Though it may seem hard to believe, the 2020 presidential election is a year and a half away. There are currently 22 Democrats running and it’s possible that number could grow even bigger in the coming months. (Hey, Stacey Abrams, we’re waiting on you!) While it’s hard to keep track of who’s actually in the race, the campaign issues are front and center for Black women. Contrary to what you might hear, this election is not just about beating Donald Trump. Of course, he’s got to go. But Black women want more than to merely vote against someone. We want to vote for something. We are issue-based voters and there are lots of policy proposals that we must advance via this election to improve our health, safety, and ability to build economic power.
Affordable, accessible, and high-quality healthcare, and more specifically, Medicare for All and Medicaid programs, are critically important to Black women. Unfortunately, there isn’t a consensus among the Democratic candidates about how to protect the Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as Obamacare) or to improve overall access to healthcare coverage for Americans who need it most. Yet, Black women rely on Medicare and Medicaid programs. We have more chronic health conditions than white women and are also more likely to have fewer financial resources to spend on getting healthy. Thus, Black women need a presidential candidate who will unapologetically champion increased access to health insurance—not only so that we can get and stay healthy, but also so that we can keep more money in our pockets and build wealth.
Here’s why expanding Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are key campaign issues for Black women in 2020:
- According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, nearly 14% of Black women have no health insurance at all. That’s compared to 8% of white women.
- Of the Black women who do have insurance, 25% are covered through Medicaid and 12% have insurance through the individual market, mainly through the ACA health insurance marketplace.
- Medicare provides vital health insurance coverage to Black women, but it does not pay the full cost of care. Medicare recipients are still required to pay co-payments, premiums, and for other services not covered by the program. The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare notes that Medicare recipients spend a significant share of their income on health care. In 2016, the average out-of-pocket health care cost paid by Medicare recipients was $3,024. These costs are an even bigger burden for Black women who face greater wealth and income disparities and may rely on Social Security for all or most of their retirement income.
- Black maternal mortality is a crisis in America. Black women are 3-4 times more likely than white women to die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related causes. Black babies are also 4 times more likely to die from birth complications. Studies have shown that expanding Medicaid can save lives and improve outcomes. Last week, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) introduced legislation to expand Medicaid coverage for pregnant women. The Maximizing Outcomes for Moms through Medicaid Improvement and Enhancement of Services (MOMMIES) Act would extend coverage for new mothers for a full year, offer Medicaid coverage for both pregnant women and new mothers and increase access to women’s health care providers and doulas. It’s clear that expanding Medicaid is vital to saving the lives of Black mothers and babies.
- Black women experience unwanted pregnancies more than women in other racial groups, largely due to a lack of access to contraception and reproductive health care. This poses an even greater problem for low-income Black women who are enrolled in Medicaid. Currently, Medicaid coverage cannot be used to cover the cost of an abortion. Medicaid funds need to be made available to cover abortions so that Black women, especially those of us living in states with strict abortion laws, have access to the full range of reproductive health care services that we deserve and, aren’t forced to bear the physical, emotional, and financial costs of unwanted pregnancies.
During this very long primary season, we need to set forth a policy agenda which centers Black women’s social, economic, and political empowerment. That means educating ourselves on campaign issues and holding candidates accountable for their positions on policies that are important for our lives. Healthcare is a major issue for us. We can’t afford to support a candidate who doesn’t have a policy agenda that includes getting Black women access to quality health and reproductive care.