One of the signature issues for both major political parties is health care. Many Republicans want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, that passed in 2010. President-elect Joe Biden, who was Vice President in the administration under which Obamacare was passed, says he wants to expand it. These are two wildly differing views on what to do with our health care system.
However, given the current climate of racial unrest in the United States, as well as the potential repeal of the law being considered by the United States Supreme Court, it seems timely to talk about Obamacare from a racial justice standpoint.
So, where does Obamacare stand from a racial justice standpoint? Well, I have some good news for proponents of Obamacare, and some not-as-good news:
Reductions in uninsured rates were significant among minorities.
Among the highlights of those gains:
21.8% of American Indians and Alaska Natives were uninsured as of 2018, down from 32% in 2010.
19% of Hispanics were uninsured as of 2018, down from 32.6% in 2010.
11.5% of Blacks were uninsured as of 2018, down from 19.9% in 2010.
9.3% of Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders were uninsured as of 2018, down from 17.9% in 2010.
6.8% of Asians were uninsured as of 2018, down from 16.7% in 2010.
These are undoubtedly significant gains. However…
The aforementioned gains I mentioned have stalled out.
Most of the gains that occurred were between 2014, when important provisions of Obamacare were implemented, and 2016. Those gains have stalled since then, and for Blacks the rate of those uninsured has started to tick up in recent years. The Kaiser Family Foundation, which focuses on health care issues, attributes this to certain policy changes in the Trump Administration “that affected the availability of and enrollment in coverage.” But whatever the reason for this stall, it has happened, and this stalling trend is one that a President Biden will need to address (assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t repeal the law).
However, the gaps in insurance by race are about more than just what’s coming out of Washington, DC. It’s also because of policies at the state level.
Many states with large Black populations have refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.
As a result of this, even though there appear to be modest gains in racial disparities among the uninsured overall as a result of Obamacare, the gains are not as big as many might like. Additionally, the result of this is that about half of the remaining uninsured Americans are people of color. This goes to show that elections have consequences—not just federal elections, but state ones too. This is worth keeping in mind for future elections at the state level.
In spite of the issues I’ve mentioned, the racial gap among the uninsured has closed somewhat.
The rate of those without insurance has dropped among whites too, but as there were fewer uninsured whites than uninsured people of any minority group to begin with, the rate among whites of those lacking insurance dropped more slowly than among any other racial group. As such, the racial gap among the uninsured has closed somewhat, even if there are disparities that still exist.
In spite of all this data I’ve shared, there are some unanswered questions.
So far, I have painted a mixed picture of what Obamacare has been like for minority groups, particularly from an insurance coverage standpoint. But there are some unanswered questions about the true impacts of the health care law, too. Here are a few such questions:
While the number of uninsured Americans has decreased significantly since Obamacare was passed in 2010, the number of underinsured Americans has also increased. To what extent does this underinsurance issue affect people of color?
Is there anything about Obamacare that might, even unintentionally, contribute to the continued (if somewhat decreased) gap in the uninsured between some minorities and whites?
There are mixed messages about how Obamacare affected health care costs—out-of-pocket health care spending decreased, while premiums increased. To what extent are people of color getting the benefit of reduced health care spending, or the drain of increased premiums?
The unanswered questions are so numerous that I may need to republish this post at some point, as a version that hopefully answers some of the questions that I’m asking here.
Over the last several hundred words, I have painted a rather mixed message on the question of Obamacare and racial justice. But where does this leave us?
For those in the United States who care about American health care, this raises some questions. For the Republicans, who are proponents of repealing and replacing the law, how does the law get repealed and replaced without erasing all the gains that people of all races, particularly minorities, have seen as a result of Obamacare? For Biden and his supporters, how can we continue making progress in increasing the number of insured Americans, and how might the issues with underinsurance and health care premiums be addressed (assuming, once again, that the Supreme Court doesn’t strike down the whole law)? And for all sides of the debate on this law, how can we ensure that every American is insured?
The last question is maybe the most important one of all, because access to affordable health care should be a human right, not just a privilege to those fortunate enough to access it.
Back in February, I said that on my blog, I would publish posts on major issues relevant to the election that are either misunderstood or not talked about as much as they should be.
By working on such posts, I found myself getting some insights into the upcoming election for President of the United States that I would otherwise not have. Because of those insights, as well as the fact that my blog talks about injustices that need to be addressed, I thought I would end these posts by talking about who I will vote for and why.
I’m voting for Joe Biden because, of all the candidates in the race, I think he gives the best shot at playing a role in addressing injustices. His past track record, while imperfect, gives me that belief.
On the issue of ableism and disability justice, Biden cosponsored some important legislation on this issue. He was a Senate cosponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was landmark legislation for people with disabilities. Earlier in his Senate career, he cosponsored the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which required equal educational access in all public schools for kids with physical and mental disabilities. While there is still much to do to make all corners of our country as accessible as they need to be, the passage of these laws, which was made a bit easier by Biden’s support and cosponsorship in both cases, was nevertheless useful. His support of such legislation gives me hope that with disability rights issues, he would reject the argument that something is “too expensive” or “too impractical” to be made accessible—arguments I often hear against making certain things accessible.
Those who are familiar with human trafficking issues would know that arguably the most important piece of American legislation when it comes to anti-human trafficking laws is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA)—without its existence, traffickers couldn’t be prosecuted as easily, and victims wouldn’t be protected as easily. The person who introduced the reauthorization of the Act in the Senate in 2008 was…Joe Biden. As someone who used to help with anti-human trafficking education myself, I think it’s important for me to set the record straight on this issue because it has only come up in this election in the context of a sex trafficking conspiracy theory (one that Trump has praised the supporters of) that has complicated the work of organizations that are trying to combat human trafficking.
Speaking of Biden authoring things, while his authorship of the 1994 Crime Bill was controversial in many ways, one major positive of that overarching bill was the Violence Against Women Act, which among other things helped establish a Domestic Violence Hotline. A hotline that has come of great use during the pandemic exists in large part due to Biden’s efforts.
On environmental issues, Biden, while not perfect, is still eons better than Trump. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has a scorecard that grades politicians based on which environmental measures they do or do not support, as well as which environmental regulatory rollbacks they do and do not support. Biden’s lifetime score is 83%, which is not as good as the 91% held by Bernie Sanders or the 96% held by Elizabeth Warren. But, his main opponent is Trump, who in LCV’s own words, said about Trump’s environmental grade in his first year in office that: “However, to simply award Trump an ‘F’ does not come close to capturing both the breadth and depth of his administration’s assault on environmental protections and the harm it is causing communities across the country – all to provide favors to the wealthiest corporate polluting interests.”
These are some of the positive things on Joe Biden’s record, and I’m not even coming close to mentioning all the positive things (just a few that should be highlighted). However, as I said, his record is not perfect. I mentioned his Crime Bill on my blog, which is part of a larger dubious record he has when it comes to racial justice issues; there’s also the fact that he supported restrictions that prevented openly gay individuals from serving in the military, supported the Defense of Marriage Act (restricting marriage so that it’s between one man and one woman), and poorly handled the Anita Hill hearing, to name a few of the more problematic parts of his record. A charitable view of Biden’s record is that when someone is in public service for nearly five decades, there are bound to be some major mistakes within that record. A less charitable view would look at his record as evidence of his being a person who would add to injustices, instead of resolving them.
I tend to take a line down the middle—yes, he’s been in public service for a long time, but he does have some injustices to answer to. He has answered by expressing regret for how he handled the Anita Hill situation as well as for past anti-LGBTQ+ positions and the Crime Bill.
More cynical individuals may think that such expressions of regret are just for political expediency and/or are woefully inadequate; I most certainly understand the cynicism because politics can be so cynical at times. However, unlike President Trump, Biden has demonstrated the capacity to not just apologize but back it up with actions to show that he has learned from past mistakes. Of note was the fact that not only did he end up regretting his past positions that were unsupportive of LGBTQ+ rights, but he backed it up by: a) supporting same-sex marriage and b) forcing President Obama’s hand on support of same-sex marriage (by the admission of Obama administration officials). On a number of issues, but particularly racial justice, I sincerely hope that Biden demonstrates a similar capacity to back up his remorse for certain past stances of his (such as authoring the Crime Bill) with action (such as trying to find solutions to the issue of mass incarceration against people of color that many believe he helped create).
Even with the positives I found with Biden, some may be wondering why I’m not suggesting voting for a third party or not voting at all. Especially since I live in New York, some might argue that I could do either without having an impact on the election.
The answer is that I am voting third party, as I will be voting for Biden on the Working Families Party line (a third party that exists in some states, including New York). I think that it is important for me to vote for Biden and I think it is important for third parties to have a voice as well—by voting for Biden on the Working Families Party line, it’s the best of both worlds as far as I am concerned.
I also never considered not voting. I never considered that for two reasons: first, because I was able to distinguish key differences between Trump and Biden on issues that matter to me; and second, because I want my voice to be heard on local elections too (even though all my seats locally are heavily Democratic overall).
So there’s my breakdown of how I judged between the two major party candidates, and how I decided to vote for Biden. While I’m not as enthusiastic about Biden as some people are, I’ve concluded that it’s the best choice out of all the choices presented to me in this election from the standpoint of addressing injustices. And, given the fact that Biden seems more willing than Trump to follow the science when it comes to COVID, it’s a choice that I hope will save some lives.
I will be interested to hear others’ thoughts on the election, though! Feel free to comment below.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this post are my opinions alone and does not represent an endorsement by any organization with which I am associated.
 I know many people have already voted. But this post is directed at those who have not already voted (or those who have but are curious to hear what I have to say).
 I am focusing on his past track record because I think looking at a track record of nearly five decades can be instructive in determining what sorts of issues he may stand for in the next 4-8 years—potentially even more instructive than looking at his platform.
 I am not going to use tons of space in this post talking about Trump. There are lots of posts on the internet talking about Trump’s negatives. Instead, I’m going to use space here to talk about some positive elements of Biden’s record, because it’s important not just to vote against someone, but for someone.
Some terms are criticized as social justice jargon. However, many of these terms are important to know about and understand. One such term is white guilt.
Dictionary.com offers a concise definition of white guilt: it is “the feelings of shame and remorse some white people experience when they recognize the legacy of racism and racial injustice and perceive the ways they have benefited from it.” While it sounds well-intended in certain ways—after all, it recognizes racism and injustice and ways white people like me have benefited from it—white guilt can also be extremely problematic in certain ways.
But why can white guilt be problematic?
The problem is that in many cases, feelings of shame and remorse can be so great that they prevent one from doing anything about the racism and racial injustice that’s so upsetting to begin with. While it is important to recognize racism and racial injustice around you, especially if you recognize some of the ways it benefits you, it’s counterproductive to be so upset about those systems of injustice that you feel unworthy of playing your part as an ally in the larger effort to ensure that Black lives matter. After all, the goal is not to wallow in guilt, but to turn the recognition of injustice into anti-racist action.
It’s also worth noting that one of the criticisms I often hear of white guilt is that white guilt doesn’t turn into white action. That’s something to be conscious of, if you, like me, are white. It’s important to be conscious of the fact that it’s not enough to simply recognize how racial injustice benefits you, nor is it enough to feel guilty about how racial injustice benefits you. Instead of simply recognizing how racial injustice benefits you (or even feeling guilty about that), donate to and/or volunteer for racial justice organizations, attend Black Lives Matter marches (while practicing mask-wearing and social distancing, of course), vote for candidates who have an extensive platform on racial justice, and educate your own friends about the systems of racial injustice you’ve noticed yourself, among other things. In doing these activities, however, please note that it’s not about you or about erasing your guilt, but about racial inequality (because for too many people attending a protest march, for example, is about making them look like the “good people”).
In addition to the volunteering, marching, voting, etc., however, I also recommend that people struggling with white guilt should process those feelings with other people who have struggled with white guilt themselves and managed to turn that guilt into racial justice action. While it may be tempting to talk about your white guilt with anyone and everyone to show how “woke” you are, the most productive and healthy way of processing and overcoming white guilt is probably by talking with people who have that shared experience with you.
So, for those who are still struggling with white guilt, I know how you feel. I was there, and I can sometimes still be there. I just hope that you will be able to turn guilt into action, for guilt without action does nothing.
On Monday, May 25th, George Floyd, an unarmed person of color, was killed by a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for several minutes, even after he was handcuffed.
This was an extremely disturbing story—so disturbing that I am choosing not to show yet again to people the image of this officer kneeling on Floyd. It was yet another example of police using excessive force on an unarmed person of color.
And yet, at times over the past week, I have struggled to figure out what to say about the killing of Floyd. After all, I am white, I am conscious that I have a lot of privilege that comes with being white, and the last thing I want to do is drown out the voices of people of color advocating for justice. But then, I found that I did feel compelled to say some things, so here you go…
Growing up in New York City with all the friends of color my brother and I had, it was clear that there was a major disparity between the way the two of us were policed and the way our friends of color were policed. The two of us never got stopped, searched, or frisked by the police, but our friends of color frequently experienced that—so frequently that people would call it “walking while brown.” The stories of frequent stops from our friends also matched statistics for stop-and-frisk in New York City—blacks and Hispanics at one point made up only half of the population, but 85% of the stops. I can go on and on with the statistics and the stories related to stop-and-frisk, but to read more, I encourage you to read my blog post about the institutional racism in the way I was policed. So when people suggest that racism does not exist with policing, I have personal experiences that show otherwise. Racism exists in policing.
What I didn’t do as much in that post on institutional racism and policing was show how said racism goes well beyond stop-and-frisk; after all, I was focused on my own experiences of privilege in that post. So, while an entire book could probably be written on racial disparities in the way people are policed (or are generally handled in the criminal justice system), here are some lowlights:
Blacks are 3.64 times as likely to get arrested for marijuana use as whites, even though usage rates are comparable. In some cases, those rates have become worse, even with the current push towards legalization in some parts of the country.
Staying on the topic of drugs, even though usage of illegal drugs is comparable between blacks and whites, blacks are five times as likely as whites to go to prison for illegal drug possession.
On average, police seem to require less suspicion of black and Hispanic drivers before they are pulled over than white drivers. This statistic is particularly relevant to the current discourse on policing and people of color, as a few years ago a traffic stop of Philando Castile, a person of color, led to his being killed by a police officer.
Innocent blacks are about seven times more likely to be convicted for a murder they didn’t commit than whites.
Unarmed blacks are about 3.49 times as likely to get shot by the police as unarmed whites.
“How does this all relate to the killing of George Floyd?” you may ask. Floyd’s killing shows that the police murder of Mr. Floyd does not exist in a bubble. Far from it. To the contrary, this killing is a microcosm of a larger problem: there are vast racial disparities in the way people are policed in the United States of America.
Many of the readers who have listened to some of the debates between candidates for President of the United States may be aware of a line of attack often used against former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders: “You voted for the 1994 crime bill.”
It’s a line used when the candidates on stage, all of whom are trying to become the presidential nominee from the Democratic Party, are trying to distinguish themselves from Senator Sanders and former Vice President Biden on the issue of criminal justice. It is especially important for other candidates to distinguish themselves from those two candidates because Senator Sanders and former Vice President Biden are viewed as frontrunners for the Democratic Party nomination. It is also a line that the other candidates use to try and convince their voters that they, not Senator Sanders or former Vice President Biden, should be trusted on the issue of criminal justice.
Which begs the question: What is the 1994 crime bill, and why is it so controversial? With the first caucus of the election year happening in Iowa tonight, answers to these questions are important.
The tricky thing about summarizing the 1994 crime bill is that the piece of legislation tried to address many issues, ranging from funding for police to gun control to domestic violence. The short story is that the 1994 crime bill, whose proper name is actually the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, was supposed to focus on enforcement of and prevention of violent crimes, though it did some things beyond that scope (a couple of which I will talk about later in this post). For a detailed summary of the 1994 crime bill, view the bill’s summary here.
As one might expect with a bill trying to deal with a wide range of issues, the reality of how “good” or “bad” it was is actually more complicated than many candidates might make it out to be.
In spite of that fact, there are, undoubtedly, parts of the bill that should make one question Biden and Sanders on criminal justice (since they both supported the act and Biden helped write it). For example:
The bill “stripped all Pell Grant funding for college education for prisoners.” This sort of action counters the narrative among many (especially on the left) that incarceration should have a restorative element, that it should not just be about punishing someone for their actions, but that they also can be able to work towards being productive contributors to society when/if they leave prison.
The bill provided $6 billion (in 1994 dollars) in funding “for prevention programs which were designed with significant input from experienced police officers”—money that was, from all accounts, spent on punitive measures for the most part. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea to let people with experience in law enforcement be able to have a say in how to prevent violent crime. The problem? As it turned out, that money was predominantly used for punitive measures—measures that would go against the ideal among many Democrats that there should be a restorative element to time in prison.
The 1994 crime bill is blamed for being a factor in a drastic increase in incarceration in the United States. The extent to which the current mass incarceration issues should be attributed to the 1994 crime bill is up for debate, especially since the increase in mass incarceration was already beginning to happen, but there seems to be significant agreement from criminal justice scholars that the bill made this problem worse.
However, there were also some aspects of the 1994 crime bill that are either popular with progressives or popular on a bipartisan basis. Three of those aspects are as follows:
There was considerable gun control in the 1994 crime bill. According to the bill’s summary, the bill, “Bans the manufacture of 19 military-style assault weapons, assault weapons with specific combat features, “copy-cat” models, and certain high-capacity ammunition magazines of more than ten rounds.” While one could debate the effectiveness of this form of gun control, the fact is that gun control tends to be a major aspect of most candidates’ platforms on the Democratic side, and that therefore the 1994 crime bill did much of what a lot of Democrats want on guns (including Democrats critical of Biden and Sanders for their support of the 1994 crime bill).
One of the most popular aspects of the 1994 crime bill was the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA, which was within the 1994 crime bill, added measures to better hold perpetrators of domestic violence accountable. For example, before the 1994 crime bill, “domestic abusers could cross state lines to avoid prosecution for beating their spouses, as law enforcement was not to required to listen to orders of protection filed in other states” (something that, from my understanding, was not possible after the act passed).
VAWA, which as I said was under the 1994 crime bill, also created the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Before finding out that this hotline was established so recently, I have to admit to taking the existence of this hotline for granted; however, the fact is that the hotline is younger than I am (I’m twenty-five) and was only established thanks to the 1994 crime bill.
So, while it might make for a good debate line to be critical of Biden’s or Sanders’ support of the 1994 crime bill, the reality is somewhat complicated. Some aspects of it, such as the generally more punitive approach to crime as a result of the bill, have been quite controversial and even problematic. Other aspects, such as the creation of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, are quite important. Regardless, it’s important to recognize both the good and the bad in the 1994 crime bill (as well as Biden’s and Sanders’ support of it), because otherwise, we’d be doing an injustice to ourselves and to others when evaluating the platforms these candidates have on criminal justice.