Medicare Reform and African Americans: Shoring up Benefits to Protect the Uninsured

With the ongoing debate and the decline in ratings for the healthcare package labeled “Obamacare,” it is clear that everyone is concerned about the results in Medicare reform.

No group should be more concerned than African Americans and Hispanics. Despite representing collectively 30 percent of the population, these groups comprise over 50 percent of the estimated 50 million Americans who have no healthcare insurance according to a report by the Commonwealth Fund.

The heated debate has provided a number of opportunities for legislation to be implemented to address Medicare reform itself and to provide coverage for underrepresented groups.

However, disparities continue to exist. In the Center for Policy Analysis and Research policy report entitled, “Structured Inefficiency: The Impact of Medicare Reform on African Americans,” the authors Maya Rockeymoore, Ph.D and Laura Hawkinson analyzed the impact of the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act signed into law by then President George W. Bush. The bill was touted as the most sweeping change for Medicare since the inception of the program itself in 1965.

Unfortunately, some of the provisions of the act, in the interest of Medicare reform, proved to be more harm than good, especially for many African Americans and Hispanics.

One provision in particular revoked wraparound supports within Medicare that filled in coverage gaps for individuals who fit in the dual eligible or low income category.

The report stated that this particular provision would increase costs and decrease benefits for many African American who represent a disproportionate number of low income Medicare recipients.

Author and political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson highlighted the long history of this disparity in his commentary in 2009 when he stated, “The huge racial disparity in the number of uninsured has been a sticking point for every Democratic president since Harry Truman proposed the first national healthcare plan in the late 1940s. The number of Blacks and Hispanics without a prayer of obtaining healthcare at any price has always been wildly disproportionate to that of Whites – even poor Whites. It has steadily gotten worse over the years.”

The private sector has made it a point to try to show that government influence is not in the best interests of those seeking healthcare for all and Medicare reform.

Despite many of the sweeping changes incorporated into The Affordable Care Act signed by President Barack Obama that, among other things, provides free preventative care for those on Medicare, more than 60 percent of Americans over the age of 65 disapproved according to an Associated Press poll.

The media hype regarding the perception that this bill will not effectively reform Medicare but result in the loss of benefits and increased costs has overshadowed the positive changes for African Americans.

This bill, estimated at over 940 billion dollars, is now the largest federal government healthcare initiative since Medicaid and Medicare and strengthens both programs. More importantly, it will expand health coverage to an additional 32 million Americans previously uninsured or underinsured.

For African Americans, this bill will address specific health challenges that disproportionately impact them and initiate research to generate solutions to close the gap between patients and service providers.

Medicare reform in the African American community must involve improved access and education. Inclusion and outreach are the keys to a great start.

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