For all intents and purposes, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the President’s signature piece of legislation, will provide more health care coverage to poor and underserved populations. Persistently disadvantaged communities have much further to go than those with insurance, and new means of accessing and paying for care will benefit them disproportionately. Nevertheless, with more than 20 percent of the nation’s Black population uninsured, more than 30 percent of Hispanics uninsured and a country still grappling with understanding and properly addressing disparities, just how far does the ACA take uninsured women in the US?
By mandating individual health insurance coverage and expanding the list of covered preventative services, ACA legislation should, theoretically, improve the quality of health care for women at a disproportionate risk of being uninsured and having low incomes. However, research has shown that having health insurance itself does not necessarily have a substantial impact if women cannot find a doctor to see them, do not have proper information about accessing resources, or are not treated in a culturally and environmentally competent manner.
Moreover, when the number of uninsured could be decreased by more than half, but being uninsured is not equitable across racial and ethnic groups in the US, what happens to our countries most vulnerable women and children?
It has been well documented that low-income women and those without employee-sponsored insurance (ESI) are more likely to be women of color. Kaiser and US Census estimates indicate that there are significant differences in insurance rates by race and ethnicity, with national averages approximating there are almost three times as many uninsured Hispanics as Whites. In Louisiana, for example, it is believed that more than 50% of the state’s Hispanics are uninsured, while only 18% of Whites are. In the same state, it is estimated that 30% of Blacks are uninsured, reiterating just how unbalanced our country remains and how terribly far we have to go to eliminate inequalities.
Even in Massachusetts, where health reform has been a success, the number of Blacks and Hispanics that remain uninsured is two and three times that of Whites, respectively.
Although the ACA takes us a step forward in giving many of the countries uninsured woman an insurance card, the US must address what to do about probable provider shortages that will result from a lack of primary care physicians and different utilization in care between races, ethnicities and gender. We must be prepared to understand both to cultural differences in demand and pent-up demand of the previously uninsured, as well as start to really face how to deal with persistent racial and ethnic inequality in this nation that shows itself in our health care system every day.