By Karen Finney - 07/02/12 10:05 PM EDT
As the Supreme Court upheld ObamaCare last week, the AIDS Memorial Quilt returned to Washington, D.C., for the first time in 16 years, and a new study from the D.C. Department of Health showed that African-Americans — consistent with national trends — are more likely to be infected with HIV/AIDS, with rates of heterosexual African-American women in D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods nearly doubling in two years, while an estimated 20 to 30 percent of the District’s HIV-positive population are unaware they are infected.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there are 1.2 million people living with AIDS in the United States, and that one five don’t know they are positive. While 56,000 Americans are infected with HIV every year, nearly half of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses are in the southern states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee; the South leads the nation in the number of people living with and dying from AIDS.
Other man-made barriers are driven by fear: stigmas about being tested, misguided attitudes about homosexuality, ignorance about infection rates among heterosexuals, false beliefs that improved treatments make having HIV not that big of a deal anymore, language barriers and just not hearing as much about the disease anymore.
Earlier this year some faith leaders, particularly in the African-American community, vowed to use the power of their pulpits against President Obama’s decision to support marriage equality. Given the disproportionate impact in our community, they should instead use their voices to support ObamaCare, and the life-saving importance of getting tested for HIV/AIDS.
Advancements in anti-retroviral treatments now mean early diagnosis and start of treatment, which can keep people healthier longer by lowering the amount of HIV in the blood and slowing the progression from HIV to AIDS. But poverty and a lack of access to prevention, testing and treatment services leave 30 percent of Americans living with HIV/AIDS without any healthcare coverage, and nearly 40 percent of people develop AIDS within a year of being diagnosed with HIV. In Southern states inadequate numbers of HIV care providers contribute to the high rates: it’s estimated by the American Academy of HIV Medicine that there are just 240 credentialed HIV specialists who are unevenly distributed throughout the South.
Also consider in this context the devastating impact pledges from governors like Bobby Jindal (R-La.) or Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) to repeal ObamaCare and reject Medicaid funds will have on people both in their states and our nation’s ability to fight HIV/AIDS and reach the goal of an AIDS-free generation. ObamaCare expands access to healthcare with investments in prevention, wellness, public health, the healthcare workforce and community health centers. In addition, the increased affordability of life-saving drugs through the Medicare expansion and an end to using pre-existing conditions to deny coverage and the imposition of annual limits on coverage, as well as tax subsidies for middle- and low-income people to help buy coverage in the new insurance exchanges, would all be gone.
Karen Finney is a political analyst for MSNBC and Democratic consultant, and co-host of POTUS/Sirius XM’s “The Flaks.”