Healthcare reform: What will it mean for people of color?


The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, which overhauls the U.S. healthcare system, is now law. Beginning this September, the law will create subsidies to make health insurance affordable to low- and middle-income Americans.

Government officials claim that by 2019, an additional 32 million uninsured people will be covered, and an estimated 24 million people will be able to purchase health coverage through new state-based health insurance exchanges.

The law’s major features include:

  • Insurance companies will no longer rescind people’s coverage when they get sick.
  • People with preexisting conditions who have been uninsured for at least six months will have access to affordable insurance through a temporary, subsidized high-risk pool.
  • Insurers can no longer deny health coverage to children with preexisting conditions.
  • Parents will be able to keep their children on their health policies until the children turn age 26.
  • All new group and individual health plans will be required to provide free preventive care.
  • Funding will increase for community health centers to serve more low-income and uninsured people

“The law is set out in a 10-year timetable,” noted U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as she spoke in April at the Association of Health Care Journalists conference in Chicago. She complained that there still is “real misinformation” circulating about the new healthcare reform law.

As a result, her department is “the help desk for America,” which soon will include a toll-free telephone number and a website specifically for answering questions, creating “a massive communication effort” to inform the public on the new legislation.

The Obama administration is making a $1 billion investment in health and wellness initiatives, Sebelius told the assembled journalists. “There never has been an investment like this in health and wellness, and particularly in the kind of community-based strategies that we think can have a major impact on chronic disease conditions that have such an impact on people’s lives.”

“I applaud President Obama and the Democratic Party that really took a huge political risk in pushing this through,” proclaims NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center CEO Stella Whitney-West. “But thank God that he was true to his values and really understood that this healthcare reform is important.”

CORRECTIONS from NorthPoint 5/24/2010: 1.  The number of uninsured patients at NorthPoint was incorrectly stated at 4,000.  The correct number is roughly 8,000 uninsured patients.
2.  The article incorrectly stated that 200 new jobs would be created at NorthPoint due to healthcare reform.  The correct information referred to federal stimulus funding received by NorthPoint that will create an additional 20 positions and it is believed that with the new healthcare reform, these positions will become permanent.
3.  The article incorrectly states that the State will contribute an estimated $400 million and the federal government would match half of that over two year period.  The correct information is that Minnesota’s contribution of $400 million would net a return of billions of dollars for uninsured patients.  

NorthPoint, the state’s second largest community health center, is located on the city’s North Side. Its clientele is about 53 percent Black and 82 percent people of color.

The new law will help “easily another 10 to 20 percent of our population,” notes Whitney-West. “We serve about 22,000 individuals on an annual basis.

We had over 82,000 visits in 2009. Right now we have about 40 percent of our patients that are uninsured, [which is] about 8,000.

“Our patients are the real beneficiaries [of the new law]. It is going to benefit everyone across the board, but in particular low-income families,” she believes.

The new law also will help in eliminating health disparities among people of color, says Whitney-West. “More people of color and African Americans will have health insurance so that they can go and seek primary care,” she says, adding that the preventive care provision – “getting resources and getting services before you get sick, helping to keep you healthy” – also will help.

“The healthcare reform is going to reduce the cost of prescription drugs” Whitney-West predicts. “For a lot of people, medication is out of their reach because of the cost. I think it is going to have a major impact.”

Many of the new changes in the law are scheduled to take effect as early as September.

Minnesota is one of 12 “early adopter” states, says Whitney-West. “That means Minnesota could in fact opt into federal healthcare reform, and if they do that, we would start receiving benefits this year for those residents who are currently uninsured.”

The state would contribute an estimated $400 million, and the federal government would pay billions more for uninsured patients.

Whitney-West also expresses concern about the various “scare tactics” employed by opponents of the new law. She points to a May 10 Star Tribune commentary by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Communications Director Bill Poehler as a prime example. He wrote that the new health law “opens the door to direct federal funding of abortions at community health centers.”

That simply isn’t true, states Whitney-West. There are 17 community health centers in Minnesota, she says: “We’ve been around 42 years and we’ve never performed abortions. There are no federally qualified health centers across the country…that performed abortions, and they are not likely to perform abortions.

“Some of the early things you heard were that seniors were going to be cut off Medicare,” she continues. “There were going to be death squads, or the government would be making decisions about life or death, particularly for seniors. None of that is in the healthcare [law].”

Whitney-West admits that the sweeping healthcare legislation may be costly, but adds, “The reality is that when you have people who are uninsured and they need access to health care in emergency rooms, all of the taxpayers pay for that. Now we are getting a much better return for our tax dollars, and we are getting a healthier community.”

Finally, Whitney-West predicts that around 20 new jobs will be created at NorthPoint because of the new health reform law. “Community health centers always have been about not just the physical health, but also the economic health of the community,” she says. “I’m really excited about that.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to