By John Aman
The Obama administration and a closely aligned partner are aggressively marketing Obamacare to American churches, many of them African-American denominations, as part of a multiimillion dollar campaign to persuade America’s uninsured to buy health insurance.
Enroll America, a Washington-based non-profit staffed in part by ex-Obama presidential campaign workers, is leading the enrollment campaign which saw just over 100,000 people “sign up” in October.
Jessica Kendall, director of outreach for Enroll America, calls the task of signing up America’s uninsured the “largest enrollment effort that has ever been done in our history.”
Her group is working with a broad coalition, including hospital associations, labor unions, advocacy groups and religious organizations, to persuade people to submit to Obamacare.
Enroll America’s “Health Care from the Pulpit” initiative to churches kicked off Sunday, Oct. 27, with “over 50 events across the country to further engage the faith community in education about enrollment,” according to a press release.
Aaron White, regional organizing lead for Enroll America in North Carolina, said there have been 15 to 20 events so far in the Tar Heel state to promote Obamacare to churchgoers. Ten of those occasions involved a minister or someone else addressing a congregation on behalf of Obamacare.
White said Enroll America partners with “navigators and other organizations,” including “local Health and Human Services facilities and the administration to do this education and outreach.”
White, who served the Obama campaign in 2012 as a field organizer for Organizing for America, said an Enroll America staffer recently spoke in Greenville to the annual gathering of the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, an African-American denomination which claims over 500,000 members.
Ashley Allison, the director of constituency engagement for Enroll America, told the Rockford Register Star in August that her group is encouraging churches “to put announcements in the weekly bulletin and make literature available for people to pick up at church.”
“If a church is comfortable inserting our literature in their bulletin we’re more than happy to provide that for them,” she said. “We meet churches where they are.”
Enroll America hosted one training event for African Methodist Episcopal Church leaders in Las Vegas.
“Faith leaders are trusted partners in local communities,” according to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is also reaching out to churches through its Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
The center has presented Web-based seminars to at least 17,000 faith and community groups. Pastors were urged, at one seminar, to provide access to Healthcare.gov on their church websites in both Spanish and English, according to a report in the Rockford Register Star in Illinois.
Aida Giachello, a research professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, applauds efforts to use religious leaders in the black and Latino communities to enroll in Obamacare.
“Their faith leader can give them a reality check: God is making this Affordable Care Act available to all of them,” she told the Rockford Register Star.
Ministers, she said, “can say, ‘Yes, God is in control. Yes, God is engaged in a miracle and God is providing resources through the Affordable Care Act.'”
Left unsaid is whether God would endorse a health care program that funds the killing of unborn children. Or mandates that force employers to pay for abortifacients, regardless of their own faith.
The Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List, estimates that Obamacare will pay for between 71,000 and 111,500 abortions each year.
When asked whether Enroll America addresses the issue of abortion funding in America, Aaron White, regional lead organizer for Enroll America in North Carolina, said, “It’s not something we discuss.”
After serial crashes of Healthcare.gov fouled the kickoff of Obamacare enrollment in October, 14 black Christian leaders, including the heads of eight predominantly African-American denominations, wrote to President Obama on Oct. 21 to “affirm our support for the Affordable Care Act.”
Three weeks after the disastrous launch of Healthcare.gov, the church leaders offered blanket absolution for what they described as “to-be-expected administrative glitches.”
The letter signers, who lead church bodies that total more than 49,000 congregations with 23 million members, pledged their continuing Obamacare enrollment assistance “to ensure the success of the Affordable Care Act.”
The National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., with some 7.5 million members and 31,000 congregations, issued a press release in October urging its member churches to participate in Health Care from the Pulpit outreach events.
“We encourage you to use the resources provided to make information about the Affordable Care Act and what people need to do to get covered available continuously in your place of worship,” the release stated.
The interim general secretary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention urged members of his denomination in an Oct. 9 letter to “sign members of your church and community up for the Affordable Care Act.”
Two of the nation’s largest Catholic organizations, Catholic Charities USA and the Catholic Health Association, are also partnering with Enroll America.
“Enroll America is vitally important as we work to get health coverage for those who are newly eligible,” said Carol Keehan, president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association, the nation’s largest non-profit health care group with more than 600 hospitals.
Jeffrey Tieman, chief of staff for the Catholic Health Association, said his organization joined Enroll America because its “stated goal is to enroll as many people as possible in health coverage and that has always been our goal.”
As to abortion, something the Roman Catholic Church staunchly opposes, Tieman explained, “We said from the beginning that the Affordable Care Act does not fund abortion and we still stand by that position.”
The new health law makes purchasing health care insurance mandatory but “it’s the law” – the phrase famously used to get people to buckle up – is not the marketing message used by Enroll America.
Instead, “Health Care from the Pulpit” uses a carrot, touting the many claimed benefits of Obamacare and encouraging “faith leaders” to preach a sermon “around the moral imperative of [being] insured,” according to Enroll America church engagement promotional material.
Rob Boston, director of communications at Americans United for Separation for Church and State, doesn’t find the Obama administration and Enroll America outreach to churches constitutionally troubling.
“Merely making information available to churches about a government program isn’t a problem,” he said. “Anything that smacks of pressure or coercion would be inappropriate.”