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What Obamacare repeal could mean for health disparities in Minnesota

18 million people – that’s how many people would be left uninsured within the first year if Obamacare is repealed, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The nonpartisan federal agency also projected within 10 years, 32 million more people would be without health insurance.

Kola Okuyemi, M.D., M.P.H., professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School, director of the Program in Health Disparities Research, and member of the Masonic Cancer Center, says with these types of statistics, it’s no wonder people are concerned.

“The health talk in Washington has to worry people. Sure, the Affordable Care Act has its problems, but it is much better than what we used to have. As bad as the options might be now, it could get worse,” he said.

Fewer uninsured Americans will likely result in less access to care or delayed medical treatment. That could eventually lead to serious health consequences, and even avoidable death in some cases. Okuyemi worries this trend may hit minorities hardest.

Current statistics support his concerns.  A recent report from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows more white women get breast cancer, yet more African American women will die from it each year.

Although such a disparity exists during an era with widespread insurance, Okuyemi says it will only grow if women don’t receive breast cancer screenings because they don’t have insurance to cover the costs.

“This is why people are worried,” emphasized Okuyemi, “but there are enough caring people out there, regardless of the political lenience to still have hope.”

While the public often views healthcare with a political lens, the University of Minnesota’s work to minimize healthcare disparities across the state and around the country is based on need and not partisan arguments.

“Politics aside, our researchers, doctors and community health teams are making great strides in helping minorities improve their health and wellbeing,” said Okuyemi.

Okuyemi says now, thanks to concerted efforts, it is better, but there is still a long road ahead to reach a shift in thinking, and a more productive change not only at the U but in surrounding communities, the state and the country.

Common accusations blame people for choices: choosing to be unemployed or live unhealthy lifestyles, choosing to live in unsafe areas or not go to school, or choosing not to use all the available resources. Okuyemi advocates removing these from the discussion entirely.

Okuyemi also says the current playing field when it comes to health care is not level, and the structure needs to be fair no matter who you are.

“You must have hope. Things have not broken down completely and people have not given up. Maybe somehow, people will understand,” said Okuyemi.

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