This November, I’m Voting to Protect Health Care Access for Women of Color

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to participate in a “get the vote out” public service announcement screening with the YWCA USA, a non-profit dedicated to eliminating racism and empowering women. Although I have MAJOR on-screen anxiety – public speaking is THE worst – it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up; the chance to speak up about the importance of voting as women of color, especially this November, was something I couldn’t turn down.

To prepare, the organizers asked speakers to think about why they are voting and what they are voting for. For me, it was a no-brainer: I am and will always vote on promoting health care access. As someone who doesn’t have a background in health care policy, it does come off as undeniably complicated at times. But when you think about it, it’s actually pretty simple. Being healthy is intrinsically linked to things like better quality of life, higher wages, and improved education. It is THE key to unlocking a full and healthy life ahead of you and your family, if you have one.

Sadly, though, for women of color access to health care wasn’t always a guarantee and that historical lack of guarantee has reverberating impacts that are felt up to this day. But thanks to our country’s safety nets (Medicaid, CHIP, and others), women of color and their families were able to find coverage, stay covered, and get the medical attention they need, when they need it. The ACA, for example, reduced uninsured rates for women of color drastically, expanding access to services like mammograms, prenatal care, domestic violence screenings, and more! The progress we’ve made for women of color and health care access has had tremendous impact on the lives of so many (of course, there’s anyways room for improvement).

But, if you’ve been paying attention to Donald Trump and Republicans in office, you’ll know that all that progress is at severe risk. Trump’s and Republicans' steadfastness to reverse the clock is wide-reaching. From skinny health plans and higher premiums, cuts to Medicaid – the largest public health insurer, reduced funding to Planned Parenthood, work requirements that will hurt low-income mothers of color, public charge – the list goes on and on. And it’s a list that WILL hurt women of color the most.

 
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Trump’s and Republicans' steadfastness to reverse the clock is wide-reaching.

 

Some people might tell you that, “Oh, it’s just health insurance. It’s not as if their lives are at stake.” Well, those people are incredibly misinformed and sadly mistaken. Women of color experience disproportionate rates of un-insurance AND health disparities, so it stands to reason that they have the most to lose from these safety nets disappearing. And it’s not just losing access to health, although that is important.

Let me explain: 

The safety nets we have in place keep millions (36 million in 2016) of Americans healthy, yes, but also keeps them out of poverty. Or, put simply: health care access is about economic security. Studies show that the families and women of color who participate in these safety nets achieve long-lasting success and advancement in education, health, and earning power.

For instance, a woman of color who is covered and has what she needs to be healthy can be a more engaged citizen and worker. A woman of color who is covered doesn’t have to worry as much about paying off medical bills (and going into debt), because she has a job that provides an income and has insurance to help with costs. A mother of color who is covered doesn’t have to pick between taking her child to the doctor when he is sick and paying off rent or buying groceries. And her child, who has increased access to care through his mother, won’t suffer from falling behind in school and missing classes because he is healthy. Her son can go on with his education, thrive fully, and achieve bigger and better outcomes – because he is covered!

Given all of this, it continues to amaze me that Trump and Republicans just don’t seem to understand – or don’t seem to care – that women of color need comprehensive and affordable access to health coverage. Their lives, our lives, literally depend on it.

They go on and on about the sanctity of life and the virtue of families, but their actions and policy choices scream out against that. As a woman of color who believes in the right to have health coverage, enough is enough. I am tired of our lives, and the lives of those not as privileged as me, being determined by cruel and harmful policies that don’t speak to the needs we have. But we can do something about it: we CAN vote.

While there are many things to vote on this November, I hope you will add ensuring access to health care to your reasons. All it takes is one win to help shore up the protections that keep women of color healthy and economically secure.

If you're interested in learning more about health care access, and health care in general, here are some good starting places: Kaiser Health News, The Commonwealth Fund, and the Urban Institute