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Local Farms to Benefit from USDA Project


HARTFORD — Connecticut is one of eight states selected by the United States Department of Agriculture to participate in the pilot project to buy fruits and vegetables for school meals.

The program is provided for under the federal Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the Farm Bill. Under the program, Connecticut will be able to increase its purchases of locally-grown fruits and vegetables for its state-assisted school meal program.

Officials said this is great news for local farmers and the economy because the state is home to a large farming community.

Nationally, USDA Foods – provided by the USDA to schools – make up about 20 percent of the foods served in schools. States use their USDA Foods allocation to select items from a list of 180 products including fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, poultry, rice, low fat cheese, beans, pasta, flour and other whole grain products.

This pilot program will allow the selected states to use some of their USDA Foods allocation to purchase unprocessed fruits and vegetables directly, instead of going through the USDA Foods program.

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UConn Begins New Stem Cell Research


STORRS — The University of Connecticut recently announced a new stem cell research collaboration in the field of rare disease with Cheshire, CT-based Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

The collaboration will expand on the work of Dr. David J. Goldhamer, Professor, Molecular & Cell Biology and Associate Director of the UConn Stem Cell Institute.

Dr. Goldhamer has identified the offending progenitor cell type that drives the pathology of a group of diseases and has developed physiologically relevant disease models. These models will be used to further understand the pathophysiology of these disorders and to test potential therapeutics.

“This collaboration targets unmet medical needs for patients while demonstrating the vitality of the life science community in Connecticut,” said Dr. Jeff Seemann, UConn’s Vice President for Research. “As part of Connecticut’s flagship public university and a top 20 public research institution, UConn’s faculty routinely offers tools and expertise to fuel the innovative needs of industry, and that are critically necessary to industry’s ability to succeed in today’s highly competitive global marketplace.”

The research collaboration is expected to focus on the discovery and testing of therapeutic candidates to treat rare and disabling disorders for which there are currently no effective treatments.

Connecticut was one of the first states to fund stem cell research.

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Deadline to Enroll in ObamaCare Today


Updated Monday, December 15, 2014 @ 5:34 p.m.

HARTFORD — In order to begin health coverage under the Affordable Health Care Act by January, residents must enroll by this Monday, state officials said.

Consumers who elect not to enroll before the Dec. 15  deadline will still have until Feb. 15 to enroll and avoid a tax penalty.

Connecticut residents, who are enrolled  in health insurance after Feb. 15, 2015, will be fined either 2 percent of household income over the federal income tax filing threshold, or $325 per individual, $162.50 per child, or $975 for families– whichever is greater.

This is an increase from last year’s tax penalties, which were 1 percent of household income over the federal income tax filing threshold, or $95 per person and $47.50/child, whichever was greater.

After the Feb. 15, 2015 deadline, only people with special circumstances like a change of address, change in employment, or birth may enroll for coverage.

Residents can compare plans and shop for coverage online, over the phone, or with the help of an in-person assister. Call center representatives are available  at 1‐855‐805-HEALTH (4325).

In-person assistance is available at the AHCT enrollment centers in New Britain and New Haven, at 12 Community Enrollment Partner sites, and via licensed insurance brokers. For more information, visit www.accesshealthct.com.

In advance of tonight’s midnight deadline for coverage beginning Jan. 1, Access Health CT Acting CEO Jim Wadleigh has released the following statement:

“The deadline to sign up for quality, affordable health care coverage that begins on Jan. 1, 2015 is tonight at midnight.  If customers have an application started and select a plan before midnight tonight, they can still get coverage beginning Jan. 1, as long as they complete the application and get us all the relevant information by midnight this Friday, Dec. 19.

We hope that this grace period will allow ample time for customers to complete their applications and have any remaining questions answered. We urge costumers to use Access Health CT’s customer resources to get the assistance they need to get coverage beginning on Jan. 1, 2015.

 

 

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CT Health Centers Receive Federal Grants


WASHINGTON — In an effort to provide access to high quality, primary and preventive health care to under-served communities, the federal Health and Human Services Department awarded money to 12 Connecticut health centers.

Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell on Wednesday announced the $524,226 grant from the Affordable Care Act funding to  “invest in ongoing quality improvement activities.”

“This funding rewards Connecticut health centers that have a proven track record in clinical quality improvement, which translates to better patient care, and it allows them to expand and improve their systems and infrastructure to bring the highest quality primary care services to the communities they serve,” Burwell said.

In Connecticut, 13 HRSA-supported health centers operate more than 199 service delivery sites that provide care to nearly 327,165 patients.

Connecticut Health centers receiving these funds are being recognized for high levels of quality performance in one or more of the following categories: leadership, proven track records of quality care and storage of electronic health records.

Health and Resources  Administrator Mary K. Wakefield said that the money will help support existing steps that have been taken to achieve the highest levels of care for underserved communities.

For a list of FY 2015 Quality Improvement Awards recipients, visitwww.hrsa.gov/about/news/2014tables/qualityimprovement/.

To find a health center in your area, visit http://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov.

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Supreme Court Agrees to Review ObamaCare — Again


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In a carefully, crafted  effort to re-tool ObamaCare, the U.S. Supreme Court last Friday agreed to tackle a case related to the Affordable Care Act signed into law in March 2010.

At the heart of this case, King v. Burwell, is whether health insurance for middle-class and low-income residents should be subsidized by the federal government. Subsidies such as tax credits were included in the reform law. King v. Burwell, like the similar Halbig v. Burwell case, has a long history in thecourt system. On July 22, two U.S. courts delivered opposite rulings on the subsidies.

Without these subsidies, most small business owners or unemployed people wouldn’t be able to afford health insurance.

Halbig, one of several pending ObamaCare lawsuits, is expected to be heard again  by a full circuit court panel on Dec. 17. The King case would likely be heard next spring.

Proponents of the ACA said this is a move, though touted as an unlikely one to have direct impact on Connecticut, more than 80,000 Obamacare enrollees should watch closely. Connecticut is one of 14 states that administers its own health insurance exchange through Access Health CT.

This would be the third time the Supreme Court take up cases related to Obamacare delving slight blows to the law. In 2012, five justices upheld the requirement that most Americans must buy health insurance or pay a tax–a victory for President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats. This ruling, joined by Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., was the most significant federalism decision since the New Deal in the 1930s.  Howev3er, the court limited  expansion of Medicaid, which provides health care to poor and disabled people.

In June 2014, the court ruled that the family-owned businesses should not be forced to provide insurance that covers contraceptive services because it violates the business owner’s religious beliefs.

This latest move does not bode well for the Obama administration. That’s because the legislative branch is run by the Republicans, who have tried to repeal the law 55 times.

However, Republicans will face an uphill battle in achieving this goal through the judicial branch. One conservative spokesperson said that incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should try a conciliatory approach.

“Republicans should use reconciliation to fully repeal Obamacare,” said Ken Cuccinelli, who heads the Senate Conservative Fund.

The law had originally required states to run their own healthcare exchanges. Most states in the South rejected that idea, forcing residents to move to other states that offer Obamacare.

According to a report by the nonprofit health policy organization, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. up to 7.3 million people are expected to be on this insurance.

 

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Q&A: Will Congress Save Health Insurance Program for Low-Income Kids?


Ed. Note: Unless Congress acts, federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which matches state dollars to provide health coverage for children under 19 in low-income families, will end next year. Ed Walz is vice president of First Focus, a DC-based advocacy organization for children and families that focuses on federal policymaking. He spoke with NAM Reporter Anna Challet about the future of CHIP and the likelihood of Congress stepping in to preserve the program.

Who does CHIP provide health coverage for?

CHIP provides coverage for 8 million children or so throughout the course of the year who would otherwise be uninsured because their parents work and make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford the high cost of private insurance … Before CHIP, the uninsured rate among kids was about 15 percent. Today it’s about 7 percent. It’s essentially cut the uninsured rate among children in half.

With the Affordable Care Act now fully implemented, why is CHIP still necessary?

Kids who are covered by CHIP today would not all be able to get coverage through the ACA if CHIP were to go away … If it did go away, some of the kids would move into Medicaid, but it’s a relatively small number, in part because not every state has expanded Medicaid, but also because CHIP covers kids well in excess of the Medicaid expansion level. The ACA now requires that Medicaid expand to 138 percent of the federal poverty level in states that choose that option, but … CHIP covers kids much higher up the income scale. For example, in my home state of Wisconsin, it’s 250 percent of the federal poverty level.

If CHIP were to go away, the ACA wouldn’t pick [some] kids up because of what’s called the family glitch, or the children’s glitch. That has to do with a problem in the way the IRS implemented the tax subsidies for the exchanges [the state health insurance marketplaces created by the ACA]. Essentially it means that as many as 2 million kids who would otherwise qualify for exchange coverage won’t get the subsidies they need to make it affordable, so they won’t get insurance. Even in a post-ACA world, there’s not a coverage solution for all the kids who are currently in CHIP.

The other problem is that if kids do get exchange coverage, research shows that it won’t be as valuable or as good as the coverage they currently get through CHIP … At a national level, CHIP provides more than 80 percent of the child-specific care that kids need, while average exchange plans provide a little over half of that child-specific care. And at the same time, CHIP plans average less than $100 in out-of-pocket annual costs, whereas the average exchange plan would cost nearly $1000, so ten times the cost for less care.

What is the threat to CHIP right now?

Essentially there are two requirements for a government program to function. One, Congress has to authorize it, and give the agencies permission to run it. [Also] they have to fund it. There’s no requirement that they do those two things on the same schedule. So one of the weird things about where we are right now in the public policy around CHIP is that the federal government has the authority under law to run CHIP through 2019, but funding for CHIP runs out at the end of federal fiscal year 2015, which is the fiscal year we just started. So a year from now, in October 2015, funding for CHIP will end. That’s the real threat. The threat is that even though there might be authorization, there won’t be money, and that is the effective end of CHIP.

The challenge right now is when Congress will extend that funding. And it’s important that Congress act this year, because even though federal funding won’t technically end for another 11 months, the reality is that because CHIP is a federal-state partnership, the budget decisions that happen in the state capitals all over the country matter just as much as the budget debates in Washington. And those state budget debates are happening right now … So it’s important that Congress send a message this year that states can continue to count on federal CHIP funding.

At this point, does it look like Congress will do that?

CHIP is incredibly popular, and it has a strong track record of bipartisanship. So we’re hopeful and have reason to believe, based on our conversations with folks on Capitol Hill, that policymakers understand that CHIP still plays an important role … There’s momentum to get CHIP funding extended in the lame duck session this fall, so after the elections.

What will happen if they don’t?

The honest answer and the scary answer is that we don’t really know what will happen. It’ll vary from state to state, but what we can say is that when we’ve seen a similar problem in the past, the outcome has not been good for children.

California is unfortunately the poster child there. Back in 2009, when the CHIP agency in California ran into a state funding problem, they responded by establishing a waiting list. That meant that kids who were newly eligible for what was then called the Healthy Families program were not enrolled, and kids who were covered by Healthy Families but lost coverage for administrative reasons or for whatever reason then were not able to re-enroll … Even a year after the waiting list was lifted, the agency had only been able to return enrollment levels to 50,000 kids lower than when they put the waiting list in place … If you imagined similar reactions at the national level, it would literally put the health of millions of children at risk.

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CT Announces New Health Equity Office


HARTFORD — The Connecticut Department of Public Health last Wednesday announced a new Office of Health Equity.

Officials said that the office is established to improve the health of all Connecticut residents by working to eliminate differences in disease, disability and death rates among ethnic, racial and other population groups that are known to have adverse health status or outcomes.

Such population groups may be based on race, ethnicity, age, gender, socioeconomic position, immigrant status, sexual minority status, language, disability, homelessness, mental illness or geographic area of residence.

The office’s name and mission statement was adopted by the Connecticut General Assembly as Section 5 of Public Act 14-231 “An Act Concerning The Department Of Public Health’s Recommendations Regarding Various Revisions To The Public Health Statutes,” which was signed into law by Governor Dannel P. Malloy on June 13, 2014.

The office replaces the former DPH Office of Multicultural Health.

“This office emphasizes the principle of health as a human right and social good for all people,” said Malloy. “It reflects the ongoing commitment of this administration to advance the principles of health equity and allow all Connecticut residents to be as healthy as they can be.”

The Office of Health equity will support and further recent efforts at DPH, including the department’s strategic plan, which identified “champion health equity” as one of six agency goals; and the State Health Improvement Plan, in which health equity and the social determinants of health are overarching themes for the entire plan.

“Promoting health equity is central to our mission at the Department of Public Health,” said DPH Commissioner Dr. Jewel Mullen. “This office will provide support and resources to all our programs so they can incorporate health equity into their everyday work.”

The DPH Office of Health Equity is staffed by two epidemiologists and a research analyst, and is supported by staff across the agency.

For more information, visit www.ct.gov/dph/healthequity.

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Q&A: Ebola and Africa’s Untold Stories


New America Media, Question & Answer, George White

Editor’s Note: As chair of the African Union Commission, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma directs the staff and the work of the African Union (AU), the alliance of nations on the continent. In that role, Dr. Zuma – a physician – manages AU initiatives on education, the environment, economic development and health. She is currently overseeing the deployment of AU volunteers to help halt the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in the West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. In an exclusive interview with New America Media in Los Angeles, she talked about the fight to contain Ebola, media coverage of Africa and the continent’s progress on the United Nations’ global Millennium Development Goals.

Please comment on the U.S. government’s response to Ebola. As you know, the U.S. is using military personnel to set up medical facilities in affected countries.

It would be great if the U.S. and other developed countries did more to help improve the health facilities in those countries. They need treatment centers … they need laboratory-testing facilities, they need protective clothing and they need more transportation [capacity] and personnel.

However, we need help beyond Ebola because we know now that a lot more people might die from illnesses that would not normally be fatal because there is so much focus on Ebola. Very few people in those countries are being treated for malaria or for injuries. We also need to strengthen the health systems in these countries so if there is another outbreak, there will be people ready to respond appropriately and quickly. We saw this kind of response when Nigeria addressed and contained its Ebola cases. Nigeria has strong institutions that mounted a strong public health response.

What about the role of the United Nations and the World Health Organization in this crisis and the future of health care in Africa?

The U.N. is now responding. It’s late but better than never… Everyone needs to up their game – particularly the World Health Organization and the U.N. because they have the global responsibility for outbreaks such as this. We also should not forget those who are on the ground who have been doing this work from Day One – the local health workers, the [African] governments, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and the Red Cross. We would like to express our appreciation to all of them … and to all the countries outside of Africa that have helped.

I think the world should look at the overall health situation in African nations. We are saying there should be universal health care for everyone in our countries. But some donor organizations think this is not very important for development and we think that is wrong… We think universal health care is very important. Of course, it won’t happen overnight but it has to be established as we grow and develop.

 Chair of the African Union Commission Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma answers questions about the Ebola outbreak and says more help is needed.

Chair of the African Union Commission Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma answers questions about the Ebola outbreak and says more help is needed.

Ebola has shown that you are going to get more than health effects from the outbreak; you’re also going to get social effects. Even more important, there are going to be economic effects if efforts to stop the outbreak fail – ships not docking to take material in and take material out, mines and factories closing or working at low levels and farmland not being worked … Health and education are the most important investments for economic growth; but this eludes some donors and some [government] ministers of finance.

The African Union Commission (AUC) had planned to host a forum for African immigrant media in the U.S. and African-American media to discuss the coverage of development issues at the recent U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington D.C. It was cancelled but the AUC has indicated that it still hopes to host such a meeting. Why is such a gathering needed?

I think it’s very important because we have seen that the coverage produced by media outside of Africa tends to be one-story line for a complex continent. Currently the storyline is Ebola and nothing else. In the past, the storyline was violent conflicts. It’s important for the media to tell the many stories that are there in Africa so that people can get a clearer indication of what is going on.

However, it is not likely we will get more balanced coverage from other people if we do not do it ourselves. That’s why we think it’s very important to encourage the journalists and communicators in the [African] diaspora to communicate what is going on in Africa. We’re not trying to hide anything or minimize anything but we want to tell all our stories because we have very good stories to tell. We know there are stories about difficulties but we also want other kinds of stories told.

Can you talk about your work on energy and global warming?

There’s a lot of activity around energy because we realize it’s needed if we are to industrialize to process our mineral wealth. However, we have decided that even though we have enough fossil fuels to generate energy, we want to take advantage new green technology and get a proper mix that will be both fossil fuels and renewable energy.

Africa is the continent that will suffer the most disproportionate impact of global warming because the continent is the smallest polluter. We must mitigate and adapt … With our huge tropical forests, Africa is the second lung of the world … and the Amazon is other major lung. We have to preserve these forests for ourselves and for the world. The developed countries have to come to the table. Hopefully, in Paris next year, there will be a binding international agreement on emissions.

The U.N. in 2000 created global Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on health, education, environmental sustainability and gender equality – objectives countries will be graded on in 2015. What will be the grades on the report cards of African nations?

Africa may not meet all the MDG goals … but Africa has made the greatest effort and has had the greatest improvement. In education, for example, a lot of the goals have nearly been reached. There are a lot more girls going to school. We have a campaign to keep the girls in school as long as possible because if we can keep them in school, they don’t get married early and they don’t get pregnant early.

As for the empowerment and participation of women, I think we are making real progress. There are a lot of women in [African] parliaments. The level in Rwanda has reached 64%, which is the world’s highest. Others, such as Seychelles and South Africa, have levels hovering in the 40s and 50s. Parliament is a high-profile institution and these women are role models for other young women. We are also beginning to see chief justices that are women and governors that are women.

What are the goals for the remainder of your term as head of the African Union Commission?

One of them is to help young people get the skills – especially in the areas of STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] – to create a skills revolution on the continent.

The other area is infrastructure. We would like to work toward an Africa that is one economic market and one aviation market because that will increase the number of internal flights within the continent so that we can be better connected and integrated. We also want to see the beginnings of real connections between our capitals and our commercial centers through rail, especially high-speed rail. We’re working toward eventually achieving a continental free-trade area. Even though this may not be achieved during my term, I can help plant the seeds of economic integration and see them grow when I’m gone.

Other News About Ebola:

CDC Says U.S. Should “Rethink” EBola Response

NIH Director Says Ebola Vaccine Would Have Likely Been Found It not for Budget Cuts

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UConn Health to Hold Free Workshops


FARMINGTON – The University of Connecticut’s Health Center will be holding a variety of free programs during October.

Beginning on Monday, Oct. 13, a free six-week Cardiac Support Group will take place every Monday throughout Nov. 17 from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m.

The weekly workshop is offered for heart disease patients, family members and/or caregivers and features informational topics from nutrition to the emotions or heat disease. Registration is required; call 860-679-7692 to register.

Also, there will be free cosmetology services for cancer patients on Monday Oct. 13, from 1 to 3 p.m. A certified cosmetologist will be on hand to provide education for hair styling and coping with hair loss as well as skin care and makeup instructions.

Registration is required; call 800-227-2345 to register.

On Wednesday, Oct. 15 Physician Assistant Bradley Biskup will be discussing healthy eating habits from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. at the Low Learning Center. To register, call 800-535-6232 or 860-679-7692. For more information about upcoming events , visit the website: today.uconn.edu.

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Black Women “Sick and Tired” of Low Quality Healthcare, Infant Mortality


Editor’s Note: This article was made possible by the International Center for Journalists’ Community Health Reporting Fellowship and is a part of an ongoing series on Race, Gender and Medicine in America.

By Ann-Marie Adams

Connecticut has the highest infant mortality rate for black babies.

That’s according to the state’s own 2009 health disparities report, which reveals consistently higher infant mortality rates than white and Hispanic infants.

The infant mortality rate represents the number of deaths among babies under one year old per 1,000 births. The latest report shows the number of deaths for black babies between 2001 and 2005 was 314 or 13 percent compared to Hispanics with 251 or 6.5 percent, or Whites with 515 or 3.9 percent.

Dr_AnnMarie_AdamsNaturally, someone should ask why there’s such a high death rate among black babies in Connecticut. Is it caused by improper nutrients from food desserts in urban areas? Or is it a systematic attempt—unmitigated long after the infamous Tuskegee experiment—to harm black people in America? Many so-called Third World countries do not have such high infant mortality rates. So I’m leaning toward the latter, considering socio-economic factors that are already impacting the black family.

the-hartford-guardian-OpinionBefore you get your panties in a bunch, consider the history of race and medicine in America. If you do, you will contextualize the contemporary conditions and see that this is not an alarmist approach to scant evidence. It’s a singular theory based on American history and years of research that have produced enough facts to examine this crisis.

According to The Hartford Guardian’s own investigation of Greater Hartford-area hospitals, doctors are more willing to prescribe medications that damage black women’s reproductive organs. The atrocity of substandard healthcare for many black women can be in the form of benign neglect in a hospital emergency room to egregious malpractice such as forcing medications against will—a common and often criminal–practice at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living. The most popular culprit is Risperidone, which seeps into breast milk and enlarges breasts.

Besides robbing many black women of their breast milk, Risperidone contributes to the mammification of the black woman’s body. It’s the most frightening side effect of this drug known to cause death. Similar steroidal and non-steroidal medications include cyclobenzprine, hydrocodon-acetaminophn, methylprednisolone, cogentin, gabapenten and haldol. Many cause hyper-lactatemia, a fancy word for inflating a woman’s breast with deadly toxins.
The problem is not just in Connecticut, however. This also occurs at the Maryland-based National Institutes of Health, where doctors recruit women to use experimental drugs that cause harm to their reproductive system and then send them off to deal with the later consequences of an unknown drug.
Black men also face similar harm with pills that decrease libido or contribute to erectile dysfunction. But this story about the health industry makes a sharp departure from the overall black experience when we look at the intersection of race, gender and medicine.

The syphilis experiment from 1932 to 1972 by the U.S. Health Service generated national outrage and is well-known around the world. The lesser known experiments of black women like Henrietta Lacks did not cause an uproar.

This makes me want to scream.

Consider this: Black women are more likely to die of heart failure, cancer, and other diseases because of deficient medical care. They are also more likely to have uterine fibroids, which are commonly associated with stress. The confluence of stressors is attributed to socio-economic conditions. For example, black women are three times more likely than white women to be unemployed. And though you have gender inequality among wage earners, black women earn 70 cents on the dollar for the same work as other workers.

Mental Health Series: African-Americans Negotiate Mental Illness

Perhaps President Barack Obama, who benefited from the overwhelming support of black women voters in 2008 and 2012, should consider implementing policies that mitigate centuries of medical abuses and character assassination of the black woman in America. Besides the medical maladies they face, most black women are considered angry—even if they wear pastel colors and glue their mouths shut.

The angry woman trope is laughable among the righteously discontented, who are now wondering when they will we see policies that have a direct impact on their lives in every sphere. Let’s deal with specificity. When will black women have equal access and opportunity?

Do they need to storm the White House to get Obama’s attention? With two years left in the White House, perhaps he should consider forming a task force of multi-ethnic black women who will attack these deficiencies in the health field and change the way health care is administered to them. Are these deficiencies factored into the web of policies linked to Obamacare, which supposedly gives Americans access to quality and affordable healthcare?

If single black women consist of 70 percent of black households that overwhelmed voting booths to elect the first black president, then we ought to see specific policies that address these constituencies—sooner rather than later.

Like Fannie Lou Hamer who helped reshape the Democratic Party in the 1960s, some of us black women are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Mental Health Series: Reclaiming Black Men’s Mental Health

Dr. Ann-Marie Adams the founder and editor of The Hartford Guardian. She has worked for The Hartford Courant, The Washington Post, The Root.com, and People Magazine. She has taught U.S. History and Journalism at Quinnipiac University, Howard University and Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter: @annmarieadams.

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