Houston Forward Times

01 October 2013 Written by  Hazel Trice Edney

'Obamacare' Sign Ups Begin Amidst Government Shutdown: White House Outlines Health Benefits for African-Americans

obamacare(TriceEdneyWire.com) - The Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) came fully into the law this week amidst desperate political acts to stop it from happening – including a Republican-led government shutdown which could last for days, weeks or even longer.

In a nutshell, the closure of certain government offices and services has taken place as of midnight Monday after a divided Congress failed to reach an agreement to fund federal agencies. Amidst bitter disagreements over the ACA, the Republican-led Congress has allowed the closure of non-essential services of the U. S. Government in attempt to force the President to delay the effects of the health care law. But the President has refused.

Some parts of the ACA are already in effect, but this week, Americans can begin shopping for and signing up for full benefits by going to a recently created website, HeathCare.gov, to review the Health Insurance Marketplace. This website offers competing insurance agencies and help guide people to the best insurance choices for them.

Republicans in the House of Representatives, who argue that the ACA is too expensive for small businesses, continued their attempts to defund what they call “Obamacare” this week, but none of the political moves would pass the Democratically-led Senate. Even if it did, President Obama has promised to veto it. The ACA sign up, which started Tuesday, Oct. 1, is encouraged by President Obama despite government closures.

“The Affordable Care Act is moving forward. That funding is already in place.  You can’t shut it down,” he told reporters in a briefing Monday. “This is a law that passed both houses of Congress; a law that bears my signature; a law that the Supreme Court upheld as constitutional; a law that voters chose not to repeal last November.”

The White House recently released a detailed report listing the benefits of the ACA to African-Americans. Those benefits include:

  • Beginning in 2014, the Affordable Care Act will provide 6.8 million uninsured African-Americans an opportunity to get affordable health insurance coverage.
  • Already, an estimated 7.3 million African-Americans with private insurance now have access to expanded preventive services with no cost sharing. These services include well-child visits, blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, Pap tests and mammograms for women, and flu shots for children and adults.
  • The 4.5 million elderly and disabled African-Americans who receive health coverage from Medicare also have access to many preventive services with no cost-sharing, including annual wellness visits with personalized prevention plans, diabetes and colorectal cancer screening, bone mass measurement and mammograms
  • More than 500,000 young African-American adults between ages 19 and 25 who would otherwise have been uninsured now have coverage under their parent’s employer-sponsored or individually purchased health plan.
  • Major federal investments to improve quality of care are improving management of chronic diseases more prevalent among African-Americans.
  • The health care workforce will be more diverse due to a near tripling of the National Health Service Corps. African-American physicians make up about 17 percent of Corps physicians, a percentage that greatly exceeds their 6 percent share of the national physician workforce.
  • Investments in data collection and research will help establish greater clarity on the causes of health care disparities and develop effective programs to eliminate them.
  • Targeted interventions, such as community transformation grants, will promote healthy lifestyles, lower health care costs, and reduce health disparities.
  • Increased funding available to more than 1,100 community health centers will increase the number of patients served. One of every five patients at a health center is African American.
  • States have new opportunities to expand Medicaid coverage to include Americans with family incomes at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level (generally $31,322 for a family of four in 2013). This expansion includes adults without dependent children living at home, who have not previously been eligible in most states.

    As the ACA takes effect, factions of Congress continued to wrangle over budgetary matters with hopes to reopen the government as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the President has made it clear the ACA is non-negotiable as he outlined the effects of the government shutdown.

    “If the United States Congress does not fulfill its responsibility to pass a budget today, much of the United States government will be forced to shut down tomorrow,” President Obama said Monday. “And I want to be very clear about what that shutdown would mean - what will remain open and what will not.”

    He first ticked off the services that will continue:

    • If you’re on Social Security, you will keep receiving your checks.
    • If you’re on Medicare, your doctor will still see you.
    • Everyone’s mail will still be delivered.
    • Government operations related to national security or public safety will go on.
    • Military troops will continue to serve and will be paid.
    • Air traffic controllers, prison guards, those who are with border control will remain on their posts, but their paychecks will be delayed until the government reopens.

      Then, he listed the shutdowns.

      • NASA will shut down almost entirely, but Mission Control will remain open to      support the astronauts serving on the Space Station.
      • Office buildings would close.  Paychecks would be delayed.
      • Several hundred thousand workers will be immediately and indefinitely furloughed without pay.
      • Some vital services that seniors and veterans, women and children, businesses and the economy depend on “would be hamstrung,” the President said. Those services include some programs that provide health meals to 2.5 million seniors; compensation, pension and education benefits for veterans and nutrition assistance to mothers with young children. An estimated $10 could be lost if the shutdown lasts a week.
      • Business owners would see delays in raising capital, seeking infrastructure permits, or rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy.
      • Veterans support centers will go unstaffed.
      • Federal tourist destinations, such as national parks, monuments, including the Smithsonian and the Statue of Liberty, will be closed. Cleanup crews and concession workers will also be laid off.

        These closures will affect “communities and small businesses that rely on these national treasures for their livelihoods will be out of customers,” said Obama. He appeared especially concerned about how the shutdown will affect furloughed people already fighting a struggling economy.

        “What, of course, will not be furloughed are the bills that they have to pay - their mortgages, their tuition payments, their car notes,” the President said. “These Americans are our neighbors. Their kids go to our schools. They worship where we do. They serve their country with pride. They are the customers of every business in this country.  And they would be hurt greatly, and as a consequence, all of us will be hurt greatly, should Congress choose to shut the people’s government down.”