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 “It offers an opportunity for many individuals and families who have never had health insurance to obtain it,” the Bishop’s letter states. “This will affirm the dignity of many people and improve their quality of life, a chief reason why the Bishops of the United States have been advocating for health care reform for decades.”

 The U.S. Bishops, including Bishop Barnes, have publicly challenged the mandate in the Affordable Care Act that requires religious institutions to offer, free of charge, contraceptives and some abortifacients to their employees. “We continue to address these issues with lawmakers and through the courts, which I fully support,” Bishop’s letter states.

 In California, health insurance was available through a private exchange called Covered California or through the Medi-Cal program, depending on the income level of the uninsured person. Those who were enrolling in Covered California but had not completed the process by the April 1 deadline were given additional time according to a Covered California announcement. 

 For those who had not started enrollment in an insurance plan through Covered California, the exchange was closed April 1. It will reopen in October, but those who missed the deadline will receive a fine administered by the Internal Revenue Service. Uninsured persons can continue to enroll in the Medi-Cal program after April 1 deadline but they, too, are subject to a fine.

 Bishop Barnes advised those who are uninsured to first contact Catholic Charities San Bernardino-Riverside for help in how to enroll. In the days following the reading of Bishop Barnes’ letter, Catholic Charities fielded more than 250 phone calls, President/CEO Ken Sawa said.

 Several parishes also received direct inquiries about how to enroll in an insurance plan after the letter was read.