Last week’s House Republican vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was not yet a fatal blow to the signature legislative achievement of President Barack Obama since it meets a skeptical Senate; unlikely to pass the bill in its current form. Even so, the passage of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) was met with cries of foul play as the Black political community grappled with both its meaning and impact on Black America.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas., left, is one of several Black leaders speaking out against Trumpcare. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
The message was clear in the visuals: Republicans, along with President Donald Trump, were fanatically unified in their opposition to the ACA. In a racially jarring scene shortly after the vote, Trump stood with a grinning gathering of nearly all White men in the White House Rose Garden.
Former President Obama, watching the effort to undo a politically polarized law originally slandered by political opponents as “Obamacare” was suddenly drawn in to the debate.
“I hope that current members of Congress recognize it takes little courage to aid those who are already powerful, already comfortable, already influential – but it takes great courage to champion the vulnerable and the sick and the infirm,” he said during a speech on May 7 in Boston.
Still, that virtual meme of a mob of pat-on-the-back White men outside the White House seemed to solidify the growing unease of Black advocacy and political leaders who view the vote, and the politics behind it, with wariness. The meaning behind AHCA passage offered three unpleasant signals, among them the desire to completely unravel any meaningful policy trace of the first Black president. There was also the peculiar thrill House Republicans found in potentially blocking health care access to millions of uninsured just because it had been branded as “Obamacare” and how that action could trigger an even worse turn of events for the nation’s uninsured and working poor.
“God have mercy on your soul,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), before the vote took place. “I am a person living with a preexisting disease. I am a breast cancer survivor. And this heartless and callous bill, with 24 million plus people being thrown off of their health care, and reverse Robin Hood of stealing from the poor and the seniors laying in their bed where you’re doing an age tax that is five times more than any other young person has to pay is disgraceful.”
Jackson-Lee watched helplessly as House Republicans, in the majority, easily passed their health care package with zero support from Democrats. But it wasn’t without blasting them for “the pittance you’ve giving for preexisting conditions – $8 billion – they say you need $25 billion . . . I want to make sure that Medicaid is provided for working families . . . I don’t want the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg on the streets, to steal bread from the market because they can’t get any health insurance.”
The worry for vulnerable populations, such as Black and Brown communities, is palpable and understandable. More than 50 million Americans were uninsured before the Affordable Care Act’s implementation; an endangered population that has now been dramatically shaved down to less than 30 million. This is a crucial number considering Blacks accounted for 16 percent of the uninsured population prior to the ACA. Now, the number of uninsured Blacks between the ages of 18-64 is down to 15 percent compared to 25 percent in 2013.
“Before the ACA was enacted, people of color were much more likely to be uninsured than Whites,” said Dr. Maya Rockeymoore of the Center for Global Policy Solutions. “ has reduced these disparities and has essentially eliminated the difference between the uninsured rates of Asian Americans and Whites, and between Black and White children.”