The February 25 bipartisan health care summit with President Obama and Members of Congress will put reform back on the agenda after its relegation to the back burner several weeks ago. A couple of recent stories are poignant reminders of the urgent need for these leaders to act in good faith to pass reform legislation as soon as possible. A study released yesterday found that the nation’s 5 largest insurers saw their profits surge by a combined 56 percent in 2009 as they shed 2.7 million policy holders, and Anthem Blue Cross announced last week that it was increasing premiums by up to 39 percent in California.
These eye-popping numbers underscore a reality that faith leaders have been bringing to Congress’s attention throughout the lengthy reform debate: a health care system that leaves millions of Americans uninsured and costs too much for millions more is inconsistent with our values and must be reformed. Simply put, our current system encourages powerful corporations to harm vulnerable people — insured and uninsured alike. It’s just not right.
The Feb. 25 Health Care Summit needs to explore how to address these injustices and deliver quality, affordable choice for millions of American families. Faith leaders and advocates in congregations across the country will keep a close eye on the event, evaluate it in terms of how much closer it brings us to the goal of passing reform, and tell their elected representatives to keep moving forward.
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As I sifted through State of the Union reactions, commentary and spin today, this Washington Post On Faith essay by Rev. Rayfield Burns’ reaction struck me as particularly insightful:
Amidst the political turmoil of the last week, President Obama called on leaders in Washington to avoid “playing it safe” in order to “get through the next election,” but instead to “do what’s best for the next generation.”
That, in my estimation, is the definition of moral leadership. Now it’s time for Congress and the Administration to follow through on this call to action…
Scripture teaches us that a moral community does what is necessary to protect the lives of each member of society; it makes room at the table of plenty for everyone. It is long past time that we made room at the life-sustaining health care table of plenty for everyone of God’s children.
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As healthcare reform negotiations remains stalled on Capitol Hill and Pres. Obama prepares to deliver his first State of the Union address tonight, religious leaders are standing up to remind Congress and the administration that the political twists and turns in Washington don’t the change the urgent needs of the millions of Americans who’ve been waiting far too long for quality, affordable healthcare.
This morning a group of 23 prominent religious leaders, including clergy, scholars, nationally known advocates and ten members of the White House Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, sent President Obama a letter stating, in part, “Strong, public leadership from you at this moment could sway leaders who are now wavering and considering putting off or scaling back reform.”
Earlier this week, an interfaith letter organized by Faithful Reform in Healthcare was sent to Members of Congress telling them that “[t]his is your moment for political courage, vision, leadership and faith.” And yesterday the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — in an interesting turn from their previous threats to oppose health reform — sent a letter urging Congress to pass reform that provides “affordable, quality, life-giving care is available to all.”
It’s especially important to have voices of moral clarity when the political situation is so murky. Here’s hoping lawmakers take the faith community’s witness to heart.
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Today, a huge coalition of faith groups is urging congress to show leadership in the face of political uncertainty and finish the job on health care reform (You can call Congress today at 1-866-279-5474.)
The groups are lifting up a common message: despite the political situation, we cannot turn our backs on the millions of families still suffering needlessly because they lack health insurance or have coverage that costs too much and delivers too little.
Congress’s wavering on reform has been discouraging for many health care advocates, but the faith community is holding strong, in the face of setbacks, for those most in need in our communities, and holding on to faith and hope.
A great example of this perseverance is Noel Andersen, an organizer with Interfaith Worker Justice in Nebraska. He recorded some words of encouragement for fellow weary activists:
If you want to follow Noel’s lead and keep on fighting, call Congress today at 1-866-279-5474.
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In an op-ed today, Gabino Zavala, an auxiliary Catholic bishop in the Los Angeles archdiocese, articulated the need for healthcare reform legislation to include adequate subsidies to make health coverage truly affordable for low- and middle-income families. This issue is especially important right now because Congressional leadership is still determining how strong the final bill’s affordability measures will be. Bishop Zavala’s take:
One of the most critical challenges that lawmakers have yet to adequately resolve is the obligation to ensure that health care reform truly makes coverage affordable. This responsibility takes on even greater urgency at a time when unemployment has reached its highest level in decades, a growing number of citizens are falling into poverty and social safety nets in states around the country are worn thin by deep budget cuts. On this fundamental question of protecting working families from skyrocketing health-care costs, there is a profound difference between House and Senate proposals. The House legislation requires everyone to contribute to the cost of their health coverage, but sets premiums and out-of-pocket costs at levels that lower-income families are likely to be able to afford. In contrast, the Senate offers weak protections for low-income citizens. The Senate approach would require many Americans to buy insurance that costs too much and covers too little. Providing inadequate subsidies, as the Senate does, would threaten a signature goal of health reform and undermine public support needed to pass and sustain this monumental effort.
Fortunately, as Congress moves to reconcile these bills, the House legislation provides a road map to making reform work for lower-income families.
Bishop Zavala is hardly alone in speaking up for affordability. Hundreds of grassroots leaders are converging on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning for a National Affordability Summit, which will feature Congressional champions for reform and people of faith from across the country. As the House and Senate bills are merged over the coming weeks, affordability advocates’ efforts are as timely as they are necessary.
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