OBAMACARE, THE landmark initiative that has brought America to its closest point in history to universal access to health care, may be unfamiliar to most Bajans at home but it is a lifesaver for their relatives in the United States.
For without it, thousands of Bajan-Americans and millions of others living, working or studying in the country would run into extreme financial difficulty when they seek the medical care they need to stay alive.
“It is very important for the poor and the middle class, including Barbadians and other West Indians,” said Dr Cynthia Degazon, a retired university nursing professor, who now lives along the eastern shores of North Carolina.
Introduced at the behest of former President Barack Obama, the programme has enabled at least 20 million Americans and immigrants to acquire insurance that gives them easy access to the sophisticated health services.
Now, it is under assault from Obama’s successor, President Donald Trump, who within 24 hours of his inauguration on January 20 signed an executive order which can lead to a dismantling of the vital programme.
Why? It is associated with Obama.
The signing of the order was among Trump’s first acts and the threat to its existence has forced Dr Milton Haynes, a top obstetrician and gynaecologist in the state of New York and the US, to fight to save it.
“If the Affordable Care Act is repealed as President Trump and the Republicans in Congress want to do, its absence can disrupt the progress to closing the health care gap in New York state and which often leads to the deaths of many people whose only chance of seeing a doctor when they are ill is going to a hospital emergency room,” said the Barbadian specialist, who is chairman of the Medical Society State of New York Committee to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Health
“A repeal without a workable and efficient replacement would be an out-and-out tragedy because of its devastating effects on people who can’t afford health insurance,” added Haynes, who attended’ St Giles Boys’ School and Harrison college before emigrating to the US. “The Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, has provided hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers with insurance so they don’t have to worry about gaining access to medical care for pre-existing conditions that range from cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure to heart disease and other illnesses.
“If allowed to remain a fact of life, Obamacare would significantly reduce the large health care disparities that now exist in New York State and other parts of the country,” asserted Haynes, who in the 1990s served as president of the 30 000-plus member New York County Medical Society. That’s why many of us vigorously oppose its repeal.”
The disparities in health between white and black New Yorkers were glaring, said Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, a Brooklyn Democrat. Among them:
• Black women, on average, record 2 400 more deaths annually from breast cancer than white females.
• In 2014, 62 per cent of the HIV cases involved blacks as compared with 18 per cent for whites.
• Black infants have a much higher mortality rate than whites.
• The average life span of black women is four years shorter than that of whites.
Dr Milicent Comrie, a highly regarded West Indian OBGY, who is the director of Brooklyn’s Maimonides Centre for Women’s Health, said that thanks to Obamacare women suffering from pre-existing medical conditions and who now have health insurance “are getting the care they need and any repeal of the law would put them in grave danger of returning” to an undesirable and often life- threatening situation.
That explains why Haynes, a devout 76-year-old Seventh Day Adventist and church organist who teaches obstetrics and gynaecology at prominent colleges, universities and medical centres in New York is waging a determined battle in and out of professional medical societies, the classroom, churches and community institutions to encourage the Trump administration to reverse its course on Obamacare.
“It is helping to save lives,” said the Bajan who has been in private practice in New York for almost half a century. “Many Caribbean immigrants, including Barbadians in New York and elsewhere, have benefited from it.”
Haynes, a former teacher at Queen’s College, is listed in the Consumer Research Council of America’s Guide to America’s Top Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Tony Best is the NATION’s North American correspondent. Email: Bestra@aol.com