For Anton Gunn, the journey to become a successful health care advocate began with a deeply personal experience.
“It hit me to the core,” Gunn, the Director External Affairs for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in an interview with BlackAmericaWeb.com.
Ten years ago, Gunn was 30 years old and recently married. He learned that his wife was pregnant with their daughter and he was bursting with excitement until Gunn received some disturbing news from his doctor.
“We got a letter saying that my insurance company denied coverage for my wife’s pre-natal care, her pregnancy, and the delivery of our baby,” Gunn said. “I had a good job with health care insurance, but I made a simple mistake on the application and checked the wrong box, and because I checked the wrong box, I had to spend the next 3 ½ years paying $17,000 out of my own pocket.”
Gunn, a former South Carolina legislator, was outraged and confused.
“This made no sense to me,” he said, exasperated. “I had two degrees, a job with health benefits, I was working in health care policy, and I thought if this was happening to me, then what was happening to the rest of America?
Gunn, who brings passion and a sense of urgency to his profession, feels he was destined to work in the health care field because he started his career working as a community organizer helping low-income children find adequate health care.
“It hit me that so many children in America didn’t have didn’t have health insurance,” Gunn said. “I would hear these stories about children in rural South Carolina who were failing in school not because they weren’t smart but because they didn’t have health coverage or dental coverage so they had teeth rotting in their mouths,” he said.
“I don’t care how good the teacher is, if you have pain in your face there is no way you can learn math and science,” Gunn added. “It’s unconscionable that children in America do not have health care insurance and I wanted to do something about it.”
Today, Gunn, a highly-visible aide for the Obama administration who has been working as a health care advocate for 17 years, is a point person for the Affordable Care Act who provides outreach to the African American community.
Gunn, who works closely with Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spends a good part of his time talking to black America about the president’s Affordable Care Act through black radio, which includes conversations with radio hosts Tom Joyner, Joe Madison and Russ Parr, among others.
For African Americans, Gunn said, the Affordable Care Act ensures that people cannot be denied health coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
“Nobody can be denied the opportunity to get a routine physical exam,” Gunn said. “I never had to worry about health care until I had to face it myself.”
“In the African American community, screenings for diabetes, or cholesterol, or high blood pressure, can be the difference between life or death for our families,” he said. “So if you don’t have insurance, people can now get low cost insurance and that’s what the Affordable Care Act does and that’s why I’m so passionate about it.”
Gunn’s national outreach campaign comes as a new report released by the Department of Health and Human Services shows that six out of ten (4.2 million) uninsured African Americans who may be eligible for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace might qualify for Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), or tax credits to help with the cost of premiums.