In Dr. King’s Honor, California Black Doctors Call for Urgent Action During COVID-19 Crisis

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

Three African American health leaders — advocates for expanded health care who are on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19 raging across California — took a moment to reflect on the state of health care as the holiday honoring civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. approaches on Jan. 18.

Doctors David Carlisle, Elaine Batchlor and Adrian James are admirers of King and find his words of injustice in health care even more profound as hospitals and clinics are overflowing with COVID-19 patients — many of them African Americans and other people of color.  

“On the day that we celebrate the great civil rights icon’s birthday, Dr. King’s sentiment has never been more relevant than today, as the pandemic has laid bare the great health inequities that remain in this country,” said Dr. Carlisle, president and CEO of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles. “COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on communities of color makes it more important than ever that African Americans, Latinos and other people of color seek out affordable health care coverage, such as through Covered California, and also get the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.” 

Carlisle, Batchlor and James recently teamed up with Covered California to address vaccine confidence and encourage Black Californians to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available, and to sign up for quality health insurance coverage through Covered California or Medi-Cal.

“Every day at MLK Community Hospital in South Los Angeles, we see high rates of unmanaged chronic disease that lead to poorer health outcomes,” said Dr. Batchlor, the hospital’s CEO. “This is illuminated by the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the African American community. We must change our country’s separate and unequal system of care, which is perpetuated by a payment system that disincentivizes doctors to serve in low-income communities like ours.

“I believe access to high-quality health care is a basic human right, and providing universal quality care to everyone, regardless of income level, race or political beliefs is a fundamental act of social justice,” Dr. Batchlor said.  

Dr. Adrian James of the West Oakland Health Council in the San Francisco Bay Area said he and his colleagues are fighting misinformation circulating in the African American community about the vaccines to fight COVID-19.

Underlying medical conditions caused by inequality make people of color more susceptible to illness caused by COVID-19, Dr. James said. Other challenges Black people face include the inability to work from home and social distance. 

“The quote from Dr. King that ‘Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman’ is true because it may lead to death, which is the worst possible outcome. In California, the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the African American community,” Dr. James said.

The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of quality health care coverage. Right now, an estimated 1.2 million Californians are uninsured — including an estimated 67,000 African Americans — even though they are eligible for financial help through Covered California, or they qualify for low-cost or no-cost coverage through Medi-Cal.

“Roughly nine out of every 10 consumers who enroll through Covered California receive financial assistance — in the form of federal tax credits, state subsidies, or both — which helps make health care more affordable,” Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee said.

Covered California’s current open-enrollment period lasts until Jan. 31. Consumers interested in learning more about their coverage options can:

• Visit

• Get free and confidential in-person assistance, in a variety of languages, from a certified enroller.

• Have a certified enroller call them and help them for free. Call Covered California at (800) 300-1506.   

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