By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – With less than two weeks left to sign up for insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, grassroots supporters of the mandatory law and federal health officials are rushing to enroll Blacks, other people of color and young people in order to meet the Obama administration’s goal of reaching 7 million people by the end of this month.
The administration has enlisted past and present NBA superstars Lebron James, Magic Johnson and Alonzo Mourning for television ads urging people to get enrolled by March 31 that will air on ESPN, ABC, TNT and NBA TV. James will be featured in a television ad running during the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Online videos featuring First Lady Michelle Obama and mothers of celebrities including Jonah Hill, Adam Levine, Alicia Keys, and Jennifer Lopez that targeted mothers and women also encourage people to get covered.
Last week, President Obama traded comedic jabs with Zach Galifianakis on a mock talk show called “Between Two Ferns.” Obama appeared on the show with the star of the “The Hangover” movie franchise in an effort to pitch HealthCare.Gov to a younger, hipper audience most likely to watch the show.
However, just as he has done throughout his time in the White House, President Obama has refused to grant an interview to the National Newspaper Publishers Association New Service, which serves a federation of approximately 200 newspapers with a readership of 19 million.
According to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 56 percent of people who don’t have health insurance have an unfavorable opinion of the Affordable Care Act.
Fifty-seven percent of Whites have an unfavorable opinion of the ACA and 29 percent view the law favorably.
In sharp contrast, 53 percent of Blacks like the new health care law that mandates health insurance coverage for all, more than twice the 24 percent of Blacks don’t like the law.
In the upcoming weeks, Enroll America, a non-partisan, non-profit national group that informs consumers about health insurance options and helps people sign up for plans, will partner with a number of organizations in the Black community to increase awareness about the ACA and get people enrolled in health care plans.
Enroll America will support events aimed at young Blacks at community colleges and historically Black colleges and universities. The group has also partnered with youth ministers across the nation to promote health insurance coverage and programming designed to get young Blacks enrolled. Enroll America has also designed outreach and health insurance education programs for Black Muslims.
At a conference in Washington, D.C. last week, Enroll America announced a partnership with the National Medical Association, a group of more than 37,000 Black doctors, to promote new, affordable health insurance coverage and to provide information on healthy living in the Black community. Enroll America and the NMA will expand outreach efforts already in place, working with Black religious denominations and “will focus on the 11 states that have large numbers of African Americans and others who are uninsured,” according to a press release. The states include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas.
Dr. Michael LeNoir, president of the National Medical Association, said that the partnership with Enroll America’s faith-based initiative just extends the relationship Black doctors have had with churches in the Black community for more than 100 years.
“The churches in the African American community play a pivotal role in informing people about the Affordable Care Act and encouraging them to enroll for health coverage,” said LeNoir in a press release about the partnership with Enroll America’s faith-based initiative. “Our partnership with the faith community will provide our physicians with the opportunity to help the uninsured understand the long–term ramifications of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.”
The ACA made it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to anyone because of a pre-existing condition, a provision that is disproportionately beneficial to Blacks who suffer higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, HIV/AIDS and certain cancers than their White counterparts.
Black males lead all groups in cancer-related deaths and Black females die from cancer at great rates than other women.
More than 20 percent of Blacks under the age of 65 don’t have health insurance. According to a recent poll by Enroll America nearly 70 percent of uninsured Blacks didn’t know that financial assistance is available to help pay for health insurance.
According to a December 2013 report by the Department of Health and Human Services, six in 10 uninsured African Americans may qualify either for tax credits to purchase coverage in the Health Insurance Marketplace or for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). If all states expanded Medicaid coverage under the ACA, that figure would jump to 95 percent.
The problem is that most eligible, uninsured Blacks live in southern states that refused to expand Medicaid coverage under the ACA.
According to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, almost 80 percent of people that fall in the coverage gap, live in the South And Southern states account for nearly half of all states that failed to expand Medicaid coverage. This move by state lawmakers, most of them Republican, will have a disproportionate effect on the health outcomes of millions of Blacks.
Ten percent of all eligible, uninsured Blacks live in Florida. Texas and Georgia each account for another 9 percent of uninsured Blacks that would qualify for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, if those states chose to expand the program.
According to the report by the Health Department, “The greater Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and Detroit metropolitan areas are home to one-fifth (21 percent) of eligible uninsured African Americans.”
Those who choose not to sign up for a health insurance plan by March 31 will incur a penalty of $95 or 1 percent of their yearly household income, whichever is higher. A family of four could pay up to $285 in penalties if no one in the household is covered. If a person doesn’t ’t have health insurance in 2015, the penalty jumps to $325 per person or 2 percent of their yearly income.
Some people may be exempt from paying the fine, including those who go without insurance for less than three months of the year, people who don’t file a tax return because their income is too low or if the lowest-price coverage is more than 8 percent of a family’s household.
Others will qualify for a “hardship” exemption include homeless people, those who faced an eviction or filed for bankruptcy in the last six months and, in some cases, or victims of domestic violence. A complete list of exemptions and how to file for one is available at the HealthCare.gov. website. Questions can also be answered by calling 1-800-318-2596.
Etoy Ridgnal, director of African American Engagement and Faith Based Initiatives for Enroll America, said, “Folks should take the time to act now, go to a local community health center, local hospitals, local Urban League or the local NAACP office. Help is everywhere and it’s easily accessible, so there’s no reason that folks should not take this opportunity to get enrolled.”