Pastors and the National Medical Association Call All Ye Faithful to Obamacare

The goal is to enroll as many uninsured African-Americans as possible by the enrollment deadline.

Posted: 03/10/2014 01:19 PM EDT
Pastors and the National Medical Association Call All Ye Faithful to Obamacare

As the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act begins to wind down, the National Medical Association has joined forces with African-American churches and the grassroots campaign Enroll America to encourage the uninsured to sign up. They also will educate Blacks about the various financial options available to help cover the cost of health-care coverage. Currently one in five African-Americans under the age of 65 are uninsured.

"NMA physicians will attend events at African-American churches and help the uninsured understand the long-term ramifications of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer," NMA President Michael Lenoir said at a Monday press conference held in Washington, D.C., to announce the partnership. "We'll provide screenings for blood pressure and other illnesses to help punctuate the absolute dire need for the uninsured to pursue opportunities for health-insurance coverage. They must understand that they have options."

The partnership will focus on 11 states that have the highest populations of African-Americans and the largest number of uninsured Americans. They include Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois.

"Many of the states were not receiving a lot of support in terms of outreach efforts and also have a high concentration of African-Americans and Latinos in large, major urban cities like Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta. We couldn't see not making sure we're reaching the critical populations as it relates to the Affordable Care Act," Etoy Ridgnal, who heads Enroll America's African-American engagement and faith-based initiatives, told BET.com.

Her organization, working with churches, civic organizations and other groups, is conducting a field campaign through which organizers knock on doors and make telephone calls to get people to sign up, in addition to enrollment events at churches. While no numerical goal has been set, Ridgnal said, "We're trying to make sure that anyone we do touch hopefully makes it to the enrollment door."

Churches have long played a key role in health of the communities they serve, added Rev. Miriam Burnett, medical director of the African Methodist Episcopal Church's Connectional Health Commission.

"Historically the Black church has been intimately connected to the health welfare and vitality of the family. As the oldest social institution of the Black family, the church has been a primary catalyst for developing and nurturing countless people," said Burnett, who also is a physician. "The AME church and the 12 other [denominations] have come together to share resources and best practices to maximize efforts to increase our reach as we seek to reach and ultimately provide opportunities to enroll the uninsured. There are many things that the church can do to optimize the community's physical well-being. We create atmospheres that celebrate wellness and celebrate life."

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(Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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