It's less than two months away from Election Day. After the abysmal turnout in Chicago for the mayoral election, I am concerned that a lot of people still do not get why they have to vote. So from now until the election, I am going to use this column to talk about issues of critical importance to the African-American community and why it is unacceptable for eligible voters to sit this one out.
This month, I want to discuss access to health care and why the health care reform law should still be on your radar, despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld it.
Admittedly, a lot of people were confused by the reform legislation, which is to be implemented in phases over several years. Yes, it can be daunting, but the overarching goal of the reform act is to extend health care coverage to the estimated 50.7 million Americans who are uninsured. A disproportionate number of them are African-Americans. African-Americans are less likely to work in jobs where health insurance is offered. Some who are able and willing to buy their own insurance are being denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition. Under the new law, insurance companies won't be able to deny health coverage for pre-existing conditions. The law also creates access to affordable coverage for individuals, as well as employee-sponsored health benefits.
Before the reform law, the United States was the only industrialized nation that did not ensure universal health care coverage for its citizens. Nevertheless, the reform legislation has enraged President Obama's critics, who took their complaint all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. They lost that battle but the war, some believe, is still winnable.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said that he would overturn "Obamacare" if he is elected president. In July, House Republicans voted again to repeal the law. It was a symbolic move in light of the Supreme Court's ruling, but five Democrats joined them. The vote demonstrates that the health care reform issue will continue to be hotly debated -- and potentially reversed -- by the people we elect to serve in Congress and in the White House this year.
Conservative legislators in Washington also want to limit federal control and expansion of the Medicaid program. But it is not just the conservatives limiting access to health care. Here in Illinois Governor Quinn pushed a bill through the legislature that made significant, some would say unduly harsh, cuts to Medicaid in Illinois, eliminating eligibility for thousands and removing critical services such as dental and mental health care. Changes to Medicaid disproportionately impact African-Americans, with some 28 percent covered by public insurance compared to 11 percent of white Americans.
Regardless of where you are in the economic spectrum, well off or not so well off, decisions made by elected officials both in Washington and here in Illinois regarding access to health care will affect you. You have the power to influence these policy decisions by who you select in November. Perhaps you're not affected by these issues because you have health insurance and aren't in danger of losing your coverage -- today. What happens when that job with the great benefits gets downsized? Or, suppose your job and health benefits are truly secure. What about members of your family and in your community who aren't as fortunate? Will they be able to access an affordable clinic in their neighborhood? Or will they have to catch four buses and wait all day to get treatment? Will they be turned away once they do arrive?
Your health impacts your whole life. Unhealthy people impact the overall health of the communities we live in. And large segments of people that don't vote can negatively impact their communities just as much.
Your vote can make a difference, but not if you don't cast one. Do not let others speak for you. There's still time to register to vote and be sure to exercise your right to vote on November 6, 2012.
Andrea L. Zopp is president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League.