Newswire : HIV rates remain high in the Black community

By Frederick H. Lowe

aids graphic
 AID’s rates among the population
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was Wednesday, February 7th, but if you missed the parade that acknowledged the day, you’re not alone because there wasn’t one. There were some panel discussions. But discussions concerning HIV have largely gone silent because many of us erroneously believe the disease has been defeated.
Although HIV infections and HIV deaths have declined in recent years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1.1 million people are currently living with HIV in the U.S. and 470,000 are African American. This number includes 74,100 individuals who don’t know they are infected and are at higher risk of transmitting the virus.
The disease has continued to cut a deadly swath through the Black community since 1981 when it was first discovered. By U.S. region, the South has the highest rate of recent HIV infections, accounting for the majority of blacks newly diagnosed with the disease, which was 63% in 2016.

HIV/AIDS was the sixth-leading cause of death among black men 20 to 44 years old and the fourth leading cause of death among Black women 35 to 44 in 2015. There are many reasons why this plague continues to spread almost unabated and almost unnoticed throughout the black community, but a significant reason is that the disease is not talked about as much as it was years ago. This relative lack of ongoing public discourse about HIV/ AIDS may have given rise to a false sense of safety in the black community.
The other leading causes of death among Black men are heart disease, cancer, accidents and homicide.
Major reasons for the high rate of HIV infection include poverty, lack of access to health care, higher rates of some other sexually transmitted infections, lack of awareness of HIV status and stigma, stated the Kaiser Family Foundation in its report “Black Americans and HIV/AIDS: The Basics,” published this month.
“Black Americans are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS since the epidemic’s beginning,” reported Kaiser Family Foundation. “Although blacks represent only 12 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 43 percent of HIV diagnoses; 43 percent of people living with HIV and 44 percent of people who have died from HIV, which is a rate greater than that of any other racial or ethnic group (see chart below).
The Black community’s lack knowledge about medicines that control the virus and their reluctance or refusal to take advantage of available treatment options has also contributed to HIV’s spread.
Kaiser published its report years after the introduction of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis, commercially called Truvada), which helps prevent individuals who are HIV-negative from contracting HIV. Although PrEP was introduced five years ago, it is not well known among blacks.
Gilead Sciences, Inc., which manufactures the only Food Drug Administration-approved form of PrEP, reported the drug’s uptake was low among African Americans. Between 2012 and 2015, only 10% of all new PrEP prescriptions were written for blacks.
Blacks also did not take the threat of HIV/AIDS seriously, probably because of a lack of information.
The late comedian Robin Harris told a joke about black people wanting AIDS because they believed it was money being given to white gay men who at the time were the largest group suffering from HIV infections. “Iwant some of that aid,” said Harris,” mimicking a black man in his comedy routine.
I worked in Philadelphia as a reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News. The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists sponsored a luncheon on HIV/AIDS. We went to black gay bars to tell people about the event.
A startling number said they would not attend because they did not care if they contracted HIV/AIDS.

A reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer said she wasn’t going to attend because she did not to be in the same room with gay men and women. Needless to say, the luncheon was lightly attended.
But one woman who served food at the luncheon said she had heard about HIV/AIDS, but this was the first time it had been explained to her. She thanked the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists for hosting the event.
There are other reasons why HIV has spread unchecked in the black community.
Kaiser reports that the course from HIV diagnosis to viral suppression reveals missed opportunities in reaching blacks.
“While 84% of blacks are diagnosed, 46% remain in regular care and 43% are virally suppressed. Blacks also may be less likely to sustain viral suppression.” (This occurs when antiretroviral therapy, ART, reduces a person’s viral load, or HIV RNA, reduces the viral load to an undetectable level. Viral suppression does not mean a person is cured; HIV remains in the body, but it is checked).
Meanwhile, HIV is very much here. It’s an ever-present danger and one that’s getting worse though we’re being assured that it is getting better.
In 2015, African Americans had the highest age-adjusted HIV-death rate —- 7.9 per 100,000, compared with 1.1 per 100,000 for whites.
Newly diagnosed black gay and bisexual men are younger than their white counterparts, with those aged 13 to 24 accounting for 36% of new HIV diagnoses among black gay and bisexual men in 2016 compared to 15 percent among whites.
Charts by Frederick H. Lowe

Newswire : Poll: 70% of Marketplace enrollees satisfied with Obamacare

By Freddie Allen (Editor-In-Chief, NNPA Newswire)
President Donald Trump continues to sow confusion about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, shows that, although some of his tactics are working, many consumers still plan on signing up for healthcare during the open enrollment period.
The ACA open enrollment period started on November 1 and will end December 15 in most states and despite its critics, the law has effectively reduced the uninsured rate for Blacks; healthcare advocates have said that access to preventive care provided by the ACA could also limit the effects of healthcare disparities, like infant mortality rates and deaths from breast cancer among Black women.
Even though the ACA, also known as Obamacare, provided healthcare to millions of Americans—some of them Trump supporters—the current president has worked to cripple the law in tweets and actions.
Deep cuts to funding for advertising about the ACA are having expected results.
In previous years, television ads played a key role in educating people about open enrollment and the ins and outs of the ACA. Trump cut that advertising budget to the bone.
According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll, “few of those most likely to consider marketplace coverage report hearing or seeing any ads providing information about how to get insurance under the health care law.”
Less than 20 percent of the uninsured and just 12 percent of market enrollees said that they saw ads in the past 30 days that provided information about how to get insurance.
The poll also reported that just 5 percent of the uninsured and 25 percent of the marketplace enrollees were aware of the month when open enrollment ends in their state.
Despite White House efforts to discourage Americans from signing up for healthcare and the House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) claims that people would choose not buy Obamacare, if the government didn’t force them, 90 percent of marketplace enrollees said that they would continue to buy their own insurance, even if the government stopped enforcing the individual mandate.
Most marketplace enrollees like their health insurance under the ACA.
The KFF poll revealed that 70 percent of current marketplace enrollees are satisfied with their insurance choices.
“The vast majority (85 percent) of marketplace enrollees also say they plan to sign up for health insurance during the 2018 open enrollment period, and most of them (54 percent of the total marketplace enrollees) prefer to renew their current plan if it is available next year,” according to the KFF poll.
Most enrollees will also get help paying for healthcare through the ACA.
“Insurers are still required by law to provide reduced deductibles and co-pays for low-income marketplace enrollees,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president for special initiatives and co-executive director of the Foundation’s Program for the Study of Health Reform and Private Insurance. “Premiums are increasing, but consumers will also get more help.”
Even though consumers will get help paying for health insurance, this isn’t President Obama’s open enrollment; many things have changed so it’s important to start reviewing plans now.
Don’t just “auto-renew” your health insurance plan. Study your options carefully.
In previous years, the healthcare marketplace auto-renewed consumers for the upcoming coverage year. According to the KFF poll, almost 25 percent of marketplace enrollees were auto-renewed for their same plan or auto-reassigned to similar plans in 2016 for the 2017 coverage year.
But experts have said that the auto-renewal feature may not identify the subsidies that you’re eligible for accurately and when it comes to prescriptions or other life-saving services that you need, you’ll want to make sure that any similar plan fits your needs.
Remember, it’s best to enroll early; don’t wait until the last minute.
During previous enrollment periods, there has been a surge of interest as the deadline nears; that increased activity slowed down the responsiveness of HealthCare.gov and created longer wait times for the marketplace call center, said Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“Log-in to HealthCare.gov, update your application for financial assistance, review your plan choices and what they cost, and select a plan for 2018,” said Pollitz. “If you want the same plan, select the same plan.”
Whether you choose the same health insurance plan or a new one, don’t wait until the last minute to make your decision. This year, thanks to Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress, if you have questions about plans in the final hours of the enrollment period, you might just be on your own.