Are African Americans skeptical of fed health insurance?

By Titus Falodun Staff Writer | 3/14/2014, 9:55 a.m.
Despite the looming deadline of Monday, March 31, for enrolling in the federal government’s health insurance program, many African Americans ...
Left to right: Congressman Hank Johnson, CBWW CEO Jemea S. Dorsey, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Fulton County Chairman John Eaves. Photo by Titus Falodun.

ATLANTA – Despite the looming deadline of Monday, March 31, for enrolling in the federal government’s health insurance program, many African Americans have yet to do so.

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes are disproportionately the leading causes of death for African Americans, but President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act has little to no appeal with many African Americans.


The answer is three folds: Trust, affordability, and accessibility.

“We know right here in Atlanta, there are about 805,000 uninsured and eligible residents,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius cited in her press conference promoting the federal Health Insurance Marketplace at the Center for Black Women’s Wellness, Monday, March 10. “Ninety-two percent of those folks would be eligible for some financial help.”

Atlanta boasts one of the nation’s largest populations of African Americans (as of 2010) with roughly 226,894; that is 54 percent of the city, according to the US Census Bureau.

Such numbers suggest Sebelius’s plea to the remaining uninsured group is primarily directed at African Americans, even though federal health officials have not yet released the racial breakdown of those enrolling and not enrolling.

Her speaking at the CBWW, a facility dedicated to preventive health care for African Americans (men included), further stresses this point.

However, a history of discriminatory and heinous practices, from sterilization programs to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, have led many African Americans to be hesitant to trust anything the government puts forth, in the name of better health.

“Frankly, you can’t afford not to be covered,” Sebelius told The Atlanta Voice. “We know that health bankruptcies are still the number one cause of bankruptcy in the country.”

Thus, the federal government has been working with working closely with these trusted African American institutions, such as the CBWW, the NAACP, churches, etc., in order to facilitate the message of getting covered.

“[African Americans] have not had much access to health insurance, in general,” CBWW CEO Jemea S. Dorsey told The Atlanta Voice. “We’ve been mistreated by the medical community. And so, we’re certainly reluctant to go and get care.”

Trained health insurance navigators at these sites help to provide the one-on-one walkthrough some need to feel more comfortable in exercising their rights.

“What the navigators can help someone figure out is what they qualify for,” Sebelius said. “So, how much financial help they can get to lower their premiums every month? And then, who is the doctor on the plan?”

CBWW has a navigator and is involved with "Connecting Georgians to Coverage" - a network of 15 organizations with certified navigators trained and ready to help the uninsured shop, compare and enroll in health insurance on the new marketplace. In addition, enrollment can be done online via HealthCare.gov or by calling the 24/7 toll-free hotline at 1-800-318-2596.

But clarification when it comes to enrollment does not lessen the fear of the financial undertaking that comes with health insurance.

Sebelius cited that for a family of four that makes $50,000 per year, there is a plan available for $138 per month, which covers all four members of the family. For a 27 year-old making $25,000 per year, there is a plan available for $105 per month.