Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Health care reform and the faith community: 40 days for Health Care reform

Last week, President Obama spoke with faith leaders via a conference call about his vision for health care reform. There is considerable misinformation about the issue floating on the airwaves and on the internet, and scare tactics abound. I was unable to connect to the call -- "all circuits are busy" -- nor could I connect via a webpage, but at the bottom of this posting is an account of the call.

I would ask that those reading this blog not succumb to the politics of fear. I would especially ask those who consider themselves to be Christians to remember that Jesus said over and over "Do not be afraid." Our mission is to bring healing and hope to this world, not fear and division. Healing is what we are about, and that means we cannot avoid being involved in this health care reform debate.

Those of us who spend time visiting patients know how much our health care system needs fixing. For the uninsured, the emergency rooms become clinics, at great expense. Even those with health insurance are stymied in receiving treatment for life-threatening illnesses because of decisions by insurance providers. A friend of mine with cancer spent her last days battling her insurance company over its denials of treatment. She was economically destitute by the time she died.

Those who are anxious about government-sponsored health care are right to be concerned. Government (i.e., The Congress) may yet botch this. But I would point out that those who say they want no government health care may have forgotten how Medicare takes care of millions of people effectively. Medicare is such a part of our national landscape that we've all but forgotten it is a government program that works.

Episcopal News Service covered the call with President Obama, and here is the account, complete with links to other related websites:

Obama, religious leaders urge people of faith to participate in health care reform

[Episcopal News Service] President Barack Obama urged people of faith to knock on doors and spread the facts and the truth about health care reform during "40 Minutes for Heath Care Reform," an August 19 telephone call-in and webcast.

"Time and again men and women of faith have helped to show us what is possible when we are guided by our hopes and not our fears. That's what you have done before; that's how we were able to succeed in establishing social security and Medicare and bring about justice through the civil rights movement," Obama said. "That's what you can do again today to help us achieve quality affordable health care for every American."

An estimated 140,000 people of faith participated in the national conference call/webcast with the president and the faith community. Sponsored by more than 30 religious denominations -- including the Episcopal Church -- and organizations that cut across race and religious tradition, the call helped launch the "40 Days for Health Reform" campaign aimed at mobilizing people of faith to press Congress to finish work on health care reform when they return after Labor Day Recess.

"I am deeply concerned with all the shouting, the fear and even the hatred we are now hearing, we are in danger of losing the moral core of this debate, which is that many people are hurting as a result of a broken system," said Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, which approaches faith, politics, and culture from a biblical perspective.

"This call shows how united the faith community is around the moral principal of accessible, affordable quality care for every American, for all of God's children. Tonight we are calling on the people of faith to make our political representatives understand that the faith community will be satisfied with nothing less than accessible, affordable health care for all Americans."

40 Minutes participants shared their personal experiences with health care at the start of the conference. Karla Carranza, a 15-year-old who attends Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colorado, shared her family's story. Carranza's mother works cleaning houses and her father works in the meat department of a grocery story. The family lost their Medicaid coverage because Carranza's parents combined income exceeded the Medicaid limit by $6. Carranza is going without treatment for scoliosis, and her mother cannot afford medications to control diabetes, tendonitis and high blood pressure and cholesterol.

"I don't want my mom to die," she said. "I want my parents to be there as I grow up. I want them to meet my children and for them to see me reach my goals in life. I don't want to grow up without my family's support."

Melody Barnes, the Obama Administration's domestic policy director, answered questions from the faith community, including one from Deacon Jo Glasser from the Episcopal Diocese of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Glasser said that people in her diocese are concerned that reform means a government take over of health care, and others are concerned that without a strong public option Americans will be at the mercy of the insurance industry. "What is the president's position and how will it affect people in my diocese?" she asked.

Like people everywhere, Barnes said, members of the Diocese of Eau Claire are likely watching their wages fall while their health care costs rise. The proposed heath care reform would decrease heath care costs and end "sweetheart deals" for insurance companies, creating and effective and efficient system that provides better care, Barnes said.

"I would say that health reform is at the crux of being a faithful steward of our resources," she said.

Obama addressed the moral dimension of the health care debate, recognizing the important role of the faith community in finally achieving health care reform.

"I know we have thousands of people on this call from many different denominations and faiths but the one thing that you all share is a moral conviction. You all know that this debate over health care goes to the heart of who we are as a people," he said. "I believe that nobody in America should be denied basic health care because he or she lacks heath insurance and no one in America should be pushed to the edge of financial ruin because an insurance company denies them coverage or drops their coverage or charges fees they can't afford for care that they desperately need."

Obama used the conference to correct some of the misinformation that has plagued the national debate.

"If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. Nothing that we are doing obligates you to choose any plan other than the one you have. If you like your doctor you can keep seeing your doctor," he said. "We are not going to interfere with that. I don't want government bureaucrats meddling in your health care, but I also don't want insurance company bureaucrats meddling in your health care … and that's what health insurance reform is all about."

Obama also address the so-called "death panels," calling the idea "an extraordinary lie." There is a provision in the House bill that provides Medicare reimbursements for counseling to set up a living will and advice on other end-of-life decisions, he explained.

Heath care reform is not designed to provide health insurance for illegal aliens, or to fund abortions, he continued, calling the lies and misinformation, "fabrications that have been put out there to stop people from meeting a core moral and ethical obligation that we look out for one another … that I am my brother's keeper, my sister's keeper, and in the wealthiest nation on earth we are neglecting to live up to that call."

Over the next 40 days, communities of faith are organizing and hosting heath care forums, prayer rallies, contacting elected officials, picking up the phone and knocking on doors in support of heath care reform.

The Episcopal Public Policy Network sent a policy alert August 17 inviting members active in health care advocacy to participate in the call with Obama.

The 76th General Convention recently passed several health care-related resolutions, including CO71, in support of universal access to quality, affordable health care in the United States and calling on Congress to pass comprehensive health care reform this year.

A recording of the call is available at or, which live-streamed the call.

More information about the 40 Day Campaign for Health Care Reform is available here.

-- Lynette Wilson is staff writer, Episcopal Life Media.

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