What you need to know: African-Americans and the Affordable Care Act

Major aspects of President Obama’s signature health care reform law will go into effect this Tuesday.

The law has faced considerable resistance and the United States faces a potential government shutdown as Republicans and Democrats in Congress disagree over funding the government and “Obamacare.”

Those who agree with the law welcome the changes it will bring to millions of Americans by making health care insurance coverage more affordable and accessible.

This will play a particularly large role among African-Americans, many of whom suffer from certain health issues at higher rates than the general population. Obesity, heart disease and diabetes are widespread in the black community. For instance, data shows that in 2010, 37 percent of African-Americans were obese, compared to 26 percent of whites.

So far, Obamacare has already benefited the nearly 85 percent of Americans who already have health insurance while long-term plans include goals to provide coverage to nearly 7 million uninsured African-Americans by 2014.

Here is an overview of the what is currently being provided to African-Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

– 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 us better understand 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.

In addition to the current benefits being provided to African-Americans, new plans are expected to introduce a simpler, easy to understand Health Insurance Marketplace that will provide clear breakdowns of various insurance options.

Lower monthly premiums are also expected to become available for consumers who qualify for free or low cost coverage.

Families that earn an income at or below the poverty level – which is currently around $31,000 for a family of four – could also be exposed to new opportunities if they live in states that have decided to expand their medicaid coverage.

For more information on the Affordable Care Act and African-Americans, click here.

Follow Lilly Workneh on Twitter @Lilly_Works