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Faith Leaders Mobilize to Defend Health Reform Against Repeal; Urge Congress to Let Reform Work for American Families

January 18, 2011, 11:08 pm | Posted by Kristin Ford

Today Republican leadership in the House of Representatives will bring to a vote H.R. 2, a bill to repeal the landmark health care reform legislation passed by Congress last year. In light of the vote and with the health and well-being of countless American families at stake, faith leaders are mobilizing to remind Members of Congress of the moral and pragmatic costs of returning to the broken status quo that spurred Congress to pass the Affordable Care Act in March 2010.

Nearly 10,000 Americans of faith have signed petitions from PICO National Network and Faithful America to Members of Congress opposing repeal efforts and urging productive, bipartisan cooperation to make sure health reform legislation works for all American families. See Faithful America’s petition here and PICO National Network’s petition here. Prominent national leader signatories of the petition include Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby; megachurch pastor Rev. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood, Florida; Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Hale, senior pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church, a megachurch in Decatur, Georgia; Dr. T. DeWitt Smith, Jr., Immediate Past President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention; Rev. Ryan Bell, pastor of Hollywood Adventist Church in Hollywood, California; and Rev. Dr. George Cummings, pastor of Imani Community Church in Oakland, California.

In communities across the nation, faith-based groups affiliated with PICO National Network, a national network of congregation-based community organizations representing one million families in 150 cities and 17 states, are spreading the word about health reform’s benefits for families and working to implement and improve the new law. PICO leaders reached over 31,000 people across the country this week with critical information about implementing protecting health care reform.

In San Diego, California, PICO federation San Diego Organizing Project distributed bulletin inserts and petitions in 6 congregations, reaching 11,000 people. Last night, diverse San Diego faith leaders held a press event at Paradise Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church in San Diego, then marched to a hospital, urging better access to health care for members of the local community and robust implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

“As Dr. King said, inequality in healthcare is one of the worst forms of injustice. Families in San Diego have felt this injustice for far too long. The Affordable Care Act may not be perfect in every way, but it is huge step forward towards making sure everyone has access to healthcare that they need – it’s a question of human dignity,” said Bishop Roy Dixon of Faith Chapel Church of God in Christ in San Diego. “Here in San Diego we are organizing the local community to make sure people understand how the new health law will help them, and prepare them to defend it against threat. The law not only helps people get the care they need, but it’s creating room for people to participate in the health care system–which is another form of equality Dr. King stood for.”

Bishop Roy Dixon and Rev. Leigh Ann Shaw, pastor of La Mesa First United Methodist Church in San Diego, co-authored an opinion piece titled “Health care, and Dr. King’s message” that ran in Sunday’s San Diego Union-Tribune and is available here.

In Denver, Colorado, PICO federation Metro Organizations for People distributed bulletin inserts on health reform to 12 congregations, reaching 5,000 families, and local clergy leaders participated in a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade, collecting signatures on a petition urging Members of Congress to give reform a chance to work.

“As a pastor, I’ve witnessed so many of my families suffer under the burden of medical costs for treating cancer, a stroke or other catastrophic illnesses that cause so much suffering for loved ones,” said Rev. Bill Calhoun, pastor of Montview Presbyterian Church in Denver and a member of Metro Organizations for People. “The new health law makes it illegal for insurance companies to drop coverage for families that are stricken with this kind of catastrophe, which is a wonderful thing. But more than that, it’s helping to reorganize our local healthcare system so the costs don’t get so out of hand to begin with.”

In Brooklyn, New York, Brooklyn Congregations United distributed bulletin inserts and petitions to 5 congregations, reaching 2,000 people, and participated in the Brooklyn Borough President’s Martin Luther King Day celebration to inform the community about the risk of repeal. The MICAH Project in New Orleans distributed petitions to 12 congregations, reaching 8,000 families. Vermont Interfaith Action circulated bulletin inserts and surveys to 11 congregations, reaching 2,000 people, and hosted “A Celebration of Civil Rights and Community Organizing” to educate people about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and ways to defend health reform.

In Camden, New Jersey, Camden Churches Organized for People distributed petitions in eight congregations and at their Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Organizing, reaching a total of 2,500 people. The Day of Organizing also involved an in-depth training on the new health care law and what’s at stake for local communities if reform is repealed. Camden Churches Organized for People is working with health care providers in the Camden area to strengthen affordable access to primary care.

“Right down the street from the church I pastor is a housing project where people don’t have regular access to doctors and wind up in the emergency room over and over again. Some of them have serious illnesses, and some just don’t have a regular doctor to go to when they get sick,” said Rev. Heyward Wiggins, pastor of Camden Bible Tabernacle Church and PICO National Network steering committee member who was recently profiled in The New Yorker (available here, with a subscription). “Camden Churches Organized for People supported health reform because we want to make sure that people can get regular access to doctors. That’s important for families, and it’s also important for our city and state. Emergency room visits cost a lot of money. We could save that money by investing in primary care doctors. Here in Camden, we’re doing innovative work with Dr. Jeff Brenner and the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers to strengthen our primary care system and keep people out of emergency rooms. If this law is repealed, it would be a huge blow to the promise of bringing health reform home to our communities.”

In Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas, Community Creating Opportunity reached close to 3,000 people with copies of the petition and presented at an annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration with over 200 in attendance, training the crowd on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and helping them understand how we can organize to protect it.

“The other night in one of our churches, we had people gather to discuss what parts of the new health law mattered most to them. Over and over people talked about the costs of care, how expensive it is. We need to be sure that the hard-earned money people pay is going to their care, not to cover advertising and salaries. The Affordable Care Act is doing just that,” said Rev. Rayfield Burns, pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City, MO. “We cannot afford to see the health care law repealed and everything we’ve fought for taken away. That’s why we are going to keep working here in Kansas City to make sure our community understands all the benefits of the legislation. We are counting on the new health law to help us to transform our local health care system, and even save Medicaid and Medicare dollars for our state–but if we lose the law, we’re only going to go backwards.”

The faith community played a key role in urging Congress to pass comprehensive health reform legislation in 2009 and 2010, organizing hundreds of prayer vigils and meetings in local congregations, meeting with hundreds of Members of Congress, driving tens of thousands of calls to Representatives and Senators, airing radio and television ads featuring local pastors in key states across the country, and hosting an unprecedented call-in and live webcast with faith leaders and President Obama.

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