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A great start

Elinor Tatum | 4/12/2011, 5:28 p.m.

As we understand it, the following is what health care reform will mean to New York and to African-Americans in particular.

Here are some of the facts:

* Almost 19 percent of all Blacks in the U.S. are without health insurance.

* In general, African-Americans spend a higher percentage of their income on health care while at the same time, seeing larger health care disparities.

* African-Americans continue to suffer at a greater rate from heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes.

* With health care reform, African-Americans will see a great change in their ability to get insurance and to help keep their families healthy and strong.

* New York state residents who are uninsured (2.7 million) and residents who are paying their own insurance costs will gain access to insurance that is more affordable.

* Over 1.5 million New Yorkers and almost a quarter of a million small businesses will qualify for tax credits to help defray the costs of insurance premiums.

* In 2010, adults who are uninsured because of pre-existing conditions will have access to affordable insurance through a temporary high-risk pool.

* This bill starts to close the Medicare Part D donut hole in 2010 by providing a $250 rebate to Medicare beneficiaries who hit the gap in prescription drug coverage. And beginning in 2011, the bill institutes a 50 percent discount on prescription drugs in the donut hole.

* Starting this year, new private plans will be required to provide free preventive care: no co-payments and no deductibles for preventive services! And beginning January 1, 2011, Medicare will do the same.

* Immediately, insurance companies will not be able to exclude coverage of pre-existing conditions for children. Moving forward, no insurance company can deny a child coverage based on his or her health. In addition, children will be able to stay on their parents' insurance up to their 26th birthday.

* Insurance companies will now be banned from dropping people from coverage when they get sick, and they will be banned from implementing lifetime caps on coverage.

* Funding for community health centers will be increased so that nearly double the number of patients can be treated in their community health centers over the next five years.

* This bill holds insurance companies accountable for unreasonable rate hikes. Starting in 2011, it helps states require insurance companies to submit justification for all requested premium increases.

* Beginning this fiscal year, this bill provides funding to states to help establish offices of health insurance consumer assistance in order to help individuals in the process of filing complaints or appeals against insurance companies.

This is just the beginning, but it is an amazing achievement, considering where we started. We are moving in a new and positive direction--one that treats all of us with the dignity and respect that every American deserves. Congratulations to President Obama and the Democratic Congress for getting this tough job done, and let's hope those who disagree with this legislation will at least act decently and with civility going forward.