Racial disparities in health and health care in the United States are pervasive, persistent and well-documented, and if there is one disease that really illustrates this fact, it is HIV/AIDS.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, there are approximately 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in this country, including more than 500,000 African Americans. African Americans account for almost half of all HIV infections in the U.S., and are the racial/ethnic demographic group most affected by HIV. This means that while we have made progress addressing HIV/AIDS rates in the African-American community, we have a long way to go. The Affordable Care Act, along with a national awareness campaign, hopes to bring us further along in eradicating this disease.
Even though individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups make up about one-third of the nation’s population, they make up over half of the estimated 50 million Americans with no health insurance coverage. An estimated 20.8 percent of African Americans are uninsured, compared with 16.3 percent of all Americans. Currently, fewer than one in five (17 percent) people living with HIV has private insurance to help cover the costs of treatment and management of the disease, while nearly 30 percent do not have any coverage at all. Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides health care benefits to people with low incomes and those living with disabilities, is a major source of coverage for people living with HIV/AIDS, as is Medicare, the Federal program for seniors and people with disabilities.
The Affordable Care Act is one of the most significant pieces of legislation in the fight against HIV/AIDS in our history. As of September 23, 2010, insurers are no longer able to deny coverage to children living with HIV or AIDS. The parents of as many as 17.6 million children with pre-existing conditions no longer have to worry that their children will be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition. Insurers also are prohibited from cancelling or rescinding coverage to adults or children because of a mistake on an application. And insurers can no longer impose lifetime caps on insurance benefits. Because of the law, 105 million Americans no longer have a lifetime dollar limit on essential health benefits. These changes will begin to improve access to insurance for people living with HIV/AIDS and other disabling conditions and help people with these conditions retain the coverage they have.
For people who have been locked out of the insurance market because of their health status, including those living with HIV/AIDS, the law created the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan. More than 90,000 people—some of whom are living with HIV or AIDS—have already enrolled in this program, which has helped change lives and, in many cases, save them by allowing them to move to more affordable and applicable insurance coverage.
But it is not just the Affordable Care Act that is working to tackle HIV/AIDS rates in the African-American community. Planned Parenthood and its over 750 health centers are on the front lines of this fight. Planned Parenthood is among the nation’s leading providers of HIV screening and preventative care services. In 2011 alone, Planned Parenthood health centers conducted 680,000 HIV tests, a 16 percent increase from 2010.
February 7th is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and while it gives us an opportunity to focus on the fight at hand it is also a reminder of the work ahead. These disparities can change. These disparities must change.
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Photo from Bordicia34 via flickr.