Should access to affordable health insurance and quality healthcare be an inalienable right of all Americans or a benefit reserved for the wealthy and privileged minority who can afford it?
America has wrestled with this question for much of the past century, with both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations trying—and failing—to come up with a legal, ethical, and economically viable solution in service to the American people. Finally, former President Barack Obama succeeded, with the signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or ACA, also known as Obamacare) in 2010. The enactment of that federal statute was a resounding affirmation: In the wealthiest country on the planet, access to affordable and quality healthcare should be a right, not a privilege.
The ACA is of significant benefit to African Americans, who suffer disproportionately from lack of health insurance and access to quality healthcare options. Prior to Obamacare, many African Americans who lacked the financial wherewithal to have access to a broad network of doctors and health services were forced to accept little more than emergency-room medicine and underfunded, understaffed clinics—or no healthcare at all.
Then, immediately upon taking office, the newly elected Republican administration, led by President Donald Trump, launched its push to repeal Obamacare in an effort to fulfill one of the biggest promises of his campaign and a top goal on the GOP agenda. Alarmingly, these efforts seem to have nothing to do with what’s best for Americans, and everything to do with the new presidential administration’s obsession with erasing the accomplishments and legacy of President Trump’s African American predecessor.
Early efforts at repealing Obamacare have been limited by Democratic leaders’ determined efforts to protect ACA, and the popularity of key provisions such as guaranteed insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and for individual children who did not have coverage via their families, as well as dependents being permitted to remain on their parents insurance plan until their 26th birthday.
Chastened by such opposition, those determined to overturn Obamacare have tried to make their efforts more palatable to the American people by promising to “repeal and replace” or to simply leave ACA in place and “repair” the broken parts of the statute. Of course, neither President Trump nor the GOP has given any clear indication of exactly what they would replace it with.
No matter how advocates of repealing ACA label their campaign, they have to face one unavoidable truth: It is an absolute disservice to the American people to repeal Obamacare, in whole or in part, without first offering a viable solution that would not return millions of Americans back to the ranks of the uninsured, and render millions more underinsured.
When it comes to access and affordability of quality healthcare for all Americans, our collective position must be forward ever, backward never. If there are elements of Obamacare that can be improved upon, by all means, improve it. Beyond that, it is up to all of us to take a stand, raise our voices and hold our political representatives accountable for ensuring that access to basic healthcare to all is upheld as consistent with the values of our country and a sacred commitment to us as American citizens.
The enactment of ACA was a major step forward on behalf of all Americans. We must send a loud and clear message to President Trump and his administration: Any changes or amendments to Obamacare must do nothing but improve and expand access, not limit or eliminate it.
Earl G. Graves Sr. is the founder, chairman, and publisher of Black Enterprise.