Black Americans Look To Health Plan For New Hope Many African-Americans are hoping the health care overhaul will cut into the high incidence of cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases in their communities. But not everyone is convinced the bill will help ease the disparities between black and white.

Black Americans Look To Health Plan For New Hope

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The health care law that President Obama signed has raised both hopes and questions among African-Americans. They get diseases like diabetes and breast cancer disproportionately. And when the president signed that health bill, some predicted it would give black Americans a better chance. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports on what might change.

CHERYL CORLEY: Unidentified Woman: What type of (unintelligible)...

CORLEY: This is where Laura Walls, an unemployed actress, comes to put an end to what she calls a generational curse. She's worked with her doctor to prevent her borderline diabetes from morphing into the real thing.

LAURA WELLS: My mother died from high blood pressure. My mother died from diabetes; my uncle from high blood pressure, my grandparents...

CORLEY: Fierce hypertension has also been a problem for 41-year-old Marvin Harris, a psychotherapist whose employer provides health insurance. A couple of years ago, Harris starting coming to the clinic when he was out of work. He tried, but didn't have any luck buying health insurance on his own. Harris says insurance companies turned him down because of his pre-existing health problems. And he's thankful that under the new law pre-existing conditions won't be a barrier.

HARRIS: In the event that I stumble upon a situation like I did in the past, where I lost my job, it will be great for me. I'll be able to actually get some insurance and not have to wait until I get another full-time job.

CORLEY: Unidentified Woman: Laura Wall(ph).

CORLEY: At the Booker Clinic, about one of every three patients lacks health insurance. The doctors here say they know plenty of other residents without insurance just don't come by. They still might not come in the future, but with a possibility of increased coverage for blacks and Latinos, the doctors say they could tackle chronic diseases and have more time to offer preventive care.

DONNA THOMPSON: You know, for many people in our community, they don't know what wellness really feels like.

CORLEY: Donna Thompson, the CEO of the Access Network, says health disparities for African-Americans are vast: More blacks suffer from high blood pressure than whites; infant mortality is nearly two and a half times higher; deaths from breast and prostate cancer are also disproportionately higher; and diabetes is more prevalent among African-Americans. Lack of health coverage is a major factor.

THOMPSON: One of the things I've seen as part of the health disparities is that for many people, they think if my grandmother died from the results of diabetes, that's probably going to be my legacy also. And so there's a huge opportunity with the health care bill to get people into a health care home.

CORLEY: Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. held a recent forum to explain the benefits of the health care bill. Turning to his constituents, as if they were in a church of true believers, Jackson said, many of the civil rights milestones came before his birth, but he was glad to be alive for President Obama's health care victory.

JESSE JACKSON: Unidentified Woman #2: Yes.

JACKSON: Unidentified Woman #2: Yes.

CORLEY: Fegan calls it political sausage and a false promise - especially since current government estimates suggest that despite the plan, millions of people still won't be covered by health insurance.

CLAUDIA FEGAN: This will continue to promote the multi-tiered system. There'll be people who have private insurance. There'll be people who have the public program. And there'll be people who are uninsured. And as long as we have that multi-tiered system, we will perpetuate the disparities which people of color suffer more than anyone else.

CORLEY: Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.


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