From left to right: Dr. Patrick Dowling, Dr. Raven Copeland, Kimeko Campbell and Dr. Michelle Bholat support Covered California health insurance for those who may seek assistance financially. (courtesy photo)

The nation’s largest organization of African-American physicians has joined forces with Covered California to promote health care being delivered to traditionally underserved communities as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The 16,000-member-strong National Medical Association is encouraging families, friends and patients to sign up for affordable health insurance during open enrollment, which began Nov. 15 and continues through Feb. 15, 2015.

“All doctors should make certain every African-American knows about the advantages of enrolling,” said Dr. Richard A. Williams, a Los Angeles-based cardiologist and member of the National Medical Association board. “This is just as important an issue — delivering health care to historically underserved minority communities — as the civil-rights issues of the 1960s and ’70s were. We must make certain that our black patients don’t miss this opportunity.”

The National Medical Association is one of 14 statewide health provider organizations that has began to send letters to their members, along with resource materials, encouraging them to promote open enrollment and to display an “I’m In” placard so that patients, prospective patients and family members will know that the providers accept insurance plans offered through Covered California.

Williams and other African-American physicians know the health challenges African-Americans face, and those doctors see coverage through Covered California as an important vehicle to improve health outcomes.

As a group, African-Americans rank at or near the top in conditions like heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many consumers who enroll for insurance through Covered California qualify for financial assistance to help pay for premiums and other out-of-pocket costs. Of 2.7 million Californians eligible to receive financial assistance under the Affordable Care Act, about 6 percent, or 130,000, are African-American, according to a joint study by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and the University of California, Berkeley.

In an effort to increase enrollment in African American communities, Covered California and its partners are hosting dozens of enrollment events in African American churches, as well as libraries, shopping malls, and other local venues. In addition, more than 200 Covered California “storefronts” are providing regular enrollment assistance for consumers on weekends and after normal business hours at various locations. A full calendar of local enrollment events and statewide storefront locations, as well as other information about in-person assistance, can be viewed on Covered California’s website at  

Improving the health of African-Americans is a key initiative for advocates of the Affordable Care Act.

Some of the doctors who joined an event launching this partnership with the National Medical Association and other organizations shared their stories of seeing the life-changing effects that being insured has had on their patients. One such doctor is Raven Copeland, a resident at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Copeland, along with colleagues Dr. Patrick Dowling and Dr. Michelle Bholat, tell the story of their patient Kimeko Campbell, who came to them one day in October claiming of numbness in her arm and hand. Campbell also was having trouble speaking.

Copeland and her colleagues confirmed that Campbell was in the middle of a full-blown stroke, and she spent a week in the hospital. Luckier still, Campbell had enrolled in expanded Medi-Cal after applying for coverage through Covered California, and her medical costs were covered.

“Thank God I had this insurance, because that allowed me to get treated, and I’m still here today,” said Campbell, who had recently started a small business just before getting sick.

Copeland, her doctor, said, “That’s why I chose to get into medicine — to provide services to the underserved. To be able to sit with Kimeko and see her out pursuing her dreams and being an entrepreneur and know that I had a role in her health, that’s the best thing ever.”

Williams of the National Medical Association said he and his organization are proud to partner with Covered California and help spread the word about health insurance among African-Americans and communities throughout the state.

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“As a doctor who has seen a great deal of inequities and health care disparities over the years, it’s very important that we make sure minority communities are not ignored,” Williams said. “We want to help them get the medical care they deserve and need, and Covered California is a pathway for achieving that.”