Black Notables Making the Affordable Care Act Happen: Anton J. Gunn

Anton J. Gunn

One in a series spotlighting African Americans who are playing an integral part in implementing the historic Affordable Care Act.

Meet Anton J. Gunn, director of external affairs in the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Prior to his government service, Gunn was the first African American elected to represent District 79 in the South Carolina House of Representatives in 2008.

Explain your role in rolling out the Affordable Care Act.

My job is to find people outside of government who want to help implement the law, and make sure I provide them with the information and the tools necessary to help us make sure the law is effective. My job is to ensure that I build strategic partnerships and alliances with those outside entities so that we can deliver on all of the promises that the Affordable Care Act frames for people.

Strategic partnerships can be with places such as hospitals because they know firsthand about the people that come into the emergency room that don't have insurance. It can also be with pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens, Duane Reade, etc. Many people will talk to their pharmacist about many health needs. So making sure that the pharmacies are a partner with us is an important part of providing accurate and adequate information to consumers. My job is to help these partners prepare to help implement the plan.

What is your own favorite feature of the plan?

That's a tough question. One of the features I like is the National Health Service Corps, which recruits minority students into the medical field to serve in traditionally underserved regions around the country. Three times the number of clinicians of all backgrounds are now being trained and put into communities because of the Affordable Care Act. And the percentage of physicians of color in the National Health Service Corp is higher than in the general physician population. That's very important when we talk about Black communities and marginalized communities.

One of the best ways to get better care is to make sure that we have doctors and nurses that look like us, talk like us and are culturally connected to our communities. So if my grandmother goes to the doctor and says, "I think I got the 'sugar,' " that clinician will understand what she's saying. That's just one of the features I like.

Why does the Affordable Care Act matter to Black men like you?

Black men don't go to the doctor in general. They struggle to get insurance. Think about every brotha in the barbershop that stands on his feet 12 to 14 hours a day cutting hair. They may not have insurance. Many brothas I know are trying to be their own boss and contribute to the American economy by being a producer rather than a consumer, but they haven't had access to health care. They can't stay healthy for themselves or their families.

In 2014, they'll be able to buy a health plan. Black men will be able to get screenings for blood pressure, diabetes and other conditions. Those things are so important for Black men. Having good health means they can provide for their families and not just be a consumer.

Candace Y.A. Montague is a freelance health writer in Washington, D.C. She is the D.C. HIV/AIDS examiner for and a blogger for The Body. She also contributes to The Grio and East of the River.