By Jennifer Ng’andu, Deputy Director, Health Policy Project, NCLR
I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t have any idea what America’s highest court will decide on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). What I do know is that whatever the decision turns out to be, the impact on Latinos will be big. Good or bad—that now depends on the Justices. What I know is that after the decision, there’s no turning back. We must find a way forward.
Today, 16 million American Hispanics are uninsured which means that one in three Americans who don’t have coverage are Latino. Millions more are underinsured and have difficulty gaining access to the health care they need. On average, Latinos spend more out-of-pocket than other groups trying to get health care. Latinos are also more likely to take money out of savings to seek services. Combined with lower incomes, this means that Latino families are especially burdened to balance the need for health care with other basic necessities.
Unfortunately, the struggle for far too little health care at far too high a price for far too long is now a common American experience. When you think about it, everybody gets sick and millions of Americans have to make choices about how to get by. The choice when you don’t have health insurance (or coverage that’s good enough) often leads you to avoid or skip critical health services altogether. These choices result in more sickness, higher costs, and put you at risk for poor health over the long-term. Indeed, Families USA released a recent report that demonstrates that in 2010, 2,175 Americans per month died prematurely because they were uninsured.
That dynamic began to change with the passage of the health care law. Although a chunk of the slated reforms don’t take full effect until 2014, immediate improvements to health care are already well underway. As a result, three million young adults have already gained coverage that otherwise they wouldn’t have—making a major dent for the age group with the highest levels of uninsurance. This includes 750,000 young Latinos under age 26 who have gained new coverage over the past two years. Now insurance companies must ensure that they spend 80% of your insurance dollar on actual health care. If not, they must pay you back. And, in 2012, Americans are getting rebates to the tune of $1.1 billion dollars. There are also new measures designed to protect you if your family falls ill, putting a ban on any caps on your insurance over the life of your plan and making it illegal to deny children an insurance plan if they have a preexisting condition. This is all after two years of work. We’ll be even better off when all the provisions are in place in 2014.
In fact, Latinos have a lot more to gain with full implementation. Estimates by the Urban Institute peg Latinos as the population that will see the single biggest jump in coverage, with more than 6 million Hispanic Americans across the country gaining health insurance. This is the highest increase for any racial or ethnic community and one that is desperately needed, as Latinos as a group have largely been cut off from the regular routes to coverage. And full implementation of the law is important not just because it will give more people access to health insurance, it will also make the health care experience better for those who have insurance. It’s common sense. We all have something to gain when more Americans are able to participate more fully in health care.
There are two scenarios for Latinos with the health care decision. If the law is upheld, we will take a step forward. We will see a growing Latino population that is healthier and better able to help the nation thrive—contributing to healthier communities and a stronger economy—now and for generations to come. If the law is stuck down, we will likely see Latinos continue to constitute the largest number of uninsured Americans, often with devastating health consequences.
Looking beyond individual health and the economics of the law, will the Supreme Court’s decision reinforce America’s commitment to civil rights and equal opportunity for all? Or will it reinforce the role of health coverage as a divider between those who will prosper and those who will not?
Two years ago, we fought for and achieved a law that stood to make health care better for those who already had coverage and provide affordable insurance for the millions who did not. The naysayers have yet to produce a better solution—and, in large part, have either filled the airwaves with misinformation or have been completely silent on what to do to fix health care. What we must understand is that a reversal of ACA brings us back to that place where when people get sick (and that’s everybody), they must make choices that often compromise their personal well-being and the overall health of our system. My hope is that the Supreme Court recognizes that turning back is, in fact, a false choice, and one we cannot afford.
This was first posted to the NCLR Blog.