Sweeping change usually brings plenty of naysayers with it. In the case of the Affordable Healthcare Act, those naysayers have been downright nasty.
From Tea Party protestors, to viral letters from single mothers, to members of the U.S. Congress, there has been outright belligerence when it comes to the biggest healthcare reform the country has ever seen. While reasonable protest is an American right, the negative tone of ACA dissenters is one that stretches well beyond disagreement to disdain. Some of it is an uninformed public that relies too much on social media news feeds for their understanding of current affairs but some of it is simply racism - plain and simple.
Hear me out.
Research shows us that of the uninsured in America, a higher percentage are Blacks and Hispanics. Pair this with the fact that those racial groups tend to need more medical care, the ACA was created (if indirectly so) to address the injustice in these groups especially. People who are most vocal about opposition to the new healthcare mandates hide behind excuses like individual liberties being trodden upon and even ineffectiveness of the program, particularly in light of the many woes of the signup website. In truth though, most of these reasons are fueled by the larger elephant in the room - racism.
I don't mean that every person who opposes the ACA hates Black or Hispanic people in a conscious way. I do think, however, that when statistics about higher illness rates in communities of color are meant to support the need for universal healthcare, most who oppose the law simply don't care. If it does not have an immediate impact on them, or people like them, they do not want to bear the burden. If anything, the fight amongst the public over the ACA has revealed the still-existent, deep-seeded racism that permeates the culture, 150 years since the end of the Civil War and 50 years since the Civil Rights Movement.
So the term Obamacare has come to be known as less of a nickname for a set of healthcare reform legislation and more of a thinly-veiled racial slur. For people who care not for the demographics that will most benefit from the law's enactment, Obamacare becomes something that is about "them" and treads on the individual liberties of "us" in the process. Obamacare has come to be grouped in with other stereotypical government enactments, like welfare, that are often unfairly associated with people of color - despite the fact that 69 percent of Americans who take advantage of government benefits are indeed Caucasian.
Forget Americans with preexisting conditions that can now be insured or the children of all races that can now get better preventative care and live healthier lives long term as a result of the ACA. To those that most strongly oppose Obamacare, it is a system built for slackers and those who cannot afford the steep price of private insurance or medical care on their own.
The problem with this logic, of course, is that earning a reasonable living and not acting like a slacker did not always translate into proper medical care before the ACA. From 1997 to 2001, a period of job growth and general prosperity in America, the number of families with access to employer-based health insurance programs was stagnant. If businesses had the capable consciousness to provide employees with the healthcare they needed, they sure weren't showing it then. Fast forward eight years from then to the first major impact of the Great Recession. In 2009, The Center for American Progress found that 14,000 people were losing health insurance benefits on a daily basis because of job loss. For every percentage point rise in unemployment, 2.3 million lost their health insurance coverage.
Suddenly people who had worked consistently since they had a summer job lifeguarding were out of work - and out of insurance options too. Thus the ACA was born out of necessity for the greater good - not simply to give a crutch to people who have no desire to work for their healthcare.
The ACA benefits every citizen - if not in the immediate, in the long term. The right to healthcare transcends racial definitions. It is not about "them," but about a collective "us." Even if the only people who could benefit from the reform were people of color, it would be a worthy initiative that all citizens should be proud to stand behind. The ACA is not quarantined to one group though. It has the long-term potential to strengthen the health of our nation, and lower its cost when all things are considered. For it to make the impact it should, however, the division that racism has built needs to be toppled.
Follow Matthew Lynch, Ed.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lynch39083