As health deadline looms, advocates make final pitch for Obamacare

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Covering California series icon 2013

The final weekend before enrollment closes for Obamacare health plans saw a flurry of efforts to encourage the uninsured to sign up for coverage while they still can without penalty — with a special focus on African-Americans, whose enrollment numbers have lagged.

Peter Lee, the CEO of Covered California, the state's Obamacare health exchange, visited a Gardena megachurch and made an 11th- hour plea to thousands in attendance to get insurance if they didn't already have it. 

“For the first time health care is a right not a privilege,” Lee told congregants at City of Refuge Church. 

Enrollment counselors staffed a sign-up table outside the worship hall, and more than two dozen lined up to enroll. 

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Among them was Chardonnay Swain. A retail clerk at a South L.A. mall, Swain aged out of her parents health insurance plan some years ago. The 22 year-old has known she needed to get her own plan.

“I was just procrastinating,” Swain said. “I feel like you should have health insurance because you never know what will happen to you.”

In the weeks leading up to Mondays' deadline to sign up for health insurance, African-American enrollment has lagged behind other groups. Numbers out last week showed just 3 percent of African-Americans had signed up for a Covered California health plan.

Connie Gillette said it's no surprise predominantly black churches have been the site of enrollment events like Sunday's at City of Refuge. 

Gillette, a Covered California counselor, said houses of worship play an important role in the African American community.

“We go to church for everything,” Gillette said. “Our pastors bring in education information for us, and this is where we learn.”  

During Sunday’s service, Covered California CEO Lee stood in the pulpit and evoked Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle for health care for his community: “Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King said, of all the forms of inequality and injustice, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

He went on to talk about health insurance as a civil right, a message the congregation applauded loudly.

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