It’s been more than two weeks since the official rollout of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
And despite the toxic politics swirling around its implementation and well-publicized cyber issues bogging down registration on the government’s website, traditionally underserved communities stand to benefit significantly from national healthcare reform.
“A child born in Upton in comparison to a child born in Roland Park, there’s a 20-year difference. The average life expectancy in Upton is 62, the average life expectancy in Roland Park is 82 and much of that is connected to disparities in healthcare,” said Rev. Alvin Hathaway, pastor of Union Baptist Church on Druid Hill Avenue in the heart of the Upton community of West Baltimore.
But, the health disparity between impoverished communities like Upton and wealthier communities like Roland Park may be even worse than characterized by Hathaway.
According to a recent study cited by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the life expectancy of White residents living in Roland Park is about 30 years longer than Black residents of Upton/Druid Heights.
In January, the O’Malley administration launched a four-year, $16 million pilot project led by Brown to bring much needed medical services to disadvantaged neighborhoods and designated Upton/Druid Heights as one of five, “health enterprise zones,” created under a law passed last year. The goals of the health enterprise zone program include reducing disparities among races and ethnic groups and improving access to care in communities that lack services.
And Hathaway, who began as assistant pastor at the politically active West Baltimore institution in 2004 also sees the arrival of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as a healthcare game change in their neighborhood.
“The impact in the Upton community potentially can be huge. We know we have a large number of people who are either uninsured or underinsured and this (ACA) provides access to healthcare for them, which is so important,” Rev. Hathaway said.
“A very significant aspect of it is that people can’t be excluded because of pre-existing conditions; so there are a number of people who have issues with diabetes, issues of high blood pressure and other kinds of issues and this is the opportunity to get signed up and get access to healthcare,” he added.
But, getting Upton residents access to the ACA has been a challenge for Hathaway and other community leaders.
“The big challenge in our community is internet access,” Hathaway said.
“The way you get in and the way you get on is through the internet…we are victims of the digital divide, we really have to put on a hard push to make people aware and to get them registered. We know if a family (of four) makes $30-thousand or less they tend not to have internet access in their home,” he added.
In an effort to bring vital healthcare information to the Upton community Union Baptist sponsored a day-long event last month on the Saturday prior to the Oct. 1 launch of the ACA that attracted nearly 200 residents who heard from representatives of several state agencies and healthcare organizations. The event only reinforced the towering healthcare issues faced by many impoverished communities.
“That’s the challenge of the church. People have to do their follow-ups, they have to take their meds, they have to follow the advice of the physician,” Hathaway said.
“The faith community I think really has to step up to the plate because the health of the community I believe is part of our divine mandate.”