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Faith leaders make case for health care reform

Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church
and Society, speaks with Bishop James Dorff of San Antonio during
a July 7 gathering of faith leaders in Washington to discuss health
care reform. A UMNS photo by John Coleman.

A UMNS Report
By John Coleman*
July 7, 2009 | WASHINGTON

United Methodists joined with leaders of other faith groups in appealing to U.S. lawmakers to make health care affordable to millions of uninsured Americans.

Nearly 30 top leaders of Christian, Jewish and Islamic organizations gathered July 7 in the U.S. Capitol for a day of dialogue and planning on health care reform. They also heard from congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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“We must speak on behalf of the poor and marginalized here in the halls of power,” said Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. The board co-sponsored the Faith Leaders Summit on Health Care with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, in collaboration with Families USA and the National Coalition on Health Care.

Winkler cited reports that the health care industry — including insurance companies, hospitals, medical associations and pharmaceutical firms — is spending $1.4 million daily to influence legislators who will shape, debate and vote on comprehensive health care bills this summer.

“We may not be able to muster those kinds of resources,” Winkler told the gathering, “but we can testify to the damage done to our people by a broken health care system, and today is our opportunity.”

Also attending the meeting were Bishop James Dorff of the Southwest Texas Conference, representing the United Methodist Council of Bishops, and the Rev. Cynthia Abrams, who works on health care concerns for the Board of Church and Society.

“There was a real demonstration of unity in our opinions and historical perspectives on this issue,” Dorff said. “These denominations and faith groups share traditions of providing health care to people. We’re working together on this, out of that experience, and we’re not going away.”

Affordable to all Americans

At a press conference, five faith leaders voiced common goals of ensuring that quality health care becomes available and affordable to all Americans, especially the working poor and unemployed.

They also emphasized the religious and moral imperative of health care as a human right, the importance of informed advocacy and the need for broad-based united advocacy.

“We must speak on behalf of the poor and marginalized here in the halls of power.”
–Jim Winkler

“This is an important moment in the nation’s history, and we will work to build energy behind these efforts to pass meaningful reform,” said the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, head of the National Council of Churches. “Health care for us is not simply another good cause. … We must care for what God has created. Access is not a privilege but a right to all.”

The faith leaders as a group did not support or oppose any particular health care reform plan among the several that are being considered in Congress, but several leaders said their denominations were supporting the provision of government-funded insurance.

“There are good ideas and policies being recommended; the question is how do we pay for them?” asked the Rev. Jim Wallis, head of Sojourners. “We’re not getting into the weeds of policies. We’re looking for what’s in the right bill that will meet the needs of people.”

Wallis warned that faith groups need to help get accurate information out to people and challenge any attempts at misinformation about health care costs and reform.

“I firmly believe what the polls tell us: that most people in this country are in favor of comprehensive health care reform,” he declared.

*Coleman is a freelance writer based in the Washington area.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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