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At the Intersection: Community, Policy, and Engagement

Niiobli Armah IV is being honored as an Affordable Care Act Champion of Change.

Niiobli Armah IV

Niiobli Armah IV is being honored as an Affordable Care Act Champion of Change.

Since the inception of the Affordable Care Act, the NAACP has remained committed to ensuring that communities of color understand the benefits provided by the ACA and the importance of its implementation. The NAACP began by forging a number of partnerships with organizations across the nation to guarantee that communities of color remain a priority demographic for the implementation of the ACA. The NAACP Board of Directors passed a resolution identifying health coverage as a critical civil rights issue and mandating that all 38 state conferences in the organization facilitate workshops around the ACA at their fall 2013 conventions. We have focused on making sure communities of color are aware of their options under the ACA and have opportunities to participate in Open Enrollment activities.

I have found that ACA outreach is most successful when we focus not on health care but rather on upward mobility and quality of life. At its essence, health care affords millions of Americans the opportunity to go to work daily and provide for their families. Health insurance is a safety net that is often taken for granted. In designing our outreach strategy, I knew that we had to build a narrative that resonates with our communities.

The issue of health disparities naturally rose to the surface. People of color are diagnosed later than others, and they often die early from preventable diseases. Getting other organizations to understand the uniqueness of engaging communities of color has been a high priority for our outreach efforts. Organizations have struggled with what they define as “hard to reach communities,” but I believe there is no such thing as a community impossible to reach. After participating in many meetings with organizations thinking through community engagement, I have come to understand that the traditional approach needs adjusting. Singular interventions and initiatives focused on one particular issue are less successful than those that are more comprehensive and view an issue in its totality. Neither advocacy groups nor the communities they serve have the option of choosing what issues will take priority. For example, the same communities experiencing poor health outcomes are simultaneously dealing with issues of unemployment, education, violence, and mental health. 

The second Open Enrollment Period begins on November 15, and we charge ourselves and other community organizations to find innovative ways to bring the important message of health care to the constituents they serve.  No longer can we operate within silos by choosing what issue areas communities should prioritize. Instead, we must find the intersection of multiple issues so that we can address community problems holistically.  To appropriately address health equity, more work must be done at the interaction of multiple issues.

Niiobli Armah IV is the Director of Health Programs for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.