First of all, despite the Trump administration’s efforts to kill (“repeal and replace”) the Affordable Care Act, it is still the law of the land, and because of the federal mandate everyone is required to have some form of health insurance. However, since “45” and his team have declared it all but dead, they have shortened the enrollment period from three months to a mere six weeks, from Nov. 1-Dec. 15. Additionally, the United States Department of Health and Human Services has drastically cut the budget for outreach. This time last year, there were television and radio announcements, billboards on buses, and other reminders that people should enroll for health care, if they didn’t already have health care through their jobs.
The Trump administration hopes that, without outreach, people will not enroll for health care, so that they can then crow that people “don’t want” health care. Some faith leaders, however, have pledged to use their pulpits to remind their congregations to get enrolled for health care. Rev. Dr. Barbara Williams Skinner, the first executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus and an activist who melds faith with public policy, as well as a spiritual adviser to many Black leaders, has developed a toolkit for communities of faith to help them do the work that our government won’t: encouraging people to sign up for affordable health care.
You can follow the faith leaders’ conversations about open enrollment and health care on social media using the hashtags #SOULSTOENROLL or #SOULS2ENROLL, and by liking the Facebook page, Facebook.com/FaithinPublicLife, where you can find the toolkit adopted from the government page, GetAmericaCovered.org; instructions for the weekend campaign that will begin Nov. 12, suggestions for faith leaders; a sample bulletin announcement; a PSA; and social media tips. In other words, the faith community is being encouraged to treat health care enrollment like any other grassroots organizing campaign and get involved in it.
Back in the day, before social media, we used to talk about “the drum,” how we shared information in the Black community. Many of our radio stations, or public broadcast programs and newspapers were our drums. Now, faith leaders are taking the drum viral to ensure that people who don’t get the word because of lack of government outreach will get it through churches and the internet.
We will rely on these methods of communicating more and more, as this administration attempts to contract, not expand, the information people need to get essential health care (and other services). The toolkit and other resources are proof that our community has the ability to out organize the evil that is seeping out of Washington. “Woke” members of Congress are working with Rev. Skinner and others to get the word out. Congressman Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) had his PSA up before the enrollment period opened on Nov. 1, and some members of Congress have PSAs posted on their webpages; but everyone won’t log on to a congressional website to get access to the PSA. That’s where the churches and community organizations come into play.
Once upon a time, we were great at mobilizing. Without any Internet, 250,000 people managed to get to Washington, D.C. for the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. Mimicking that effort, and using both word of mouth and the Internet, more than a million women made it to Washington D.C. for the post-inaugural Women’s March. Now we have the opportunity to rally millions to participate in the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.
There are consequences to not enrolling. If you don’t enroll by Dec. 15, you may have to wait a whole year before getting access to affordable health care and the subsidies available under ACA, and you may have to pay a fine for not enrolling. Some states (California, Washington, Minnesota, Colorado, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.) will allow enrollment until January, but most will close enrollment on Dec. 15. Even with a longer enrollment period, the best thing to do to ensure that the people who need health insurance get it is to encourage them to enroll early.
Helping people enroll for ACA benefits is not only a public service, it is also an act of resistance to “45’s” pernicious attempts to undermine President Obama’s signature piece of legislation. To be sure, the ACA is not perfect, but it is responsible for expanding the base of people who can get affordable health insurance.
This example of Faith in Action may be a template for other ways to use the church to organize resistance. The novelist Dr. Daniel Black (author of “Perfect Peace: A Novel”) recently gave a talk in which he described our churches as the backbone of the Black community. Disagree with your pastor or with the sermon if you will, he said, but still get to church for the sense of community that can only be found there. While the Black church is less impactful than it was in 1963, when most of us could be reached through church announcements, it is still a place where we gather and share information. If you don’t usually go to church, go on Nov. 12, when the #SOULS2ENROLL weekend campaign kicks off. If you do go to church, encourage your pastor to participate.
Malveaux’s latest book, “Are We Better Off?: Race, Obama and Public Policy,” is available via amazon.com.