the state’s uninsured rate to a record low.

    It’s critical to remember that the AHCA is not yet law. The responsibility now rests with Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy to stop this bad bill, and work to strengthen the historic health care progress that’s been made in Louisiana.

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