US faith groups mobilising for substantial health care reform

By staff writers
June 14, 2009

As the federal government in the USA considers comprehensive reform of the health care system, faith groups, civic organisations and labour unions are mobilising for change.

They want to see an end to the massive health divisions in American society arising from economic inequality. Millions still have no effective health coverage, while the wealthy live longer and enjoy health treatment benefits the poor can only dream of.

“It is no exaggeration to say that this summer might be the best opportunity in a generation to achieve any sort of comprehensive health care reform,” says Robert Francis, director for domestic policy for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Washington Office.

“This is why it is so important for people of faith to come together, talk about this issue and make their voices heard,” he adds.
On 24 June 2009, faith communities around the country – including ECLA and many other Christian churches and groups – are uniting in Washington DC to mobilize for ‘An Interfaith Service of Witness and Prayer.’

Churches are inviting people to join this effort by raising awareness of health care issues in their own communities and congregations.

As an example and to foster discussions about health care, the ELCA has initiated Health Care Sunday and has produced ‘Health Care Café’ congregational tool kits.

The tool kit offers suggestions such as healing prayers, inviting someone to speak about health care and hosting a health care cafe to discuss health and health care reform.

“We tried to create resources that are very accessible and open,” explained Robert Francis. “Our hope is that these resources are just the first step in contemplation, education, and eventual action in the health care reform discussion.”

The Faithful America coalition of progressive religious groups and individuals has launched a survey on 'health values' to inform its own campaigning.

Lobbyists say State as well as federal action is vital. Patricia Eakin, RN, President of Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals and the National Nurses Organising Committee, commented: "We see the harm that our current system is doing to our patients – both the uninsured and the underinsured. It is wrong that the healthcare needs of people are interfered with by insurance companies."

Referring to single-payer healthcare, which is being introduced and debated in a range of states, she added: "This would give patients the healthcare they deserve, with the doctors they choose, at lower costs. It is the only healthcare reform that guarantees comprehensive healthcare."

The local Council of Churches has backed this change in Pennsylvania.

"Our health care system is broken. Over 1 million workers are uninsured while over two million workers are underinsured and over 47 million Americans are uninsured. Every day thousands of additional workers are joining the ranks of the uninsured due to layoffs and plant closings," said Pennsylvania AFL-CIO union president Bill George.

He declared: "It's time to face facts. Minor improvements will not fix the crisis in health care. We need a major overhaul – we need comprehensive health care reform now which provides guaranteed, affordable, quality health care for every man, woman, and child."

Donna Smith, a healthcare advocate with the National Nurses Organizing Committee, and a star in Michael Moore's feature film documentary 'Sicko', said: "I've been in 41 states and the District of Columbia over the past 15 months, and the drumbeat for single-payer is growing more insistent and loud every day."

Smith added: "Pennsylvanians share the drive to provide healthcare for all with citizens in California and Illinois, Colorado and Maine, to name just a few states where the single payer movement is strongest. It's well past time for a great state like the Keystone state to lead this nation to a more just system for all."

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