Worry No More Applies to All: Pre-Existing Conditions and Communities of Color
It has always seemed backward that those who need insurance the most—people who are already sick—are turned down for coverage or forced to pay higher premiums. Thanks to the new health law, insurers will no longer be able to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions by charging them higher premiums or denying them coverage. A recent Families USA report, Worry No More: Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions Are Protected by the Health Care Law, shows just how many people across the nation stand to gain from this portion of the health law. But even the big numbers in this report may not reflect the many in communities of color who are more likely to have undiagnosed diseases due to a lack of insurance. Americans in these communities stand to benefit significantly from the law.
Already the health care law provision that prohibits children under the age of 19 from being denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions is in effect. And beginning in 2014, insurance companies will be prohibited from denying coverage, charging higher premiums, or excluding important health services from coverage due to pre-existing conditions for everyone else.
This will benefit all Americans because pre-existing conditions cross all ages, genders, and races and ethnicities. Nearly 65 million non-elderly Americans—one in every four people—have been diagnosed with a pre-existing condition. This includes more than 19 million people of color, mostly African Americans and Latinos. Nearly 25% of African Americans, almost 20% Hispanic Americans, and 11% percent of Asian, Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Americans have been diagnosed pre-existing conditions.
While these numbers are large, people of color are likely to be underrepresented in the analysis, in large part because they are more likely to be uninsured and substantially less likely to get regular medical care. As a result, health conditions that people of color have are much more likely to go undiagnosed. For example, Latinos are the most likely to be uninsured, and Latino women are three times more likely than white women to not have regular visits with a physician. This translates into undiagnosed conditions, and this same group is more likely to die from liver, stomach, and cervical cancer. African Americans face a similar situation. One-fourth of the population is uninsured, and they are 77% more likely than whites to be at risk for diabetes. Some studies note that they are also less likely than any other group to be aware that they have this illness.
These communities have a lot to gain from the ban on coverage denials for pre-existing conditions. Unfortunately, it is all too common for advancements in health care not to apply to all groups equally. This is one improvement where all races and ethnicities stand to benefit.