For the last few weeks, America has been told to brace itself for what is being billed as one of the biggest threats to hit the country in years: the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
A brief overview of some recent fearmongering headlines: "Obamacare Is Really, Really Bad for You, Especially If You're Young," "Sorry, Mr. President, There Is 'Serious Evidence' Obamacare Is Bad for Economic Growth" and "Obamacare – What's Already Gone Wrong."
But despite the scary headlines, there are some serious benefits to the new law, particularly for those in communities of color. The effects that the Affordable Care Act will have on African-American women are particularly noteworthy. Below is a list of five ways Obamacare significantly benefits black women.
Better access to lifesaving checkups
Although black women have lower rates of breast cancer than white women, we are more likely to die from the disease. And while we do not have the highest rate of cervical-cancer diagnosis in America, we do have the highest rate of death from that disease, too. One reason is that both cancers are often diagnosed later in black women. We are less likely to receive our annual women's health checkup, with cost often cited as a factor. The ACA mandates that women's annual health checkups be treated as preventive care and therefore not require the additional cost of a co-pay.
More young black women are now insured
Young people and African Americans in particular are statistically less likely to have insurance coverage than other groups. Thanks to an element of the ACA that went into effect in fall 2010, young adults are now eligible to remain on their parents' insurance up until the age of 26, benefiting an estimated 500,000 African Americans – approximately 255,000 of them women – ages 19 to 25.
Better access to birth control
Black women have the highest rate of unplanned pregnancy of any racial or ethnic group. Unplanned pregnancies among black women are nearly double those of white women. Poor women also experience unplanned pregnancies at a rate five times higher than that of high-income women.
This means that those least likely to be able to afford birth control are those most at risk for an unintended pregnancy, particularly in the black community. The Affordable Care Act requires insurers to cover birth control as a form of preventive care. This is one of the aspects of the act that women's health advocates have most celebrated, and one that has been most reviled by conservatives. (This past weekend, on the eve of the ACA becoming law, conservative lawmakers again attempted to insert an amendment allowing employers to opt out of providing birth control coverage for moral reasons.)
Pre-existing conditions no longer a barrier to coverage
Nearly 5 million African Americans – 18.7 percent – are battling diabetes. African-American women ages 20-24 are statistically more likely than white women of that age group to be victims of domestic violence. Prior to the ACA, both of these conditions were considered acceptable reasons for insurers to deny health care coverage, on the grounds that they constituted "pre-existing conditions." Yes, getting assaulted by your partner constituted a pre-existing condition in the eyes of some insurance companies. The ACA prohibits denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions.
A barrier between women and their ob-gyns has been removed
Many insurers require women to obtain referrals from a primary care physician in order to see a specialist, even if the specialist in question is a gynecologist. This often resulted in two doctor's appointments and two charges, a challenge for working class women on fixed incomes. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurers cannot require women to obtain referrals to see their gynecologist, eliminating yet another barrier between black women and essential health care.
(Keli Goff is The Root's special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.)