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Preaching health care from the pulpit to reach minorities

Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Willie C. Barnes talked to his congregation about health insurance.

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You’ve probably heard of souls to the polls, where churchgoers are brought out to vote. But what about souls to enroll?

On a recent Sunday morning Federal officials joined church leaders at the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church.

Their message to the mostly African American congregation? Get health insurance.

“Illnesses and sicknesses tend to drain us of the vigor and excitement for worship,” said Pastor Willie C. Barnes.

It’s open enrollment season, the 90-day window for Floridians to buy health insurance and get subsidies to make the plans cheaper.

A recent poll showed 90 percent of people without insurance have no idea that now’s the time to buy.

And minority groups are more likely to be without coverage. According to the Census Bureau, one in five whites don’t have insurance.

For African Americans, it’s one in four. And for Hispanics, it’s as high as one in three.

Finding the uninsured means zeroing in on underserved communities. And it means going out in person.

“In this particular church, the neighborhood, a lot of the individuals were not covered or did not have insurance,” said Sophia Rayam, who was working to enroll consumers at the event.

“We really, really, really want to make sure we work with them because we know hard to reach populations rely on that one-on-one assistance,” said Nick Duran, the state director for Enroll America, a nonprofit.

Elements of the same grassroots effort that helped elect President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 have been reactivated to get the health insurance message out to consumers.

So why this church in Eatonville? Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church has a history of being friendly to the health care act, said Anne Packham, the lead health care navigator for Central Florida. And church leaders have a history of addressing social and economic issues specific to the congregation.

“We all know that having health care is very much related to economic prosperity,” Packham said. “If you don’t have a job, it’s hard to get health care. And if you do have good health care and you’re sick, you can’t get a job.”

Not having insurance also raises your risk of dying by 40 percent. That’s according to a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

So what did people at the event think? Chad McKendrick, who sings in the church choir, has been buying an individual health plans for three years now.

“Now with all the extra benefits that we have, it’s been great for me because I go to the doctor at least once or twice a year,” McKendrick said. “Being a man, we don’t go as often. But I go once or twice a year and it’s been a great benefit for me.”

Some came to event for others. Deborah Carwise came to get information for her sister and niece who live in Cocoa.

She narrowed it down to a few ideal plans, and scheduled an appointment with someone to help her family enroll in Brevard.

“Working in insurance myself, I do see the actual bills that doctors produce, and to go without insurance is really … unsettling in the mind,” Carwise said. “And this is one way you can have peace of mind. And because I’m a Christian the bible says we perish for lack of knowledge. So if you have the opportunity to get knowledge, come.”

The event didn’t reach huge numbers though. Of the 40 people who scheduled an appointment, only 16 showed up, and fewer were able to enroll.

That’s not surprising, though: Americans procrastinated last year, with nearly half of enrollees signing up near the deadline.

Most Floridians who signed up for insurance in health reform’s first year have premiums under $100 a month.

But bringing those statistics to the people who need to know them requires a more personal touch.


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Abe Aboraya

About Abe Aboraya

Health Reporter

Abe Aboraya started writing for newspapers in High School. After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2007, he spent a year traveling and working as a freelance reporter for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, and working for local news websites in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently Abe ... Read Full Bio »

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