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Black Clergy Push 'Obamacare' Enrollment as Glitches Get Fixed
10/23/2013 3:39:20 PM

Rev. Al Sharpton (pictured), along with Rev. Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner and Rev. Dr. C. T. Vivian are among 14 leading Black preachers who sent a letter to the President this week assuring they will organize and push to get African-Americans signed up for the Affordable Care Act

By Hazel Trice Edney

( - A team of African-American preachers has sent a letter to President Barack Obama affirming their "commitment to the Affordable Care Act" even as the President has ordered the website overhauled.

"We believe that access to quality health care is a fundamental civil and human right in America. Historically, over seven million African-Americans have been uninsured and denied access to care with devastating consequences. The Affordable Care Act provides African-Americans, along with Americans of all nationalities, access to desperately needed quality health care," states the letter, signed by 14 Black preachers, all of whom lead major clerical or civic organizations. "We affirm our support for the Affordable Care Act. We understand that over time aspects of the Act will be revised as government learns more and to-be-expected administrative glitches will be appropriately addressed but it is essential that we work aggressively with what we have right now. We cannot afford to put this off any longer. Any further delay will have catastrophic effects on the nation's uninsured."

The three-page letter, complete with supporting scriptures, and starting with "Dear Mr. President", was released to the media Monday evening.

The 14 names on the letter are the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. chair, Faith Partnerships; Inc.; the Rev. Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-chair, National African American Clergy Network, who is heading the effort; the Reverend Dr. T. DeWitt Smith, Jr., co-chair, National African American Clergy Network; the Rev. Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore, president, Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.; Bishop George E. Battle, Jr., senior bishop, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; Bishop Charles Edward Blake, Sr., presiding Bishop and Chief Apostle, Church of God In Christ, Inc.; Bishop John R. Bryant, senior bishop, African Methodist Episcopal Church; the Rev. Dr. Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook, founding president, Women In Ministry International; Bishop Paul A. G. Stewart, Sr., acting senior bishop, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; Bishop Paul S. Morton, international presiding bishop, Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International; the Rev. Dr. Julius R. Scruggs, president, National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.; the Rev. Al Sharpton, president, National Action Network; the Rev. Dr. Stephen Thurston, president, National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., the Rev. Dr. C. T. Vivian, president, Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The letter was released only hours after President Obama held a Rose Garden press conference deploring the embarrassing glitches that have slowed enrollment on the website,, while praising the benefits of the new plans for those who have successfully enrolled.

"...The problem has been that the website that's supposed to make it easy to apply for and purchase the insurance is not working the way it should for everybody. And there's no sugarcoating it," Obama said. "The website has been too slow, people have been getting stuck during the application process. And I think it's fair to say that nobody is more frustrated by that than I am - precisely because the product is good."

For anyone experiencing problems or needing answers to questions, he announced the toll free number, 1-800-318-2596 for help. The President has also embraced the Republican-invented nickname for the Affordable Care Act. In a video, distributed by mass e-mail, he has ppealed for people to "Join Team Obamacare."

Meanwhile, amidst escalated criticism of the plan - mainly by Republicans - the pastors and their associates bolstered their support.

"We, leaders of predominantly African American denominations and other faith leaders, who lead millions of African American people of faith, believe that our devotion to God requires us to be actively involved in promoting the well-being of all people," states the letter. "In some cases, we can best accomplish that objective by executing clearly defined, focused collaborative efforts amongst denominations and other faith based groups. We believe in those cases we can accomplish more together than we can separately. The issue of providing all Americans with access to quality health care is one of those issues."

The letter lists their specific commitments, including to "Facilitate the critical enrollment numbers necessary to ensure the success of the Affordable Care Act" and "Seek other opportunities to work towards improving the health status of our constituencies" such as "Health and Wellness Sundays which will include thematic preaching on specified Sundays along with other related activities."

They appealed for other pastors to sign onto the letter and the commitment: "We call on all others of like minds and empathetic hearts to join in this public affirmation by affixing your names to this historic document."

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