Raising awareness about the Affordable Care Act

One year ago last week, the Supreme Court upheld the bulk of the Affordable Care Act.

The legislation is not perfect, but seeks to provide health coverage to the nearly 50 million uninsured in our nation. Without a doubt, more payment and coverage reforms in the health care system are needed to achieve this goal.

In the absence of a real commitment by Congress to provide affordable, accessible and high quality health care for all, we must stay the course toward full implementation.

There has been a lot of behind-the-scenes jockeying and political maneuvering in the past 12 months to determine the final contours of the health care plan. With the recent re-launch of the Affordable Care Act’s website last week, now is a good time to reflect on where we are.

HealthCare.Gov – A One Stop Shop

On June 24, 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services re-launched the website www.HealthCare.gov. Right now the most daunting challenge facing full implementation of the Affordable Care Act is lack of awareness. Many Americans still don’t know the benefits that are in store for them. This updated site is the best place to find information on the health care options that will be available in your state. There is even a live chat feature to connect you with experts who are standing by.

Open enrollment for the state and federal exchanges does not begin until October 1, 2013. However, now is the time to find which health care plans you are eligible for and “shop around”. In preparation for the October 1 enrollment date, the NAACP will engage in a massive campaign to encourage people to enroll before the March 31, 2014 deadline. We want to make sure that everyone is prepared with the best information possible.

If you do not have internet access, you can also call in to the Affordable Care Act hotline at 1-800-318-2596.

Medicaid Expansion – An Ongoing Battle

The marketplace “exchanges” are only one part of the story.

In 2012 the Supreme Court upheld major components of the Affordable Care Act, but also ruled that individual states could choose whether or not they wanted to accept more Medicaid funding from the federal government to expand the number of persons eligible for those services. Right now at least 20 states have announced that they will not take the federal funds, which are in place to help low-income families and individuals in every state.

Those states – including South Carolina, Texas, Mississippi, and Georgia – are choosing to leave billions of dollars on the table. The problem is that Congress drew up the Affordable Care Act under the assumption that states would accept this Medicaid funding. So in the states, many families who live below the poverty line will not have any source of health care coverage.

This will have the highest impact on African-Americans. In 2011, African-Americans made up 14 percent of the population of the United States, but 20 percent of Medicaid rolls. In Mississippi, a full 67 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries are African-American. If Mississippi were to accept the federal funds, half of the people gaining coverage would be African-American.

This catastrophe can be avoided. It is simple; governors and state legislatures can choose to accept Medicaid expansion today. There is no legitimate economic reason not to; the federal government will pay 90% of the program’s costs as long as it exists, and states will save significant money on health care costs. The longer state government leaders wait to accept the funds, the less they will ultimately receive.

The United States House of Representatives has gone on record for the 37th time to repeal this historic law. There is one thing that a politician responds to: public pressure. The NAACP’s state conference leaders and members will make their voices heard on this issue. We implore everyone who cares about health care and poverty to join us now in the fight to fully implement the law of the land. The NAACP is here to stand with you… are you willing to stand with us?

Brock is Chairman of the NAACP. Jealous is President and CEO of the NAACP.