On a recent afternoon, more than a dozen Covered California staff members and volunteers armed with clipboards and flyers descend on a two-block stretch of Inglewood around the intersection of La Brea Avenue and Manchester Boulevard.
They duck into every business in this two-block stretch, and stop people on the street.
One of the canvassers is agency spokesman Dana Howard, who greets a woman working in a clothing store. "We're talking to people to make sure you know the deadline is Jan. 31," he explains.
That's the last day to buy health insurance or switch plans for 2016. In a last-minute push, Covered California has sent teams into neighborhoods with low enrollment rates, like Inglewood, throughout the state.
Besides making the case that it's important to sign up for health coverage, the teams are informing people that most of those who fail to get insurance face a stiff tax penalty. For 2016, the penalty will be $695 per uninsured adult and $347.50 for an uninsured child or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is greater.
Covered California's current focus is on going after those who are the hardest to reach, says volunteer Lisa Edwards, who works for the nonprofit Organizing for Action.
"The low hanging fruit was gone the first year, we went deep last year but this year we really are trying to get those warm touches as we call them, where we just keep going back, make sure you know we are here for you," Edwards says, adding that the message is, "Don’t be scared, there’s nothing spooky about this."
The canvassers have descended on this part of Inglewood because it’s full of small businesses, says Howard. Under the Affordable Care Act, companies with fewer than 50 employees are not required to provide health coverage for their workers.
At Marinello Beauty School, Howard talks to Joshlynn Pryor, who is staffing the front desk.
"This is the Affordable Care Act and this is what the president made for folks to make sure they have good health coverage," he says. "I’m just trying to make sure people know."
Pryor takes some flyers. She says she has insurance.
"I have Covered L.A., I’ve been covered since Obama passed the bill," she says. "I needed to be covered, I wasn’t working at the time."
Most of the folks the canvassers meet say they are insured.
Volunteer Lisa Edwards stops William Johnson on the street.
At first he gives her a hard time.
"So we are making sure everybody knows you must have insurance by the end of this month," says Edwards.
"And if I don’t?" Johnson asks.
"You’ll get a big tax penalty," responds Edwards.
"What if I don’t have no money? How you all going to find me?" he asks.
Then Johnson stops joking.
"I do have insurance, but I know people who need it," he says.
By the end of their conversation Johnson offers to share Covered California’s message via his social media network. In fact, he’s so chatty the team invites him to come the next day to a gathering to talk to young people.
"Now we just have to be advocates and spread it around the community and tell people, hey, you have an opportunity, don’t sit on it and not do anything with it," he says. "They are giving you this, take it."
Covered California believes there are a lot of people in this mainly African-American community who still don’t have health insurance.
The agency estimates there are about 30,000 uninsured African-Americans in Los Angeles County who would be eligible for financial assistance if they enroll in a health plan. They are among the nearly 600,000 uninsured in more than a dozen low-enrollment "hot spots" in L.A. County, according to Covered California.
Agency Executive Director Peter Lee has estimated that about one-third of the uninsured in Los Angeles qualify for subsidized plans and the rest qualify for Medi-Cal. Officials estimate that about one-third of those who are eligible don't know assistance is available.
In addition to the street teams, Covered California has opened more storefronts in the "hot spots" and is running phone campaigns in various languages.
The street team in Inglewood also meets a few people who say they aren’t sure about their insurance status.
One of them is Feisty, owner of Feisty Clothing Boutique, who doesn’t want to share her last name.
"My mom passed away early last year and I just really slept through the rest of the year," she says as she places flyers on a table in her shop. "I may have let it lapse. I’m not sure what happened. I need to check and see."
The visit is a good reminder to review her status, says Feisty.
In the course of the day the canvassers only run into a few people who say they don’t yet have insurance, although Lisa Edwards suspects some of those who say they have it actually aren’t covered.
"Sometimes people say they have insurance, you ask two questions, and you go, they don’t know what they’re talking about," she says.
Rather than confront the person, canvassers talk about the importance of getting insured, like Dana Howard does with a woman he suspects isn’t truly covered.
"What we are also trying to make sure is if you have friends or family members who don’t have insurance," he tells her, adding, "and we all do."
Covered California’s teams will be pounding the pavement in neighborhoods with low-enrollment across the state right up until the deadline on Sunday.
Open enrollment runs through January 31st. After that the only way to enroll is if an individual experiences a life event such as a job loss or a pregnancy.