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It's no secret that the Trump administration and the GOP Congress led by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) continue to undermine the success of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) despite their failed attempts to "repeal and replace." Most recently, efforts have been made to gut funding for subsidies for the individual market through the tax reform bill while the White House and several GOP members of Congress have also worked to suppress new enrollment this year, including by limiting outreach and halving the length of the sign-up season to just six weeks.
However, just as the HIV community demonstrated to defeat the ACA repeal attempts, organizations have banded together to fight these efforts, but using a different tactic: launching a nationwide campaign to ensure that African Americans enroll in the ACA in large numbers.
To this end, Black AIDS Institute (BAI) has partnered with several leading organizations, including National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) and AIDS United, to launch an 18-city "Black Health Matters Initiative and 2017 National Health Care Access Tour" in effort to bring health care and HIV knowledge directly to the community.
Lestian McNeal, program coordinator with Black AIDS Institute, described the tour as "one of the first major actions of our initiative to increase access for black Americans." He told TheBody.com, "We launched this tour to make sure that as we increase the number of those with access to insurance, black Americans aren't left out of the conversation."
The tour, which began in Melbourne, Florida, on November 10 and ends in Los Angeles on December 14, coincides with much of the open-enrollment period for the ACA.
BAI said it launched this initiative due to its recognition of how a collapsing ACA would affect black people who need insurance, with the most vulnerable being those who are HIV positive. Citing information from a new report published by BAI that is a part of the initiative, McNeal said: "[D]espite only representing about 12% of the U.S. population, black Americans represent about 15% of the those uninsured. This number is actually down 9% as a direct result of the Affordable Care Act[.]" According to the report, this translates into half as many uninsured black Americans; furthermore, "prioritization of preventative services has enormously enhanced the ability of black America to combat diseases that disproportionately affect black people, including many cancers, HIV, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes."
The strategy of focusing on access to health care for all people in the black community is also intended to help combat HIV stigma. Isaiah Wilson, director of public policy at National Black Justice Coalition, said: "We can mobilize black people as to why the ACA matters overall, and especially for people with HIV. It is giving people access to measures that are life saving and life changing."
While it's too soon to tell whether the initiative will bring in many new enrollees, early reports are showing that overall ACA enrollment is way up so far this season. It remains to be seen whether the overall shorter enrollment period will be a blow to enrollment numbers in the end.
"We want to ensure that black communities are able to utilize the open-enrollment period to access affordable and comprehensive insurance," said McNeal. "We've seen a record number of Americans signing up for health care just this year, and our goal is to make sure that black Americans aren't left out."
George M. Johnson is a writer based in the Washington, D.C., area. He has written for Huffpost, Ebony.com, Pride.com and Diverseeducation.com, and has a monthly column in A&U magazine. He is a loyal member of the Beyhive and you can follow him on Twitter @iamgmjohnson.