Religious leaders in the USA are celebrating President Obama's signing of legislation to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Programme (SCHIP) which will lift thousands out of poverty.
The programme's expansion, twice vetoed by former President George W. Bush, will cover nearly 11 million children who don't qualify for Medicaid and whose parents cannot afford private health insurance.
"This is truly a moment to celebrate," said Clare J. Chapman, Chief Operating Officer of the National Council of Churches USA (NCCUSA), who witnessed the President's signing ceremony.
The NCCUSA has long supported the expansion of SCHIP and other measures to assure medical coverage for every child in America.
"The President clearly relished this opportunity to protect the nation's children," Chapman said. "He was acting not only as a political leader but as a concerned parent."
The Rev Garland F. Pierce, the NCCUSA's Senior Programme Director for Education and Leadership Ministries and staff to the its Health Task Force, expressed thanks to God for the President's action.
"It signals a new day when the needs of the most vulnerable are again given priority," Pierce said. "This is the gospel imperative to care for 'the least' I believe the efforts, great and small, of colleagues in the faith community and through our networks at the National Council of Churches have led to this day. This first step further encourages and compels the council's efforts through such entities as the Committee on Families and Children and the Health Task Force to offer witness to the need for comprehensive health care reform. We stand ready to partner with the current administration and others to work toward this end."
The bill expands SCHIP by more than US$32 billion over five years.
The President certainly sounded like a father when he described the toll on families that cannot afford insurance, said observers.
"The sleepless nights worrying about somebody getting hurt, or praying that a sick child gets better on her own; the decisions that no parent should ever have to make -- how long to put off that doctor's appointment, whether to fill that prescription, whether to let a child play outside, knowing that all it takes is one accident, one injury, to send your family into financial ruin," Mr Obama said.
"Now, this is not who we are. We're not a nation that leaves struggling families to fend for themselves, especially when they've done everything right. No child in America should be receiving his or her primary care in the emergency room in the middle of the night. No child should be falling behind at school because he can't hear the teacher or see the blackboard. I refuse to accept that millions of our children fail to reach their full potential because we fail to meet their basic needs. In a decent society, there are certain obligations that are not subject to tradeoffs or negotiations, and health care for our children is one of those obligations."
The Rev Dr Eileen W. Lindner, former Deputy General Secretary of the National Council who continues to provide staff support for the NCCUSA Health Task Force, also expressed her pleasure at the signing.
"This day has been long in coming," she said. "Even now, some 46 million Americans - 9 million of them children - are at risk because they have no medical insurance. The expansion of SCHIP is an important step toward closing this gap, but it's only a step.
"President Obama's remarks make it clear that he 'gets it,' and we pray that all political and civic leaders in our nation will join the push to provide insurance for all of us."
With thanks to NCCUSA news service