Faith leaders urge nation to cover uninsured people
NOTE: A head-and-shoulders photograph of Bishop Melvin Talbert is available.
By Joretta Purdue*WASHINGTON
(UMNS) - Leaders from several faiths have found common ground in their
support for the millions of people in the United States who lack health
"We believe the 41 million Americans who lack health
insurance have infinite worth and must be the subject of our collective
attention in this hour," reads a letter signed by nine religious leaders
and issued March 11. The nine, including a United Methodist, form the
National Interfaith Advisory Board for "Cover the Uninsured Week," March
The week's activities have included issuing the letter,
promoting a national advertising campaign and holding events to
encourage people to work together in seeking cooperative solutions to
Events began with town hall meetings Monday,
followed by campus and student events Tuesday, more than 200 health
fairs providing services on Wednesday, business and labor groups
highlighting the problem on Thursday, and interfaith events Friday
Driving the efforts are concerns for the people
who suffer and die prematurely because they are not insured. Forty-one
million Americans were uninsured for all of 2001, according to U.S.
government data. That is the last year for which statistics are
available, said Stuart Schear, an executive with the Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation, which provided $7 million in funding for the effort.
National Council of Churches, which includes the United Methodist
Church, is one of more than 150 national organizations sponsoring "Cover
the Uninsured Week." Partners include the AARP, AFL-CIO, American
Medical Association, American Nurses Association, U.S. Chamber of
Commerce, Healthcare Leadership Council, Families USA and W.K. Kellogg
Up to 75 million people were uninsured for more than
two months during the 2001-2002 period, Schear added. "That makes it
very common. That makes it one out of three of all non-elderly
Americans." Faith groups are among those helping enroll children and
adults who are eligible for public programs, he said. About 5 million
U.S. children are eligible but aren't enrolled, he added.
also said that, on average, 18,000 Americans die prematurely each year
because they are uninsured, according to an estimate from the Institute
of Medicine. An uninsured woman with breast cancer is 50 percent more
likely to die because the cancer is not detected until it is advanced,
and likewise men with colon cancer are diagnosed at a later, more deadly
stage, he explained. Members of ethnic minority groups are also less
likely to be insured.
"By organizing and participating in
faith-based events in cities and towns across America, we want to raise
awareness of the plight of uninsured Americans," said Bishop Melvin
Talbert, ecumenical officer of the United Methodist Council of Bishops
and a member of the National Interfaith Advisory Board for "Cover the
Uninsured Week." "We are focusing on holding reasoned, nonpartisan
discussions about the consequences of not having insurance."
Rev. Jackson Day, an executive with the United Methodist Board of Church
and Society, urges church members to avail themselves of this
opportunity to advance the universal health care objectives of the
denomination both during and after the week.
Methodist General Conference (the church's highest legislative body) has
passed resolution after resolution emphatically affirming the need to
achieve health care for all," he said in a message posted on his
agency's Web site. This effort is the primary health initiative of the
board and underlies all other health-related efforts, "including
guarding against erosions of benefits provided by the Medicare and
Medicaid programs, and against the erosion of quality and privacy in our
health care delivery system."
"Despite our differences in
beliefs and practices, and our sometimes distinct differences related to
social issues, we are nonetheless united in our concern for the state
of health care in America," the advisory board members stated in their
"We recognize that access to health care is a basic right
that we all share as fellow human beings, on par with other human
rights, such as the right to food and shelter," they wrote. "No one in
this great nation should have to suffer because they are uninsured. And
no one should pay with their life because they cannot pay for health
The letter concludes, "May our generation secure health care as our moral legacy to the nation."
who signed the "Open Letter to the American People" were Talbert, the
Rev. Eileen W. Lindner of the National Council of Churches; Bishop Cecil
Bishop of the Congress of Black Churches; Lt. Col Paul Bollwahn of the
Salvation Army; Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; Garland
Pohl of the National Association of Diocesan Ecumenical Officers;
Hannah Rosenthal of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Sayyid M.
Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America; and Nancy Wisdo of the
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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*Purdue is United Methodist News Service's Washington news director.
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