Congressman Elijah Cummings

The presidential and congressional election campaigns this year are not the only arenas in which President Obama’s healthcare legacy is at stake.  Here in Baltimore and across America, our movement to expand access to high-quality, affordable healthcare for every American continues — and we each have an important part to play.

Three Years of Progress

As the White House reported in April of this year, thanks largely to implementation of the Affordable Care Act (“ObamaCare”), 20 million Americans have gained health insurance since 2013 — and the number of uninsured African Americans has been cut in half.

In Maryland, our progress has been equally gratifying, with more than 1 million Marylanders signing up for health coverage through the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange (including those who have enrolled in Medicaid).

During these first three years, nearly 162,000 Marylanders (40 percent of those who previously lacked health insurance) have enrolled in private health plans through our State’s insurance Exchange.

Challenging the perceptions of some that insurance would not be affordable for their families, nine of every ten Maryland families who enrolled through the Exchange received financial subsidies to lower or waive the costs.

These developments mark real, life-affirming progress for millions upon millions of Americans, and especially for those of us who are African Americans.

For decades, the national health statistics have confirmed that — where premature death from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other deadly illnesses were concerned — being Black in America continues to be a significant mortality factor.

Although lack of access to affordable, high-quality health insurance has not been the only force driving these deadly minority health disparities, it is fair to conclude that lack of insurance has been a major cause of early death and reduced quality of life in our communities.

The Outreach Challenge that Remains

Assuring that everyone in our families, workplaces, places of worship and social organizations takes advantage of the expanded access to affordable healthcare must become a community-wide responsibility.

Even as we commend the progress represented by more than 160,000 Marylanders who now have access to affordable healthcare, we also must acknowledge that this accomplishment is only the beginning of our challenge.

The experts also estimate that another 240,000 Marylanders who would be eligible for either Medicaid or subsidized private health insurance have yet to enroll.  Many, if not most, of these nearly quarter-million neighbors remain vulnerable to all of the health and accident perils that are an evitable aspect of our lives.

This is why a renewed outreach effort is underway to provide the empowering information that affordable health insurance is now within reach for many more of our neighbors than some might conclude.

The average Baltimore household income is about $41,819 annually.  Now, consider these examples of insurance premium help under the Affordable Care Act in Maryland as provided by marylandhealthconnection.gov.

I noted that 90 percent of those who have already enrolled in private plans through the State Exchange qualified for substantial federal subsidies to reduce their out-of-pocket costs.

An individual in Baltimore with an annual income equal to or less than $47,080 qualifies for a premium subsidy under the Affordable Care Act, as does a family of four with an annual income of $97,000.

Although the next enrollment period begins on November 1, people experiencing life changes like losing other health insurance, getting married or having a baby can enroll at any time.

It also is crucial that we spread the word that Medicaid in Maryland is no longer restricted to the most desperately poor among us.

In Maryland, an individual may be eligible for Medicaid if his or her annual income is equal to or less than $15,394.  A family of three with an annual income of $27,821 may also qualify, as may a family of five with an annual income equal to or less than $39,247.

Marylanders who are eligible for Medicaid can apply and enroll at any time.

In addition to the web site I noted, Maryland’s Health Connection (Toll Free: 855-642-8572) offers convenient telephone and walk-in assistance to Marylanders seeking more information about affordable health insurance.

A Call to Community

Thanks to President Obama and his allies in the Congress who have worked so diligently to advance and defend our access to healthcare, our fate and the fate of our families, increasingly, are in our own hands.

We must grasp this opportunity.

Many of our neighbors — people we know —could use some neighborly help. As hard as the outreach people have been working to enroll everyone in affordable healthcare, Maryland remains a place where we turn first to the people whom we know for assistance.

This is where a “call to community” can make a difference with every congregation, workplace and social organization taking up the challenge of assuring that everyone receives the affordable healthcare we all need and deserve.

Black lives truly do matter, and they must matter, in the first instance, to each of us as well.

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.