During a recent conference call with the black press, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin addressed black health issues and announced a new website designed to help Americans take control of their health care.
The newly launched government website, HealthCare.gov, provides detailed information about affordable health care plans, according to White House Office of New Media director, Macon Phillips.
HealthCare.gov is the first website to provide both public and private health care options nationwide in a single tool.
“Expanding access to preventive health care will help reduce health disparities for 41 million African Americans,” Benjamin said in the July 15 conference call with reporters from black-owned media, including the South Florida Times.
Increased access to health care, Benjamin said, is particularly important to African Americans “when it comes to preventing chronic diseases, detecting cancer early, insuring healthy pregnancies and treating HIV/AIDS.
“No American should be denied care when they need it,” she said.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), the insurance legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, is designed to make wellness and prevention services affordable and accessible for all Americans.
“We had 90 days after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, and in those 90 days have achieved something that is a great first step,” Phillips said about the website. “In October 2010, we will provide price estimates on private insurance plans,” he added.
Under the ACA, beginning Sept. 23, new health insurance plans will be required to cover recommended preventive services without charging patients a deductible, co-pay or co-insurance.
Benjamin provided an example during the White House Health Care conference call.
“If a 58-year-old woman who is at risk for heart disease needs to receive a mammogram and colon cancer screening, a pap test, diabetes and cholesterol tests and an annual flu shot, under a typical insurance plan, these tests would cost her about $300,” Benjamin said.
Under the new plan available later this year, Benjamin said, “these tests will be available at no out-of-pocket expense.”
According to the White House document, Compilation of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage may not impose any preexisting condition exclusion with respect to such plan or coverage.
Eligible residents of Florida are now able to apply for coverage through the state’s Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan program run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
As the need for health reform was examined, Benjamin said, challenges faced by communities of color were encountered. African Americans today, Benjamin said, have a hard time getting insurance, leaving nearly one in five without coverage.
“And it’s hard to get a doctor,” she added. “Many African Americans live in areas with a shortage of health care providers.”
Forty-eight percent of African-American adults suffer from chronic diseases compared to 39 percent of the general population, Benjamin noted.
“At the same time, we are among the least likely to have a regular doctor or to engage in preventive care,” she said.
African Americans, according to Benjamin, use emergency departments at twice the rate of whites, adding that tragically, almost half of the people in the U.S. who are HIV positive are African American.
“All these issues speak to why health care reform is so critical to the general health and well being of the black community,” she said.
Providing free preventive care is just the next step in the ACA, Benjamin said.
“We believe that access to preventive services will help fight chronic diseases in this country and serve to dramatically improve the health of all Americans,” Benjamin said.
Photo: U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin, right, and President Barack Obama.