Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius has asked civil rights activists to help defend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), noting that the healthcare law faces an “enemy” whose goal is to set American health policy back half a century. The remarks come two months before the Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling that could strike down the law.
Sebelius described the ACA as an crucial weapon against racial disparities that have long meant higher infant mortality rates, shorter life spans and limited access to medical services for minorities. “The enemy is at the door and we know that they would like to dismantle these initiatives,” Sebelius told the annual convention of the National Action Network, a civil rights group led by the Reverend Al Sharpton. “Healthcare inequalities have been one of the most persistent forms of injustice,” she said. “Now is not the time to turn back.”
Civil rights advocates and the minorities they often represent form a key segment of the Democratic base, especially if the Supreme Court strikes down Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement. Research shows that low-income Americans, including many minorities, have significantly less access to medical care and suffer higher rates of childhood illnesses, hypertension, heart disease, AIDS and other diseases.
Designed to bring healthcare coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans, the ACA has become a pet target for Republicans mainly because of an `individual mandate that requires most Americans to have healthcare insurance by 2014. “We’ve got folks who are committed to undoing…the important initiatives that we’ve made in the last few years,” Sebelius said. “Frankly, they want to go back and undo Medicare and Medicaid from the mid-1960s. They want to roll us back years and years.”
The House of Representatives voted recently to partially privatize Medicare and convert Medicaid to a block-grant program for states, although the legislation is likely to be stalled in the Senate. “I’m here to ask you to help,” Sebelius said. “If we can begin to close the disparities in health, we begin to close disparities in other areas, too.”
Sebelius asked religious leaders, health advocates and other minority leaders to help the Obama administration educate the public about the healthcare law’s many benefits. The law, which becomes fully effective on January 1, 2014, has already benefited minorities by extending private insurance coverage to young adults, providing free preventive services for those with insurance and prohibiting coverage denials for children with pre-existing conditions.