President Obama’s signature accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act –healthcare reform — was ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court this week. It was a close, 5 to 4 decision, with the conservative Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the four liberal justices. The only African-American on the Court, Clarence Thomas, was opposed.
Seven million more African-Americans will have free or affordable healthcare — health insurance by 2014. 5.5 million African-Americans who now have private health insurance are eligible for free preventive care, including mammograms, colonoscopies and wellness checkups. 2.4 million African-American seniors have already received free preventive care, such as diabetes testing. 410,000 young African-Americans are now covered on their families’ health insurance.
MR. MARTIN: President Obama’s signature accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act –healthcare reform – was ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court this week. It was a close, 5 to 4 decision, with the conservative Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the four liberal justices. The only African-American on the Court, Clarence Thomas, was opposed.
Throughout the first half of the hour, we’ll break down what it means to you and your healthcare and what it means to the 2012 campaign for President as well as Congress. We’ll get to the politics a bit later in the roundtable, but we begin with the impact of the law on African Americans as offered up in a White House briefing. Seven million more African-Americans will have free or affordable healthcare — health insurance by 2014. 5.5 million African-Americans who now have private health insurance are eligible for free preventive care, including mammograms, colonoscopies and wellness checkups. 2.4 million African-American seniors have already received free preventive care, such as diabetes testing. 410,000 young African-Americans are now covered on their families’ health insurance.
The President spoke to the nation shortly after the ruling:
[BEGIN VIDEO CLIP.]
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: Today’s decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it. We will continue to implement this law, and we’ll work together to improve on it where we can. But today, I’m as confident as ever that when we look back five years from now, or ten years from now, or 20 years from now, we’ll be better off because we had the courage to pass this law and keep moving forward.”
[END OF VIDEO CLIP.]
MR. MARTIN: Joining us to talk about the impact of today’s decision on you and your healthcare [are] medical doctor and Democratic delegate to the House of Representatives from the Virgin Islands – the U.S. Virgin Islands, Donna Christensen; and Dr. Rahn Bailey, the incoming president of the National Medical Association.
And, folks, welcome to “Washington Watch.”
REP. DONNA CHRISTENSEN: Thank you.
DR. RAHN K. BAILEY: Thank you.
REP. CHRISTENSEN: Great –
MR. MARTIN: Let me –
REP. CHRISTENSEN: — to be here.
MR. MARTIN: — also say for our audience we did invite and confirm Congressman Phil Gingrich – Gingrey of Georgia, who is an OB-GYN – another doctor in Congress – but then they cancelled. So, I want folks to know we did give the Republicans an opportunity to come on the show. They had the opportunity, but they chose not to take it.
All right. Let’s right to it. What does this decision mean for people?
REP. CHRISTENSEN: For African-Americans, where over 8 million of us are uninsured, many of us who are young or middle-aged without children or disability – that expanded Medicaid coverage will allow them to get – to be insured. The preventive care is really important to all Americans. It’s especially important to people of color. About 20 percent of African-American women have not had pap smears, 32 percent have not had mammograms, and 45 percent of African-Americans have not had colonoscopy. Now they can get those without having to have a copay.
MR. MARTIN: We hear lots of doctors – we have some doctors who say, “Man! This is” – “This is a bad decision.” Others say, “Good decision.” Where does the N- — NMA stand?
DR. BAILEY: We think it’s an excellent decision for several reasons. First and foremost, the opportunity, I think, to insure and provide access to care, in general, for a large number of persons, I think, is – is key. African-Americans as a group, I think, more so than any other group, will benefit.
MR. MARTIN: One of the issues also that critics are – are quick to say is that this does not address the issue, though, of rising healthcare costs. And so how do you deal with that in the medical community when – when, of course, the person out there, even with this, they’re likely to see premiums increase over the next several years? How do you still deal with that?
REP. CHRISTENSEN: Well, already at least in 12 states, about – over 30 insurance companies have been told that they could not increase their premiums at the level they wanted to increase them.
DR. BAILEY: And in addition, I think that quality premiums are going to be key. Physicians will be much – much more aware of the need, I think, for coordination of care, especially between primary care and specialists. That, in general, we think, will incroove [sic – phonetic] – improve quality; improve outcomes; and, hopefully, in the long term, decrease cost and expenses.
MR. MARTIN: The one area, though, that was struck down was the ability of the federal government to force states to expand Medicaid coverage and – to cover folks who can’t afford health insurance. How do you see that decision playing out, because for African-Americans, we live in places [in] large numbers – Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana; you could throw in Tennessee –
REP. CHRISTENSEN: Texas.
MR. MARTIN: — Texas –
DR. BAILEY: Yeah.
MR. MARTIN: — Arkansas.
REP. CHRISTENSEN: Absolutely.
MR. MARTIN: And so where –
REP. CHRISTENSEN: Absolutely.
MR. MARTIN: — pretty much you’re a large, Black population in those southern states there — that are red states, led by Republican governors?
REP. CHRISTENSEN: Well, that’s a real cause for concern to us, but we plan to work with our Black and Hispanic legila- [sic –phonetic] – legislator- — ch- — legislators to try to ensure that the states where our – where it’s needed, that the governors are made to accept that Medicaid. But it’s going to be a problem. We need to look at it, and we need to see how we can encourage and incentivize those governors to provide care for their constituents.
DR. BAILEY: Further, I think it’s a short-term political win. Maybe for some, it’s a sound bite, but it’s a long-term loss. The reality is providing care for your citizens, I think, in- — improves the quality, I think, of life for all in society. Good-quality health improves overall job outcomes, overall job productivity. Persons go to school. They go to college and become functional in society.
I think, in the long run, though, as members of – of s- — a variety of states – White and Black alike – recognize in a neighboring state when it’s – it’s e- — Medicare is – Medicaid is expanded, and you – and your – your cousin or your relative can get better access to care, that ma- — creates a su- — huge disincentive, I think, in a state where you are, if – if – because of politics not allowing that actually to occur.
The federal government pays about 90 percent of all dollars for – for most states for Medicaid now. It’s generally about a 9 to 1 match. I’m from Tennessee. One, you’re, in Tennessee, at almost a 17 to 1 match. So, the bot- — large – the number – most of the dollars paid for Medicaid come from the federal government already. This idea that states will have to in- — incur a huge burden really is not consistent with the facts.
MR. MARTIN: Congress- —
REP. CHRISTENSEN: I- — i- —
MR. MARTIN: — -woman, final –
REP. CHRISTENSEN: – it –
MR. MARTIN: — comment.
REP. CHRISTENSEN: — it just isn’t, because the federal government will pay 100 percent for the first several years.
MR. MARTIN: Right.
DR. BAILEY: Right.
MR. MARTIN: First several years, then it goes down to 95. Then it –
REP. CHRISTENSEN: Yes.
MR. MARTIN: — goes down to 90.
REP. CHRISTENSEN: Yes.
MR. MARTIN: So, it’s a gradual –
REP. CHRISTENSEN: Yeah.
MR. MARTIN: — s- — sliding –
REP. CHRISTENSEN: It –
MR. MARTIN: — scale.
REP. CHRISTENSEN: — should not be an issue.
MR. MARTIN: All right. Well, we certainly appreciate you being here. Thanks a lot for breaking it down for us.
REP. CHRISTENSEN: Thanks.