Los Angeles, Calif. -- The State of the Union is indeed "very strong" and can become much stronger, President Obama said tonight in his sixth annual State of the Union address. But much more work must be done to achieve the President's goal of an AIDS-free generation -- especially across the nation's Black communities, which are disproportionately affected by poverty, income inequality, health disparities and HIV/AIDS.
The President did not explicitly mention HIV/AIDS in tonight's address, but he did discuss social determinants that impact AIDS -- poverty, income and heath care -- in detail. President Obama spoke passionately on the need to invest more in job reform, extend unemployment benefits and raise the minimum wage. "Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty," the President said.
President Obama also forcefully argued for more investments in education, which will increase earning potential. He also singled out Black male youth -- who have the highest unemployment rates in the nation -- for more education and job training. Bravo.
The President made a convincing argument on the success so far of the Affordable Care Act -- the most far-reaching overhaul of our health care system since the passage of Medicaid and Medicare in 1965. One of the most poignant moments of the evening was when President Obama referenced the formerly common practice of health care insurers discriminating based on pre-existing conditions.
"More than nine million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage," said President Obama. "Because of this law, no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, back pain or cancer."
The Affordable Care Act will broaden health care coverage to many Americans living with HIV. Less than one in five of the 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the nation have private insurance -- and nearly one in three do not have any coverage at all.
The law also will also expand Medicaid coverage -- but an estimated 43 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS reside in states that are not currently expanding Medicaid. Many of these states -- such as Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina -- are disproportionately lower income, African American and located in the South. These are also these regions and demographic groups in which new HIV infections are increasing most quickly.
That's why the Black AIDS Institute supports the President's challenge to Republican governors and leadership to offer specific plans "to cover more people. We all owe it to the American people to say what we're for, not just what we're against."
The President introduced the State of the Union by highlighting everyday Americans who made a difference -- such as the teacher who devoted "extra time with a student" and the tech entrepreneur who created jobs. Every American can indeed make a difference. We call on everyone in our nation to do what they can -- lobby, organize, invest and more -- to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Phill Wilson is the President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, the only National HIV/AIDS think tank in the United States focused exclusively on Black people. Follow him on twitter @iamphillwilson. Mr. Wilson is also available for interviews and press inquiries. Contact (323) 829-4195 or firstname.lastname@example.org.