Conservative ringmasters in the House of Representatives have staged yet another political circus. This time, gay African Americans are the elephants in the room.
The dead-end vote in the House to repeal the Affordable Care Act took center stage last week. It marked the first salvo in House conservatives’ campaign to derail any and all progress made by the Obama administration. Their crusade promises to dominate the 112th Congress and the 24-hour media cycle as these lawmakers pledge to slash funding for health care and frustrate other initiatives the president supports. Their agenda, in no uncertain terms, is to stick it to him.
Caught up in the throes of the health repeal efforts are African Americans, particularly those who are gay or lesbian. They have far-reaching health care needs and face stark health disparities compared to the broader public, since they are more likely to have risk factors that predispose them to chronic health issues and least likely to seek preventive care and treatment than the general population.
Research by the Center for American Progress shows that 20 percent of African-American lesbian and gay adults have diabetes, a rate that is twice that of all African Americans and four times that of all white adults. And more than 30 percent of them are likely to delay or simply go without needed medication to treat their illnesses. We also know that gay African Americans are more likely to be uninsured and face persistent racism and heterosexism within the health care industry, which further negates their ability to access quality health care services.
Further complicating matters is a distrust among minority populations that stems from historic bias and lack of cultural sensitivity they’ve experienced from the health industry. From clandestine experiments performed on minority populations to the withholding of treatment for gays and lesbians, doctor’s offices and hospitals have been ominous and too often unsafe for minority populations. So it’s no wonder that gay people of color are less likely to seek preventive care and treatment than other Americans.
Gay and lesbian African Americans are currently afforded some relief under the Affordable Care Act, passed last year, which includes several measures aimed at easing the health disparity gap that has existed for generations between racial and ethnic minorities and their white counterparts. The health reform law will improve access to preventive services and ensure more culturally competent care. And by expanding health insurance coverage to 32 million poor Americans, the law will cover thousands of uninsured African Americans who are also gay and lesbian.
So how do conservatives maintain the guise of “helping” all Americans while working to repeal a law that so greatly impacts millions of those most vulnerable in our society? They would have us believe their repeal efforts are designed to save us money. The problem with this claim is that few public policy disparities cost Americans the whopping $415 billion per year in emergency care, doctor visits, and much-needed but unaffordable treatments that the health care gap creates.
While conservatives continue to posture and hold America’s health care hostage, time is being wasted looking backward instead of working to close the gap between the “haves” in our society and the “have nots.” For decades this country has been lagging behind other westernized nations that provide equal health care coverage to all their citizens.
And as America watches her hold over jobs and the economy slip, one thing is certain: We cannot afford for our workforce to get any sicker. Each day of school and work missed due to a preventable illness—regardless of whether that sick person is gay, straight, a person of color, or white—is another day we fall behind our global competitors.
It’s time for the public to tell congressional conservatives to pack up their circus because we don’t have time to waste on another costly performance.